Rural running, in the city

img_20200113_095034

View of Leeds from Rothwell Country Park, on the site of the former Rothwell colliery

Picked up one of my favourite running books the other day – Running Free, by Richard Askwith. First read it a couple of years ago, and no doubt it’s been a big influence on how I’ve gone about my running since. It shuns the conventional, “urban” style of running – based on roads, gyms, times, expensive kit, big events etc – in favour of a “rural” style emphasising the sheer joy and fun of running: inexpensive, off-road and closer to nature.

I spent much of 2019 putting this into practice when living and working in Borrowdale in the Lake District, a fantasy-land for the “rural” runner, as outlined in my most recent blogs. Equally, the author describes similar experiences running through the fields and woods close to his home in rural Northamptonshire.

There seems to me a logical next step from this. Some people live in the countryside permanently, others temporarily, and most of us will visit from time to time. However, fact is that 80-90% of us live in towns and cities, so day-to-day are not able to practice “rural” running in a rural setting. It would seem pretty important, then, to establish whether it’s possible to practice rural running in an urban setting, so that it’s theoretically available to most.

This is only too apparent to me. Having finished my summer job in Borrowdale in October, I moved back to Leeds, where I’d previously lived since 2005. Over these last 3 months, I haven’t gone out and bought a pair of road shoes, or joined many of my running club’s road interval sessions or signed up for the Leeds Half Marathon. Instead, I’ve been trying to find various weird and wonderful ways of keeping my running varied, interesting, low-cost (I’m not currently blessed with a well-paid job) and, perhaps most importantly for me (a creaky 47 year-old with dodgy knees), off-road. It’s been particularly challenging in these cold, dark winter months, but I’ve given it a go!

Here, then, are 10 top tips for “rural” running when living in a big city, based on my experience of running in Leeds:

  1. Don’t run in road-shoes, run in trail shoes. Road shoes are only good for tarmac (and some will question even that), so if you wear them, you won’t go anywhere else. Whereas, trail shoes allow you to run on all surfaces – paths, grass, mud, and the occasional unavoidable stretch of tarmac – giving you the choice to wander at will.
  2. Seek out the green space. Every town or city has some green or wild space. Parks, woods, fields, nature reserves, accessible reclaimed land, cemeteries, estates, canal towpaths etc. Edinburgh even gets its own city-centre mountain (Arthur’s Seat). Get a decent map and start linking it all up. I’ve recently moved to the Woodlesford area of Leeds which is blessed with enormous stretches of accessible open space, mainly reclaimed from old collieries. Exploring it has been a great way of getting to know the local history of my new patch.
  3. Join a club that does trail/fell running. At my count there are 8 running clubs in Leeds affiliated to the Fell Runners Association (FRA). Indeed many FRA-affiliated clubs are urban-based. An obvious way of finding out about suitable training sessions and races and meeting like-minded people.
  4. If it’s dark, you don’t just have to stick to well-lit pavements (or retreat to the gym). Grassy verges and central reservations are not bad options. In Leeds, the outer ring road, Easterly Road and Leeds Road through Rothwell provide some good well-lit grassy runs. And a decent head-torch gives you the option of getting off the roads at night if you wish.
  5. Find a “green wedge” into the city and run out into the countryside. In Leeds, the obvious example is the Meanwood Valley Trail, which links up with the Dales Way. It’s possible to run mainly off-road from Leeds city centre to the Lake District! (I’ve blogged about this in the past). Our other good option here is the River Aire and accompanying canal, in both directions. Sheffield, I know, has even more options.
  6. Urban ultras. In Leeds we are blessed with a 64-mile continuous trail circling the city – the Leeds Country Way. Many other places have something similar. I jogged round the LCW in 2 days over January, and it was a great way of exploring the varied but, to me, largely unfamiliar edge of the city. And of recce-ing the route of Leeds’ equivalent of the Bob Graham Round. And unlike the real BGR, there are plenty of shops, pubs and cafes en route!
  7. Invent challenges and other running “games”. I had some good fun last year inventing the so-called Meanwood Valley 3 Trigs Challenge, based on that icon of the wild places, the trig point, and was flattered that a few people gave it a go. Also, particularly runnable stretches of ground can be made into Strava segments and then be “raced” – I found a fast 2k, all downhill, through Gledhow Valley woods that I enjoyed running flat-out a few times. I’ve heard of night orienteering in city woods too, which sounds like a laugh.
  8. Run the urban fell and trail races. As far as I’m aware, there are 2 races in the FRA calendar within the City of Leeds boundaries – Otley Chevin and Danefield Relay. Local clubs organise a number of trail races, such as Boxing Day’s famous Chevin Chase, the Meanwood Valley Trail race, Guiseley Gallop etc etc. And, increasingly, there are some commercial trail races too – Holly Hustle, St Aidan’s Winter Beast etc – just a google search away. Some of the city’s many parkruns are more interesting than others….
  9. Seek out the mud. There will be stretches of muddy path in every town or city in winter time. So, instead of avoiding it just enjoy the fun of running through it! There is a particularly good 10-minute muddy loop at the top of the Meanwood Valley Trail near Stairfoot Lane car park, incidentally.
  10. Spoil tips. I had a few fun experiences in Borrowdale running down the spoil tips of the old mines at Honister and Seathwaite, so was pleased to find something similar from an old coal mine on the outskirts of Rothwell. A bit like scree-running on a damp sponge, but without any environmental guilt (see below).

