Badgers, mud and rage

I have a bad habit of doing myself down. I’m back running, I’m relatively fit, and I love both of those facts, but still I focus too much on how much slower I am than last year. I’ve lost a minute per mile at least. I find myself running through races self-chastising myself all the way round for not being faster. Admittedly, the narrative is a positive one, sort of, as it consists of “how can I get faster?” and I find myself plotting new training schedules, training with fell running clubs, secretly getting a coach and surprising FRB with my amazing fell running ability in a month or two (I won’t, not least because it’s not secret now I’ve written it here). I did that on Saturday at Badger Bar Blast, a new fell race hosted by Ambleside AC in Ambleside, which started near the Badger Bar, and then headed up to Loughrigg hill/fell/small mountain, then to Silver How, another one, then back up and down Loughrigg. 2200 feet, just under seven miles.

This wasn’t my last chance to qualify for the Three Peaks, but it would mean that I’m not obliged to run 20 miles across the Peak district in January. I could actually have done another qualifying race in February or March, but as entries open in February (I think), I wanted to be sure. FRB wasn’t going to come with me or run it but in the end he did both. Even better, he ran around with me. The course was flagged up to Loughrigg, but then you had to make your own way to Silver How and back. I must have looked uncertain enough that he took pity on me and became my personal navigator. Usually I’d be sure to have lots of company at my pace, towards the back of the field, but we didn’t know how many would run the race, and it was very likely that they would all be damn fast Cumbrian fell runners, which they were. I didn’t expect to be guided to my parking place, for example by Ben Abdelnoor. It was going to be a stellar field because the race was being run on the afternoon of the legendary FRA Do. Yes, it’s known as the FRA Do. Neither I nor FRB were going, though I drive around proudly with my Fell Running Association sticker on my car, because neither of us had won prizes.

It was freezing cold. Biting, bitter cold. I’d even had to abandon my usual winter practice of running in only a vest and shorts, and wimped out with a long-sleeved t-shirt. I still ran in shorts though. The parking was in a field about ten minutes walk from the start. We arrived in lots of time, having stopped in Ambleside car park for a toilet visit and to eat some more food: half a marmalade sandwich for me (“are you Paddington?” said FRB) and a half a stale chocolate and cherry croissant. I’d had porridge for breakfast, and as usual with me, it did the opposite of what it’s supposed to do – make you full for a long time – and I was ravenous after an hour.

We knew we could leave bags at the start, so we set off laden along with plenty of other runners, most of them ectomorphs. The registration was in the pub garden, and we loitered outside for a while before figuring out that the pub was open, the toilets were open, and most runners were waiting inside by log fires.

We decided on a plan. FRB would stay with me until the Loughrigg summit. I was nervous enough that I agreed to him running with me though I knew that would be almost uncomfortably slow for him and I would probably feel guilty about holding him back. After Loughrigg, we’d see how many runners there were and then decide whether he would zoom off or not. The race started with a “off you go” or something, and off we went. I’d seen some older women and thought, great, I’ll have some company at the back but oh no. Because these were prize-winning, amazing older women like Wendy Dodds, who are extremely fast no matter how old they are. The views were stunning, the air was crisp and clear, the sun was shining. I kept my gloves on, but was warm enough in t-shirt, vest and shorts. It was up and up and up to Loughrigg, and even the walking parts were hard. As usual I don’t remember much of the route apart from wishing I’d brought my iPhone to take pictures of the rolling fells, the golden bracken and the sunshine on the snowy tops. I soon lost my love of the golden bracken. When we ran through the first lot, I said, “Ow! Since when did bracken hurt?” It scratched like brambles, because it was frozen.

It really was beautiful. I’m going to borrow someone else’s pictures to show you:

22836675899_dc610ad9a8_hPictures ©David Johnson via


There was everything in this race: climbs, fast descents, rocky scrambles, bogs, views. After descending Loughrigg, we had some flattish terrain to cover before going up Silver How. I remember looking up and seeing a very very big hill, next to some smaller hills, and thinking, it won’t be that one will it? Surely not. But it was. I followed FRB, through marsh and bogs (I always get my feet wet as fast as possible, then it’s done), to the ascent of Silver How. I was exhausted. And though I was condemning myself for being so tired, I should have thought: I’ve travelled to the US three times in as many months. I’m jet-lagged, and I’m still doing a hard fell race, so GOOD FOR ME.