Well, there’s probably more on this theme, and I’d be interested to hear anyone else’s ideas. Elsewhere on this site can be found lengthy discourse about my attempts to help save just a small wild space in Leeds from development a few years ago. Returning to the city after almost a year in Borrowdale, which is blessed with wilderness aplenty, has reminded me of the essential need for wild space close to where the majority of people live as well.

img_20200204_144241-1

Soft Graham Round

A quick write-up of my first dip into the world of long-distance fellrunning, should anyone feel suitably inspired to follow in my footsteps.

This idea occurred to me earlier this year when I thought I could never do a Bob Graham Round. Not ever – just totally impossible. I’d never be fit enough, nor organised enough, never even be able to stay awake that long! Then I thought – well, would I at least be able to link the 5 leg handover points in a single run? Perhaps I could do that – in half a day maybe? – and I could do it on my own and in my own time.

Six months later and I’ve now done it twice. And although there would be several months of hard training ahead, plus all the planning of pacers and other logistics (and a lot of luck!), I now think a Bob Graham is theoretically in me. Theoretically….

Anyway, in the punning vein of the Frog Graham Round, Puddle Buckley etc, this is the Soft Graham Round. The 5 points you must touch, in any direction and by any route (and return to your starting point, of course), are:

  1. Keswick – Moot Hall
  2. Threlkeld – road sign at junction opposite cricket club
  3. Dunmail Raise – stile leading onto Steel Fell
  4. Wasdale Head – bridge at entrance to NT campsite (don’t be tempted to cut a corner at Wasdale – you must visit the NT campsite!)
  5. Honister – door of cafe

For my first attempt in May, I was based in Borrowdale, so chose to start up the road at Honister. I also felt I needed a tea and chips stop half way round, so decided to run anti-clockwise and rest at the Old Dungeon Ghyll in Langdale. This did add extra miles on to the route and also had the disadvantage of giving me an uphill at the end –  the Allerdale Ramble between Grange and Honister, round the back of Castle Crag. That last bit turned out not very pretty! 78km, 2500m of ascent, elapsed time 12 hours 24 minutes (see my Strava).

That experience slightly nagged at me, so the other day I gave it all another go. This time, in more conventional BGR fashion, I started at the Moot Hall at 7.30am and went clockwise (it was nice to delude myself I was doing the real thing!). Daylight was limited, and conditions were icy cold. This time, I went “direct” between Dunmail and Wasdale which did save time, although the section between Steel Fell and Stake Pass was proper fellrunning – rough (and icy) underfoot and tricky nav. Generally though, much went pretty smoothly – refreshment stops at Wasdale and Honister came at the right time, and going up the side of Great Gable I had the added bonus of the sun on my back as it set over Wast Water. Darkness finally came just before I came off the fells at Grange, so the headtorch came out on the final road section from here. The one snag was that at this point the temperature plummeted, and much as I’d hoped to just jog or even walk this last bit I was actually forced to try and run to keep warm. Arrival at the Moot Hall was very welcome! 67km, 2900m of ascent, elapsed time 10 hours 6 minutes:

strava4939807185659877919So, if anyone else wants to give the “SGR” a go, let me know and I can compile a list of completions. To start with, 10.06 is your target!

Meanwhile, however knackered I may currently feel, it was rather humbling to see, 2 days later and in similarly icy conditions, the real thing run in under 16 hours – the winter BGR record smashed by 2 and a half hours! Well run Kim Collison. By comparison, this version really is a Soft Graham Round.

Free adventures from YHA Borrowdale

I was lucky enough to live and work at YHA Borrowdale in the Lake District for most of 2019. Lucky because there was so much adventure on the doorstep – so much to see, do and explore. Of course, some of this (such as rock climbing) would have required specialist skills or equipment, or some kind of financial cost (entry fees, guides etc). However, most was free and accessible to the average adventurous type (like me), and in-between shifts I didn’t miss out. So, in alphabetical order, here are my top free adventures from the door of the hostel:

Bothies

Go up to Honister from the hostel, then along the old tramway for a mile and you come to Dub’s Hut, a large but basic shelter. I usually preferred however to press on a further half a mile to the more characterful Warnscale Bothy. Only a couple of people could comfortably stretch out in here overnight, but you could cram in many for temporary shelter. It boasts the most magnificent view over Buttermere:

img_20190405_115150Caves

Somewhere half-way between a bothy and a cave is the climber’s shelter under Cam Crag, which is fun to try and locate amongst the rocks. Rather larger, a mile’s ramble along the river from the hostel and tucked underneath Castle Crag, is Millican’s Cave. Big enough for several woolly mammoths to live in, it was actually the home of Millican Dalton in the 1930’s – the era’s equivalent of Ray Mears. Totally contrasting, but equally intriguing, is Dove’s Nest Cave, high up on Glaramara. Less a cave, more a geological fault, it’s well worth the rough 3-miles on foot up Comb Gill. Headtorches can be useful at all.

Night running

Indeed, the best £50 I spent all year was on a decent headtorch. It opened up a whole new world of possibilities, particularly in the dark winter months. Suddenly, going out on foot at night in your own bubble of light became a possibility, then a norm. On a clear night, don’t forget to turn it off from time to time and look up to the stars.

Race recce-ing

My previous blog focused on Borrowdale’s 5 fell races, and much fun can be had recce-ing race lines, over and over again. So much time can be won in races simply by finding the fastest lines downhill. We must have come down Glaramara and Dale Head 5 times each before their respective races, and a different way each time! Very satisfying to find yourself way ahead of much faster runners on race day, just because of your local knowledge.

Scrambling

ie progress on foot where use of the hands is required. The best scrambles I found were up ghylls during dry periods – endless possibilities here. I also enjoyed some simple scrambles on more exposed terrain, such as the summit of Glaramara and alongside Cam Spout in Eskdale, plus a bit of bouldering at Honister. The more serious stuff I left to the climbers.