By now though all the fast front-runners were coming down as we were struggling up. Actually, only I was struggling up. FRB would have run it all, I think, and he told me afterwards that he couldn’t help wondering where he’d have been in the runners coming down if he’d gone at his own pace. Oops. Sorry. And thank you. I didn’t recognise anyone, though one of my fell running heroes, Victoria Wilkinson, came past me, as I realised later when she got a prize. I got to the top and was so battered the marshal had to repeat “round the cairn please” because I was in no fit state to hear her. Then, a blessed descent. We ended up running with a young woman, and FRB inadvertently took us on a bit of a detour to avoid a slippery rocky scramble down. We lost a few minutes, but never mind; we were so far back it didn’t matter. The only reason I knew we weren’t last was because I’d seen about three people trudging up as we were coming back down. The ascent of Loughrigg was hard. But I still overtook someone walking, so my uphill walks are getting better.

I overtook the young woman on the descent, then fell when my feet slipped on rock. Later I overtook her again, but she beat me on the flat to the finish, maybe because she was younger and had longer legs. Or just because she was faster. Later she told us this was her first fell race and that she’d been training with Ambleside. I try not to think of the Cumbrian clubs as the fell running elite, but when you see how close they are to such fabulous training routes, it’s undeniable. They are good.

Back at the Badger Bar, there was soup and rolls. I posed for a picture with my “I’ve qualified for the Three Peaks” smile. And I won a prize! It was an extremely generous prize-giving, and after the usual prizes for fast people, the announcer offered prizes for
1. anyone who is going to the FRA Do who hasn’t got a prize
2. anyone who supports Blackburn Rovers
3. anyone for whom it’s their first fell race
4. anyone who has never gone up Loughrigg before. (Me!) (I got fudge!)

I’ve never won a prize, I probably never will, so I’ll treasure the fudge. Or at least eat it with reverence.


Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 11.33.13

No rest. It was the first PECO cross country fixture of the season, at the beautiful Temple Newsam. I’d got a groin strain on the Badger Bar Blast and was a bit concerned about it, but it felt slightly better in the morning. And for once it wasn’t a godawful early start. There are so many people doing PECO now that there are two starts, one for the men, and then ten minutes later the women. This isn’t popular with a lot of the fast women, who find themselves sometimes stuck behind the back-of-the-pack men. At Temple Newsam, they got stuck behind men walking three abreast up one narrow path. Not good. As usual, it was great to see all the flags and gazebos, every club staking their claim like a Game of Thrones army on a battlefield. It was cold, but I was going to run in full vest (that’s vest only) and skirt, so I warmed up with Hannah, one of the few club mates who believes in warming up. There’s still a certain disdain in my club for warming up, which I don’t understand.

The men set off, then us. I was behind a clubmate who has been beating me recently, partly because I’m slower, mostly because she’s faster and running well. I overtook her and managed to stay in front all the way round, with a few glances over my shoulder. She had run a trail half marathon the day before, but so had I: nearly two hours on my feet up and down Ambleside counts as a half. I thought I’d be knackered after the day before but I felt good, actually. My legs worked, I overtook people, particularly on descents. It was sunny and beautiful, and all was well. It was also fantastic to see one of our club members running again, as he collapsed during a club training session with a heart attack only three months ago, and nearly died. Welcome back, Peter.

It was only on the final approach to the finish, up a field that had been churned to mud by 200 men and about 100 women who had run it before me, that my legs suddenly felt sapped. I was close behind a Chapel Allerton runner who had just overtaken me, and as usual FRB cheered me on by saying “you can catch those two!” and normally I would, because I have a good sprint finish. But I had nothing in my legs. And maybe more importantly, I didn’t care. So I didn’t catch her, but the race was fun, and there was soup and a roll afterwards (always the route to a runner’s heart).

Tuesday started badly. I checked my emails soon after I’d woken up and found a disturbing and rather shitty one. Work-related, and there’s a long history behind it, but still it was a shock. I was working from home as my studios are being renovated, but I couldn’t settle. Finally I put on my running kit. I had to run it off. I don’t rage run often, but it usually works. I drove up to Harewood, and set off. I shouldn’t have run really, or if I had, I should have followed my new training plan devised by FRB, but I couldn’t see beyond my rage and needing to run it away. So I ran, and ran, and ran. I stopped and walked sometimes, but I ran all the hills. I did the 4.5 mile loop, all the way round the estate and through my favourite secret gate which is not secret at all but looks it:



and then I turned around and ran all the way back. Because when the scenery looks like this, why wouldn’t I want more of it?



It took about seven miles for me to calm down. I’m still angry about the email, but in a muted way. Rage runs work.

Three runs in four days, most of them acceptable. I am not as fast as I want to be, but I will be. That’s one resolution. The other is to stop doing myself down. I saw a cardiologist last week about my heart murmur, and when he heard how much running I do, he smiled and said, “well I can see where this is going.” He meant, I had nothing to worry about. He meant, I am far fitter than most people my age and I have a strong heart.

So I’m going to start to be proud of what I can do, and focus less on what I can’t.



What a day. I didn’t see much of it, as I stayed inside all day, struggling with weird unaccountable weepiness and awful paralysing gloom. I finally managed to call my GP and get her to switch my anti-depressants, which clearly aren’t working, then I did a bit of work, then I decided to run. By then it was 5pm and dark. But I like winter running on dark streets. I wanted the air and for my mind to be cleansed by the wind. And, it turned out, by the rain that started bucketing down, though in a drizzly way, as soon as I left the house. I didn’t care. I set off up the main road. People were coming home from work or college or wherever. They were driving, or being dropped off by buses. But the weather and the dark meant that not many were walking. By the time I got to the ring road I was soaking wet, but I felt great.

I had a vague plan in my head, to run up the main road, turn off onto a posh avenue I’d once run down with FRB, which led into a long residential (and also posh) road, turn left and run to its end, and all the way back, along another long residential lane, and eventually back to the main road. The main road would be the busiest; the rest are residential streets and dark and not too well-lit. But I thought they’d be safe at homecoming time.

I was already composing in my head a romantic blog post about how darkness and fresh air breezes through the soul like cold dragon’s breath, and makes everything better, and about how I’d missed these solo winter runs on city streets. Then I came to an avenue I thought was the one I was going to turn off on, realised it was the wrong one, and kept going. I saw that a runner was coming along the road I thought I’d turn on, but I didn’t register anything about him except that his top was red, and that he was a he. I carried on, then turned onto another road, the right posh avenue. I ran for a few minutes, then heard running footsteps behind me. Oh, I thought, he’s running the same route. That made sense, as this road cut through to the posh residential road, which was a mile or so long and with no traffic lights, so good running. From my glimpse I’d thought he was a grown man, so he’d be faster, so I waited for him to pass, but he didn’t. I kept running, trying not to look behind me as I thought, oh, it’s only a runner. How stupid: it’s like trusting a man with a dog because he has a dog. Runners, dog-owners: they can be evil too.

The footsteps stopped for a while then I heard them again. They got closer, and finally I turned round, just as he came up to me, but – weirdly – didn’t seem about to overtake me. I said, “please overtake me because you’re a little alarming,” and moved out of the way. He did. He was wearing a red Nike sweatshirt and sweat-pants. Jogging clothes rather than runners’ lycra. He ran with his feet splaying out like a duck’s. He was young. He ran ahead and then answered his phone while running. I remember thinking, would a runner do that? I assumed he was running as part of some other sports training, because I see boxers out running, and they wear similar stuff: sporting kit but not specific running kit. That judgment means nothing, it’s just what I was thinking, because I was trying not to think that he had bad intentions.

He stopped to talk on his phone, and I crossed the road because I was intending to turn left, away from the main road, when I reached the long posh residential road. He crossed too, although there was no reason for him to, unless he was turning into the small housing estate that was right there. I thought that’s what he’d done, because I didn’t hear him again. I decided not to run to the left, but to cut my run short and go right towards the main road. I set off, and then I heard the footsteps again. By now I was freaked. There weren’t any people around. There were cars passing, but this road of large houses set back from the road is not brilliantly lit. At this point I was going to turn and say, “stop following me,” but I still thought maybe he was naive, and following me because he wanted to copy my running route. I sped up and at the next junction, I turned the corner and waited. He came past, walking, and looked at me. He didn’t smile, or apologise, but nor did he turn his head when he crossed the road. I watched him go down the residential road but then I couldn’t see him in the darkness, and I didn’t want to set off in case he was waiting. Nor did I want to run back down the posh dark avenue that was even darker than this one. I cursed the fact that I’d come out without my phone, because I didn’t have a pocket to fit it. Stupid, stupid, stupid. But who would I have called, anyway?

So I sat on a wall and waited. I hoped a runner would come past and I could run with him/her towards the main road and safety, though I didn’t even know if I was in danger or imagining things. A woman did come running past but going in the other direction. Then a man came walking past and I asked him if he’d run past a lad in a red top. He said, I did go past someone running, but I couldn’t see what colour the top was in the dark.