Scree-running

You probably shouldn’t do too much of this, but the occasional scree-run can be great fun. The classic is the descent from the summit of Scafell Pike to the Corridor Route, taken during the Borrowdale Fell Race. Various spoil tips from old mines can provide a more ethical alternative.

Segments 

Fell races are fun but they don’t always take place when you want them to. However, runners now have Strava – their favourite app – and its segments allow you to “race” various routes whenever you want, and compare your times against others’. Of course, there are loads of segments around Borrowdale, including the hostel’s very own challenge – King of the Castle – from the bar to the top of Castle Crag. I rather liked the downhill-only segments too, such as from Honister to Borrowdale YHAs.

Stravaiging

ie ” to wander about aimlessly”. The routes of so many of my explorations on foot this year I made up as I went along. You can do that in Borrowdale – hardly any of the land is off-limits. If I saw something interesting – a crag, a waterfall, a viewpoint, a sunny patch(!), I’d follow my nose in its direction. I rarely stuck to the beaten track. With time, I built up an ever-increasing mental map of the valley, and got to see and experience it from every angle. My stravaigs were a combination of walking, running, scrambling etc – as the ground dictated. I travelled as lightly as possible – minimal gear, and light fell shoes – and felt that this was the best way of moving around Borrowdale’s rough terrain.

Swimming

Or strictly speaking, any dips in rivers and lakes. I tended to paddle, particularly on hot days. My favourite spots were the pool just next to the hostel (below), Stockley Bridge and much of Langstrath. My favourite spot for a decent swim though was the famous Black Moss Pot, 2 miles on foot from the hostel. Jump in the pool and let the current take you a further 50 yards down the gorge – fantastic. I never had the guts to jump off the notorious 10 foot-high ledge though….img_20190621_152602Ultras

I’d never run more than 25km in one go before 2019, but once in the Lakes I soon found myself caught up in chat about the longer stuff. I helped a friend with her attempt on the Bob Graham Round, and although I found the BGR would be way beyond me, I did start doing longer expeditions. This culminated with me coming up with an abbreviated version of the Bob Graham, which linked the 5 leg handover points by my own route. Although I christened it A Soft Graham Round, it was still 77km and 12 hours of my life I won’t forget in a hurry!

Viewpoints

In decent weather, Borrowdale is spoilt for great views. It was fun to find the well-known chocolate-box ones too and get the camera out. Dale Head, Fleetwith Pike, Ashness Bridge and below – Wasdale from Westmoreland Cairn below the summit of Great Gable.cropped-img_20190226_142450.jpgWaterfalls

Sour Milk Ghyll in Seathwaite and pretty much everything down Langstrath were my favourites, but after heavy rain there are waterfalls everywhere in Borrowdale. On a wet day (and there are many), don’t mope in the hostel – get the waterproofs on and get out and see the falls and rapids at their best!

Winter

On a Saturday afternoon in February I thrashed through the snow drifts from Honister to the summit of Dale Head and back. Probably took an hour in total, which was as much as my freezing cold feet could stand. But so worth it for the view below. In a year of countless memorable adventures, this is the one that stands out most of all.img_20190202_143110

Five fell races in Borrowdale

(20 March 2020 update: Well, obviously the last 4 of these races aren’t going to happen now, but it was a good idea at the time. Who knows, maybe 2021?)

 

I’ve just returned to Leeds after 9 months in the Lake District – living and working at YHA Borrowdale, and indulging in my passion for fellrunning in-between. In which time – apart from serving countless meals and scrubbing countless bogs – I really did rather a lot of running. Looking back on my Strava feed, I recorded over 100 activities, covering over 1000km in distance and climbing around 50,000 metres. But I probably did as much again which I didn’t record – various rambles, jogs, scrambles, stravaigs and other explorations on foot.

The vast majority of my trips out were directly from the YHA. I rarely got into the car first. The hostel, in the hamlet of Longthwaite, is perfectly located to explore Borrowdale’s famous fells, crags, valleys, waterfalls and more. I got to know my patch pretty well, and never got bored of it. Quite the opposite in fact – the more I explored, the more I found to explore.

In amongst all this I quite liked to race. I did 22 fell races in these 9 months, and 4 of them began no more than a 10-minute jog from the hostel. In fact, 5 races in the FRA calendar start within half a mile of YHA Borrowdale. So, in tribute to these few but esteemed square miles of the country, I shamelessly plug these 5 races below. Why not give one, or more (or all 5!) a try in 2020?

1. King of the Castle

1pm, Sun 5 January

Start: YHA Borrowdale, Longthwaite

2.5km, 200m – AS

Organised by: YHA Borrowdale

Early January – crap weather, short days, Christmas & New Year done – we all need a boost. Hence YHA Borrowdale’s very own dash to the top of Castle Crag. Uphill-only time trial, so scope for a leisurely descent before returning to the waiting cake (and drying room). A great way to start the fellrunning year. I hope to be back in 2020 to defend the coveted MV40 trophy I won in 2019 (a plastic YHA water bottle, no less).

2. Glaramara

1pm, Sun 24 May

Start: Glaramara House, Seatoller

8km, 700m – AS

Organised by: Borrowdale Fell Runners

The climb up is strenuous but straightforward, but this race is all about picking the right line on the descent. Can you locate the alleged grassy ramps, that send you hurtling down the fell while normally-faster runners trail in your wake? Local knowledge and repeated recce-ing is a massive advantage here. And bear in mind that the bit you can’t recce (the final part of the descent, which is out of bounds except on race-day) is a potential ankle-breaker of rocks hidden in the bracken. Oh, and from my experience this year, don’t run it the day after supporting a Bob Graham Round – it might kill you.