I said, he was definitely running?

And he realised I was being a bit odd because – bless him – he said, “is everything OK?”. I told him the lad had been very weird around me and that I didn’t really want to run into him. The man looked concerned and said, “take a different route?” and I said, yes, and sprinted as fast as I could down the avenue I’d stopped on, and it took five minutes, and all the time I was listening for running footsteps, but I made it to the main road, and when I got there, I said, out loud, YOU FUCKER.

How dare you ruin my run? How dare you make me feel unsafe? Even if it was accidental, you should learn that women can be scared by behaviour like that. You fucker.


Gisborough Moors

I’m not sure why I’m so determined to run the Three Peaks race. I love moors, and hills, but my two experiences of the Three Peaks have been the most painful blister I’ve ever had, and an exhaustion that lasted for days, after I did a walk with my club in eleven hours, a week or so after running the London marathon. How foolish I was to think that, oh, it’s only a walk. As FRB says sagely, again and again, “It’s time on your feet.” As did Haile, when he told a runner who took four hours to run a marathon that he was impressed. The runner quite reasonably said that running 26.2 miles in five minute miles was more impressive and Haile said, “but you’ve been on your feet for four hours and I couldn’t do that.”

My second experience of the Three Peaks was marshalling on Pen-y-Ghent this year, which was several hours of standing in Pen-y-Ghent’s particular micro-climate of sideways freezing rain and fog, in weather so bad that we were allowed to descend earlier than usual. Then I went to the finish line and stood in more freezing rain for an hour waiting for FRB to come back (that was due to my miscalculation, not his slowness: he beat his 2014 time by nearly an hour).

Neither experience should make me want to spend months training to be able to run 23 miles across and up mud, flagstones, rocks, bogs. But I do want to. It has become a target in my head and I can’t shift it. I don’t think I’m even going to do a marathon next spring. Peaks, peaks, peaks.

But first came the problem of qualifying. About a month ago I noticed that all my fell races were BMs (not as high as A races, and not as long as L races). But Three Peaks requires two BLs or AMs or ALs. Oh dear. There aren’t many suitable races left in the north, but Gisborough Moors was one of them. It’s one of those lovely English eccentricities: Gisborough Moors, near Guisborough. And who knows why the vowel was lost. The race is run by Esk Valley fell running club. FRB and I were both running it, and so were two club-mates, one an experienced fell-runner, and the other a new member who has only started fell-running in the last couple of weeks. He came equipped with his brand new More Mile shoes, and kit that possibly wouldn’t pass FRA inspections (“taped seams? what are they?), but plenty of enthusiasm.

I was nervous. Very nervous. I just can’t seem to get any faster, and this race was going to be tough, from the route profile. Hills and more hills. Also my bloody tendon has started to play up again, so I was worried about that. In short, on a glorious sunny day (once we’d driven through the fog of two Yorkshire vales on the way up to Guisborough), all I could see were clouds. This showed on my face, because at one point FRB said, “why don’t you think of it as a couple of hours running on beautiful moors in sunshine?”

Aye. Why don’t I?

We got there in good time, to the race HQ at Guisborough rugby club. Or maybe Gisborough. I didn’t notice. There were a couple of dozen runners, including a brace of runners from FRB’s club, unexpectedly. They were wanting to get a qualifying race for the Three Peaks too. I ate marzipan balls and drank coffee and not enough water, trying to fuel better than I did for Bronte Way. It’s a 12.5 mile race but with the hills and with time-on-feet, that will feel like 15 or 16 on the road. I’m not sure how I’ve become a runner who blithely – relatively blithely – takes on a half marathon a few weeks after a marathon, but I’m glad I have. I wore my usual race outfit of vest, skirt and hooped (not striped, FRB) socks, though actually this time I wore Inov-8 full socks and not my usual favourite Karrimor socks and calf sleeves. There is a point to that hosiery disclosure. For feet: Inov-8 mud-claws, although there would be mud, trails, tarmac, rocks, bogs, flagstones. Actually I’m being dishonest: I didn’t know what was coming. I prefer not to know what’s coming, unlike FRB who can glance at a race route and it will be perfectly preserved in his head.