3. Langstrath

7.15pm, Wed 17 June

Start: Langstrath Hotel, Stonethwaite

7.5km, 430m – AS

Organised by: Borrowdale Fell Runners

Well, this is the one race of the 5 that I didn’t get to run in 2019 (due to pot washing responsibilities) but I ran the route often enough. Up the interminable stone staircase of Lingy End, then a rough trail by Dock Tarn to Watendlath (quicker but boggier lines across the moor are potentially available), then back down the main track to Stonethwaite. An evening race at midsummer – one of the best times to run in the Lakes.

4. Borrowdale

11am, Sat 1 August

Start: opposite Scafell Hotel, Rosthwaite

27km, 2000m – AL

Organised by: Borrowdale Fell Runners

The distance and ascent don’t even begin to tell the story of the Borrowdale Fell Race, one of the classic events on the FRA calendar. Indeed “fellrunning” is a potentially misleading term here, as so little of the race involves conventional running. From the walks up Bessyboot, Great Gable and Dale Head, the invisible trods around Glaramara & Brandreth, the boulders up Scafell Pike and the scree-run down it, the technical descents of Gable & Dale Head…. factor in the weather, food & water considerations (the only “feeding station” is a murky trough of juice at Honister) and the challenging cut-offs and you have more an exercise in self-reliance and mountaincraft than a running race. I was just glad to get round within those cut-offs and avoid the “bus of shame” this year.

5. Dale Head

2pm, Sun 20 September

Start: opposite Scafell Hotel, Rosthwaite

8km, 675m – AS

Organised by: Keswick AC

Much like Glaramara – a steep climb up the track, but what is the best line down? The best I can say is – it depends on what kind of runner you are. Better descenders can take the steeper, rougher lines; more workmanlike downhillers like me have to take the longer ways round. Still, in 2019 I ran this race in 57 minutes – 9 minutes quicker than I did in 2018 – a testament to what being in Borrowdale for nearly a year can do for your running!

Well, at the end of October my summer contract at the hostel ended, although I’m glad to say I’m moving on to a job at another YHA, albeit outside the Lakes. I’m sure I’ll be returning to Borrowdale often enough in 2020 though, only this time as a visitor, and giving as many of these races as I can another go.Version 2

A day and 7 minutes in the life of a Bob Graham supporter

bg departureFriday 17 May 2019

2000 (8pm): I set off running from the Moot Hall in Keswick, pacing my Valley Striders clubmate Amanda on Leg 1 of her attempt on the Bob Graham Round. We are accompanied by Paul, who is navigating the leg, and boosted by the cheers of a small group of wellwishers who have gathered to see us off. Amanda’s schedule, based on completing in 23 hours 10 minutes, anticipates us on top of Skiddaw at 2125, Great Calva at 2210 and Blencathra at 2320, completing the leg at Threlkeld at 2353. Paul has accompanied dozens of BGR legs over the years, whereas I’m a first timer. I ran the whole leg around 6 weeks ago, and have revisited a couple of sections of it since, but that was all in daylight and the second half tonight will be in the dark, so fingers crossed.

2119: We arrive on top of Skiddaw 6 minutes ahead of schedule after a brisk walk up in fine weather.

2200: Headtorches are on as we touch the cairn on Great Calva.

2315: Conditions remain good on the long drag up the back of Blencathra, in fact the full moon on the horizon matches the compass bearing exactly. With time in hand I make a deliberate effort to slow the pace. But there is a sudden deterioration on reaching the summit plateau, with the mist reducing visibility to a yard and the wind howling. After 30 seconds lost quite literally walking round in a circle, compasses and devices are checked and 10 minutes later – as if we are searching for a dropped £10 note – we find the flat circular stone on the summit of Blencathra. It’s not a place to linger tonight though, and seconds later we are dashing down Doddick Fell and back to civilization.

2345: Arrive at Threlkeld car park, 7 minutes ahead of schedule. It’s been a very enjoyable evening run, with Amanda very chatty, Paul good company, and a nice sense of team-work at the beginning of a long haul. Saying that, I’m only too glad to get straight into the car (which I’d parked there earlier) and head off back to a warm bed. Amanda, by contrast, pauses for just 5 minutes (refreshments provided by fellow Strider Steve, working a dedicated night shift) and is straight off into the gloaming with her support runners for Leg 2.

Saturday 18 May

0130: Having dropped Paul off at his caravan near Keswick, back to my base in Borrowdale where (unusually for the Lake District) I enjoy a decent wifi connection. Upload a few Leg 1 photos onto social media and finally off to bed.

0900: Check Steve’s Facebook update and Amanda’s live tracker. She has lost around 40 minutes in the mist on Leg 2, and is now running very close to a 24 hour schedule. Bad news for her, but it does spark a greater sense of urgency in me. This could be a close-run thing!

1000: Jump into the car and make the 90-minute drive from Borrowdale to Wasdale Head. A crazy enterprise – 6 miles as the crow flies, 40 miles by road – I could have run it quicker.

1130: The National Trust car park at Wasdale is full but support driver Tom and the Leg 4 runners are there, anticipating Amanda’s arrival shortly. Just enough time for me to drive half a mile up the road, dump the car then leg it back to see Amanda come in.

1205: After a decent 10 minute break, Amanda is off on Leg 4, two thirds of the round done in two thirds of the time. It’s going to be a fun next 8 hours! I am very pleased to be able to offer Alex, one of Amanda’s Leg 3 support runners, a lift back to his van at Dunmail Raise.

1630: Back to Borrowdale, upload photos and a clip from Wasdale, have a bite to eat and check on Amanda’s progress. Likely to arrive at Honister just after 5. It’s still on!

1700: Make the short drive up the pass and find the support team at Honister. Anxious necks are craned up the trod from Grey Knotts, searching for figures. After what seems an eternity, a fast runner dashes down the slope. Sadly, it’s not Amanda, but her Leg 4 support runner Tom, who gives us a breathless update. Amanda is on her way, still with a fighting chance of a sub-24 hour round.

1723: Amanda arrives in Honister car park, muttering about it being no good, she’s lost her chance etc etc, but still runs straight past the refreshments table lovingly laid out for her and is straight up Dale Head. The Leg 5 support gather up their stuff and dash after her, and I tag along, thinking it might be useful….

1803: Amanda touches the cairn on Dale Head with 1 hour 57 minutes left and 2 peaks and 8 miles to go. I think about continuing on the whole of the final leg, but in fact decide that she already has enough people around her, and frankly I don’t want to have to traipse up to Honister later to pick up the motor! So, dash back down to the car, then pop into base to upload a final clip from Dale Head. It’s obvious from a quick glance at Facebook that many people are keenly following Amanda’s progress on the tracker, willing her on. Back into the car and round to Portinscale.

1855: Start jogging up the road from Portinscale, hoping to rendezvous with Amanda and the group somewhere on the run-in.

1922: Meet the group at Little Town. It’s taken me 27 minutes to jog here from Portinscale. Portinscale to Keswick is a 10-minute jog. If Amanda can jog in from here at the same pace I’ve just done so she can still do it! But although Amanda, after 23 and a half hours on the go, is indeed remarkably still jogging, she isn’t doing so fast enough for a sub-24 round! Somehow she needs to up her pace. Cue increasingly desperate attempts by the support team to somehow cajole her legs into moving more quickly. Every crass motivational cliche is spouted – “You can do this!”, “Dig deep Amanda!”, “It’s there for you, just reach out and grab it!” etc etc etc – but the road seems never-ending…

1957: We cross the bridge at Portinscale, and only now all begin to accept that she isn’t going to make it by 8.

2007: Amanda touches the door of the Moot Hall. Then we all go to the pub. To commiserate, but also to celebrate a most memorable day. And 7 minutes. A surprisingly philisophical Amanda is already talking about giving it another crack later this summer…

bg skiddaw

Stile End Dash

stile end dashIs this the quickest quarter of a mile run in the Lake District?

On the left of the photo is Stile End, near Braithwaite. As you drop steeply off the top, the path flattens out a bit and meets another path coming in on the right, from Barrow Door. The next 400 metres – to the clump of trees on the right of the photo – is a broad, sloping grassy path, perfect for a flat-out descent.

Thus – the Stile End Dash, from the path junction to the trees. Why not give it a few tries? Compare your times against previous ones (over a thousand already recorded on Strava). Can anyone do it in under a minute?

Most importantly, have as much fun giving it a go as I did:

Meanwood Valley 3 Trigs Challenge

You have to love a trig point. When out on the hills, they usually mean the end of the climbing, an excuse for a break and the best view. They also tell you definitively where you are – a reassuring navigational presence. Originally functional concrete pillars, they have become icons of the pre-digital age of cartography, and symbolic of the wild places…

But trig points are everywhere, including in the city. And whilst urban trigs may not be quite as glamorous as some of their rural cousins, it’s nice to be reminded of the hills when going about your day-to-day business in town. So, I’ve devised a roughly 9-mile off-road running challenge for us North Leeds-types that links (in a rough triangle, appropriately enough) the 3 trig points spanning the Meanwood Valley – at Scotthall, Tunnel How Hill and Stairfoot Lane. Thus, the Meanwood Valley 3 Trigs Challenge. Why not give it a crack sometime?3-trig-map.jpgI’ll try and keep “rules” as such to a minimum:

  • Start at any of the 3 trigs, visit the other two in any order and return to your start point.
  • Choose your own route, but generally I’m envisaging it would be largely off-road. For example, if starting at Scotthall, you might go via Sugarwell Hill, Woodhouse Ridge and the Meanwood Valley Trail, but the detail is up to you (and part of the fun). If you really want to run straight up Scotthall Road and King Lane I can’t stop you, but the spirit of this challenge is soft ground, avoiding traffic and knowledge of the ins and outs of the Meanwood Valley.
  • Another part of the fun is in successfully locating the Tunnel How Hill and Stairfoot Lane trigs, because their location is not immediately obvious. Maybe do a bit of prep to increase the chances of success with this…?
  • …Compare with the Scotthall trig, one of the most “visited” in the country. For safety’s sake, you don’t have to cross Scotthall Road to visit the trig itself – the metal pedestrian gate onto the playing field opposite is sufficient.
  • And take care at the numerous other road crossings. I take no responsibility should you get killed or injured when undertaking this challenge….
  • Perhaps most importantly, I don’t envisage this as a timed “race” as such, not least because the infinite number of route options makes consistent and meaningful timing difficult. I see it more as an exercise in locating and linking the 3 trigs and returning to your start point having enjoyed the circuit.

OK, a list of successful completions to date can be found here and in the Comments section below, with links to routes taken (you can also follow me on Strava to see my various efforts and routes). If you’d like your effort adding, let me know using the Comments or social media, with a suitable link. Any feedback on this idea, route selection etc much appreciated. If sharing, please use the hashtag #MV3TC. Have fun!

Completions so far (@ 19.5.20)

9.1.19. Jon & Jenny

2.12.19. Matt Armstrong

25.3.19. Richard Jones

23.6.19. Tim/Ian/Dinesh

25.6.19. Jon Pownall

25.8.19 Adam Nodwell (view a clip of Adam’s previous attempt here)

21.3.20. Andy Mace

28.3.20. Mats Vermeeren

11.4.20. Hilary Lane

14.4.20. Martin Sutcliffe

18.4.20. Tony Mills

(More ideas for trig-bagging in Leeds can be found in my blog 13 Pillars of Wisdom).

Running diary – Nov 18

… following on from Running diary – Oct 18

Thurs 1 Nov

Ran another loop of the old railway line in Norfolk. Heavy rain meant specs-off, which at least made it more of an adventure.

I’ve joined the real world at last and bought my first smartphone.

Sat 3 Nov

Ran Woodhouse Moor parkrun in 18.25, a new parkrun PB. The narrow path means lots of overtaking on lap 3, so you probably run a bit more than 5k. I do a parkrun every 6 months or so as it’s a good indicator of where your running’s at, so to speak. But not really my kind of running.

Sun 4 Nov

Cop Hill Fell Race – more my thing. And a chance to use my new Striders vest, which has arrived in the post, replacing my old washed-out one. At least I may get a few “come on Striders” now!

First did this race years ago, when I lived in Huddersfield. One of the gentler fell races in the calendar – more a hilly multi-terrain really – but nonetheless a worthwhile event. As usual, knowledge of the course an advantage, in this case a 2-lap race. Benign conditions helped me to a course PB by a couple of minutes – 42.37. 15th out of 145.

Tues 6 Nov

I’m back volunteering at YHA Keswick for the next couple of weeks (I did a similar stint this time last year). In amongst all the bed-changing and bog-scrubbing there should be ample scope for running – the fells are on the doorstep and almost all colleagues are mad fellrunners. Indeed, they have helped set me up on Strava and sent me off on a circuit of their invention – from the Latrigg car park, up the Skiddaw path to Jenkin Hill, then a fast descent down Lonscale Fell and back along the track. Miraculously, I successfully upload my first activity!

Wed 7 Nov

A rare double-running day. Before my housekeeping shift, up through quiet woods to the top of Latrigg and back. Later, a short test-out of a newly-purchased headtorch, which should open up lots more options.

Thurs 8 Nov

Tagged along with Keswick AC’s evening session – a few road intervals in heavy rain. Their best runners disappear into the far distance….

Sat 10 Nov

Back in West Yorkshire, running the Shepherd’s Skyline race, from the Shepherd’s Rest Inn above Todmorden to Stoodley Pike and back. More great conditions and a couple of fast descents. 19th out of 168 in 51.03. First time I’ve done this one but I’m sure not the last.

Sun 11 Nov

Back to Keswick and an evening road circuit with headtorch in the rain around Swinside. Shins ache.

Mon 12 Nov

Join 5 YHA staff on an exciting evening adventure around the “Lonscale Loop”. First time I’ve really been up and down a big fell with the headtorch. The descent called for plenty of trust in your footing. Heady stuff.

Tues 13 Nov

Again, road intervals with Keswick AC. I know all this stuff is good for your performance and all that but really I’m into running for the fun and adventure of it. See last night.

Thurs 15 Nov

First thing, a final crack at the Loop. Caught the sunrise first on top of Latrigg. Then did the circuit a couple of minutes quicker than before, in 48.36. Still 7 minutes slower than my colleagues’ best time, but I’m pretty happy nonetheless.

Sat 17 Nov

If you’d said to me 2 months ago I’d be running the Tour of Pendle I’d have told you to get real. But after a summer of doing short races, turns out I really enjoyed everything about my first AL fell race for 12 years (“AL” means very long, with lots of climbing, in this case 27km / 1473 metres).

Felt pretty confident going into it, with a couple of thorough recces of the course and a decent build-up race under my belt (“Grin n Bear It”, from Langsett). The weather is kind on the day, plus the bonus of camaraderie from lots of fellow Striders. I’m grateful to accept a lift from Tim – along with Simon, Ross and Amanda – and hellos to Anthony, Sarah, Andreas and Richard on the start line, plus Ian and Katherine have come to provide moral support. All of which makes it more relaxing and fun.

The field is enormous for a fell race – nearly 500 – and at 10.30 we are off from Barley up the road by the reservoir. Take it steady to start with – it takes some time for the field to sort itself out and I try to remember the key lesson from the recces: there are 5 big climbs, each of which get progressively harder, and they come late in the race (so that at halfway distance you have actually only done a quarter of the climbing). So hold back. Good intentions! As soon as we are past the trig instinct takes over. It’s a gradual downhill stretch of 3 or 4 miles. The summit mist clears and there’s a strong backwind. Too good to resist. We’re all legging it down there. This is what it’s all about.

The course is a rough figure-of-8, so if you get a backwind on one stretch, you’re going to get it in the face later on. It duly arrives on the first of the big 3 final climbs, up Mearley Moor. Struggle to the top and fortunately the rest is a bit more sheltered. Good job – the penultimate climb, suitably known as The Big Dipper, is a killer. But the final one, up the Big End, is the real heartbreaker. It just goes on forever, and gets progressively steeper, with the last 200ft or so being a case of just clutching at the heather and dragging yourself up.

Finally, it’s done, and it’s downhill all the way back to the finish. Privately, I told myself before the race that I’d be over the moon with anything below 3 hours. Actually finished in 2.54.59, 61st out of 461, so am delighted with that. Not that it’s very easy to walk for the next day or two, but it will wear off!

Thanks as always to everyone involved in organising the race, and to all fellow Striders for making it such an enjoyable day out. Same again next year!

A good recce

Recce
(reki )
verb
If you recce an area, you visit that place in order to become familiar with it. People usually recce an area when they are going to return at a later time to do something there.
[British, old-fashioned]

Collins Dictionary

Sun 21 October

I’m at Langsett Barn, a few miles north of Sheffield, on the edge of the Peak District. I’m here to recce the route of next Sunday’s Grin n Bear It fell race, a 15 miler across the moors of the Dark Peak.

Although I’ve been in this area once or twice before, it’s not been for several years. The weather is warmish for the time of year; clear at lower level but misty on the tops. I’ve got the trusty 1:25000 OS map and a 2-sided description of the route. Also carrying waterproofs, hat, gloves, compass, whistle + a bit of food and water.

I note a few things before setting off. It’s taken just under an hour to drive here. It’s a busy Sunday and the car park is full, but there’s space on the road nearby. There are toilets.

15 miles is a fair way and I set off at a gentle jog. There’s a plethora of paths through the woods before you get to the moors, but the route will be marked through here on race day, so I just choose one at random. They all converge on Brookhouse Bridge, a mile further on, where the crossing of the moor starts in earnest.

The initial climb is long and gentle on a clear trail. Coming down the other side it’s a bit steeper, including a long hairpin bend with an obvious short cut. The trail continues up the narrowing valley of the River Derwent. I note the exact locations of the race checkpoints. It’s all been pretty straightforward up to now – half the route done, in a little under 2 hours, and I have a stop for a bite to eat and a drink.

At this point, things become more tricky. The mist descends and the rain sweeps in. I have a final look at the map – follow the stream to its head and you should pop out at Checkpoint 3 (Swains Head) – and tuck it into my pocket. Then it’s head down and onwards, as the track thins to a path, then to a trod, and finally to nothing at all, as visibility reduces to a few yards.

Approaching where I guess Swains Head should be, I come across a fence in an otherwise featureless landscape. The fence looks new and isn’t marked on my map. Compass out. The fence is heading vaguely northwards. If the worst comes to the worst, if I keep heading north I will hit the Woodhead Pass road in a mile or so. I follow the fence to a stile, where it turns a corner more directly northwards. This must be Swains Head itself, and I am back on the race route.

A couple of minutes further on, there is another stile. The route description suggests that you cross it. I do so, and end up straightaway in a deep boggy grough. Turn round, back over the stile, try the other side. Even worse, and I have a near miss when my left leg disappears down an invisible hole and I escape with a minor graze. So back to the stile again, through the grough and onto easier ground.

Further on, there is a second navigational section over open ground. Following a bearing, I successfully locate a line of grouse butts. The map tells me that the final checkpoint (a barn) is down the slope to the right. I drop down a little, out of the mist, and there is the barn, tucked mischievously into the side of the hill.

The remainder of the route is a simple 3-mile jog along clear tracks. I get back to Langsett a little under 4 hours after I set out. Given that this will be my first “Long” race for some time, I’d be happy with that next week.

Sun 28 October

The race. It’s clear and cold, visibility is perfect. I arrive an hour early, which helps as there’s a full kit check before you get your race number. We set off and again I do the first climb at a steady jog. Over the top though the descent is such fun I start stretching out. I shortcut the hairpin. And I chat to a few other runners. Have you done the race before? No. Have you been round the route? No, I’m just following everyone else. Do you know there are some pathless bits? I thought it was mainly trails…

This time there is an obvious short-cut towards Swains Head, which today is clearly visible, being marshalled by 4 red-jacketed members of Woodhead Mountain Rescue Team. I cross the stile 2 minutes further on. A group 100 yards ahead of me have run past it. At the bottom of the hill, I’m 100 yards ahead of them.

Further on, I pass the grouse butts and head down the slope towards the invisible barn. Again, a group in front of me just follow the lie of the land and miss it. Some are making a dog leg to visit the checkpoint they only belatedly spotted. Later on, photos show runners coming the wrong way down the track as they have completely overshot.

I’ve still got plenty in the tank on the run in. When I cross the finish line, it’s in 2 hours 35 minutes, 1 and a quarter hours quicker than last week. I feel a bit smug about my recce. But that’s fellrunning.

grin n bear it 18

Running diary – Oct 18

…following on from Running diary – Sept 18

Wed 3 October

A slight shift in focus. Perhaps it’s the changing season, but after a summer of short races I have an itch to give something a bit longer a go. Hence I find myself at the Nick of Pendle, to have a look at the Tour of Pendle route – a 16 mile race, with 5000ft of climbing, 6 weeks away. I haven’t done anything like this since Holme Moss in 2006. A bit different to all those 2 mile dashes….

I manage around 10 miles, including the climbs of Mearley Moor and the very-well-named Big Dipper, in around 3 hours. A promising first impression. Back home I order one of these:

DSC04510Sun 7 Oct

First visit of the “winter” to Penistone Hill on the edge of Haworth, for the Withins Skyline race. Conditions pretty benign – not too cold, relatively dry underfoot. Feel strong on the first half, but pushing things a bit too hard I have a couple of tumbles, which disrupt the rhythm more than anything else. The stretch from Bronte Bridge to the end a bit of struggle, but I still get round in 21st (out of 248) in 47.36 – my best for the course.

Wed 10 Oct

To pub with fellow Valley Striders to earwig on their plans for an overseas trip next year. Probably a bit far, and expensive, for me right now, but great to know this option is theoretically available.

Thurs 11 Oct

To put the Tour of Pendle idea to bed once and for all I decide on a full recce. Leave Barley at 9.30am. Take things steady and get to the crucial Checkpoint 4 at 11.10am, ie 20 minutes within the cut-off. The climbs get progressively tougher as you go along, and the final one, up the Big End, almost a heartbreaker. But by 1.20pm it’s job done, in under 4 hours, and entry form + cheque are in the post.

Sat 13 October

Read “The Living Mountain” by Nan Shepherd – a most remarkable book. Enriching, for anyone who loves the mountains.

Mon 15 October

Splashed out on a new lightweight running jacket. The previous one finally gave up the ghost on Pendle, after a decade or more of service. We are allowed to treat ourselves, every now and then. Seemed to work OK on a 6-mile jog up the Meanwood Valley later on.

Tues 16 October

Steady run through the woods on the far side of the lake in Roundhay Park, up to Shadwell and back down “The Gorge”. About 8 miles or so.

Thurs 18 October

A few things have come together and I’m set to join 5 other Valley Striders at the FRA Relays in Grasmere on Saturday. So I was grateful to have the opportunity to head up there and recce Leg 4 – a round taking in Alcock Tarn, Heron Pike and Stone Arthur. Perfect autumnal weather displaying the Lakes at their best. I wonder if it will be like this on Saturday?

I also took a short detour to have a better look at the Grasmere Guides route, largely obscured by mist when I ran it back in August. Still just as steep, and all in full view of the Showground (on a clear day), so no doubt quite the spectacle it’s renowned to be. Note the flagstick holder at the start of the descent:

DSC04518Sat 20 Oct

A long and memorable day, for lots of reasons. A 6.30am pick-up, and squeezed into the car are Simon, Mick, Jon, Ross and me, five-sixths of Valley Striders’ team for today’s British Fell Relay Championships in Grasmere. Our sixth member, soon-to-be-Dad Daz, will join us (all being well!) at the start. We soon transfer to a coach, along with various North Leeds Fellrunners and Pudsey Pacers, and are parked on the Grasmere Showground at 9.30am. A short walk to the event field, where we are greeted by the unusual sight of 1500 fellrunners all in one place. Didn’t know there were so many! Add the marquees, stalls, wristbands and rapidly-developing mud, it feels like a Glastonbury of Fellrunning.

10.30am, half an hour before the start, and still no sign of Daz. And he’s down to run Leg 1. Fortunately, Steve has also joined us, and is ready to step in if needed. Members of the team already blessed by fatherhood start swapping anecdotes about their “big days”. But, perfectly relaxed, Daz appears, proceeds to run a blinding first leg, and we are on our way. The second leg is paired, and Ross and Jon take the metaphorical baton over the rough ground of Fairfield and Cofa Pike. But the misty conditions mean that the crux will be Leg 3, the paired navigation leg. It’s Simon and Mick who, half a mile into their run, get handed a map marked with 5 checkpoints, and head off into the gloaming…

Meanwhile, I’ve been off recce-ing the final descent, which I didn’t get the chance to do on Thursday. Steep, grassy and slippery. Then, into the pen, waiting for Simon and Mick to appear, which they could do at any time within a likely half-hour window. Finally, a pair of white vests dash into the far field (coincidentally, just behind the final leg runner of Pudsey & Bramley, the first team back, so I get to photobomb their moment of glory on the finish line). A smooth handover and finally I’m off.

It’s soon into the long and steep climb to the top of Heron Pike, then the runnable stretch along the ridge and finally the fast descent. The route is flagged every 20 yards or so, but the mist is so thick it’s still difficult to follow the markers (thank goodness for the recce). As usual, I’m passed by a few runners on the climb, then haul the same number back in on the descent, so it feels like I’ve held our position. As expected, bum-sliding comes into play on a number of occasions!

We have all “dibbed” at the checkpoints on the way round, so the final results are straight up on the screens. We’ve come 40th, out of 245 teams, a brilliant result. It seems that consistency has been our strength – we ran the 51st, 56th, 43rd and 61st fastest legs respectively – whereas other teams’ performances fluctuated more noticeably. The fact that we have “no stars” helps the team dynamic I think. A well-earned post-race drink or two in Grasmere. But then, the return coach journey provides perhaps the toughest test of the day of all. A road accident at Settle sends our driver on a mad diversion, via Hawes, Leyburn, Harrogate and Blubberhouses. So it’s a 5 hour drive back from Grasmere. Miraculously, at 11pm, we are still all talking to each other and on good terms!

Many thanks in particular to Ambleside AC for hosting the event and to Ross for pulling the team together, but really thanks to everyone involved for making this such a terrific day.

Sun 21 Oct

Bouyed up by all things fellrunning, I decided on a full recce of next week’s Grin n Bear It race, a 15 mile round in the Dark Peak from Langsett. The first half was pretty steady over clear trails, which meant the second half came as a bit of a shock. With the clag down and a disappearing trod, it was full map and compass stuff over Swains Head and Cabin Hill, with testing underfoot conditions – tussocks, heather and peat. At one point my leg disappeared down an invisible hole and I was grateful to escape with a minor graze. In other words, nice to be back in the Dark Peak! Just under 4 hours for the full round.

Wed 24 Oct

Visiting family in Norfolk, I did a 5-mile loop along a disused railway line. Unseasonably warm.

Fri 26 Oct

Back home, found a few variations in Gledhow Valley, following unvisited paths just to see where they went (nowhere, usually). Good job I’m not on Strava – they’d think I was mad.

Sun 28 Oct

The value of a good recce! Blessed with fine, clear weather, I got round Grin n Bear It in about 2.35 – an hour and a quarter quicker than last week! – coming 30th out of 130ish. Took the first bit very steady, which allowed me to do the overtaking from then on. Didn’t need to use the map once, but still saved time by knowing a couple of lines from last week (which others didn’t spot). Overall, very pleased with my first “Long” race for 12 years. And excellent support (and post-race soup) from the race organisers – Woodhead Mountain Rescue Team.

Tues 30 Oct

Back in Norfolk for half-term. Went the other way along the railway, ending up in Aylsham, so a 12 mile there and back. Long, flat straights not really my thing, but all enlivened by heavy rain.