The start was in the street outside the rugby club. Apart from our Leeds group, there weren’t many other vests I recognised. There were a couple of Harrogate Harriers, and a couple of Ripon Runners, and a lone Bogtrotter from Edinburgh in their distinctive shit-coloured vest. Most people were wearing waist-packs or rucksacks. Esk Valley had decided not to run a water station, so we had to carry what we needed. I had two small bottles in my waist-pack, plus full kit (waterproofs with taped seams, gloves, hat, compass, whistle, map) plus marzipan balls and gels. It was a sunny day, which was why some people, I suppose, weren’t carrying kit, but that’s just irresponsible. Later in the race, we hit fog, and if you are injured in that, you’ll start to get very cold very quickly, and you’ll be reliant on other runners lending you their kit. Which isn’t right.

The Esk Valley announcer blew a whistle and said, “right, you’re off” or something, which is the kind of race start I like. I’d deliberately started near the back and that’s where I stayed. Before we started, FRB had said, the first mile is like the worst bit of the Chevin, a steep, steep hill that comes at mile 21 of the Rombald Stride race. I said, great. And he was right. A bit of road, a bit of track and then up, up and up. The weather was beautiful, and the race began as stunning and carried on: there were woodland tracks, and long stretches running across moorland, with the fells stretched out on either side, where I actually stopped thinking “I’m too slow” and started thinking “I’m so lucky.” It was beautiful. I didn’t have a camera, and I was so near the back I didn’t dare stop much, but I’ll remember those views, and that feeling. I think the word “freedom” has become empty, because we assume we have it (we don’t, really). But that’s the best word I can think of to describe running across brown and golden moorland, in sunshine, on the first day of November, just because you want to.

Some other things fell running is free from: crowds. Expensive race fees. Endless directions and instructions. I love a good road race too, but that’s why I love fell running.

There were more hills, that I walked, and descents that I ran. Inov-8 Mud Claws are great in bog, good in mud and very hard on the feet on flagstones. With each set of flagstones there was a trail made by the 100 or so runners in front of me, most of whom were wearing fell-shoes and avoided flagstones too. I managed to overtake a few people, and I was faster than them on the downhills, as I spread my arms wide, pretend I’m 10 and fearless, and go helter-skelter. I drank water whenever I was climbing hills, and I had gel and marzipan to keep going, and I felt fuelled and good.

The highlight of the race was Roseberry Topping. This is Roseberry Topping:

111607nExcept yesterday the mist had come down again, and you couldn’t see it. Some people would prefer to see what’s coming: I don’t. So not until I’d run through a field gate, and found the path down – I loved this race, but it wasn’t exactly assiduously flagged or marshalled – and got to the foot of Roseberrry Topping and looked up to see a steep, steep hill and runners walking up it, in a long line, and a couple of walkers were passing me and I started laughing and said, ‘You’ve got to laugh haven’t you?” and headed up. Touch the trig, check in with the checkpoint, and then a long descent down through mud and bracken, and up again, to Little Roseberry and after that there were only two hills to go, plus “a long drag up,” according to a marshal. I managed those, with some walking, some drinking, and a diversion through the heather and bracken on a goat path. I followed two women in front of me because I knew they were local.

A word about “flagging” on fell-races. There are no flags. There are only marshals at checkpoints. Even at checkpoints, on this race the marshals weren’t much use at telling us which way to go. So you must look for a tiny scrap of red and white plastic tape that might be tied to a tree or a fence or a gate. And you must use your map, which you are supposed to carry. But sometimes you don’t see the scrap of tape and just follow the women in front, and you are all running along in some doubt until the goat-track turns right and hits the proper track, just as it was supposed to.

We still got lost though. There were about half a dozen of us who happened to be running close to each other in the last mile. As usual I had failed to recognise that we were going back on the same route that we’d taken at the beginning. I really must pay attention. There was no plastic tape in sight, so we ran along a path going uphill past some woods, but a marshal had told us, with some sincerity, that it was all downhill from then on. And even I knew that we were going back to Gisborough, which was in the valley on the other side of those woods. As usual I relied on other people to read maps and figure out where we were. I must stop doing that. And we decided to cut down through the woods, through brambles and branches. I fell, and caught myself with a bramble, which was unlucky, but then it was downhill. I was running behind a woman from Knavesmire, and I could have sprinted past her, but she’d shown me the path twice so I didn’t think that was polite. Back down the track, back onto the road, under the old railway bridge, and then…

Where was the finish?

There was no clue. There was no sign of it in the street, where I suppose I had assumed it would be. We had to ask a runner who’d finished and was changing at his car. I know fell-races are low-key, but this was unexpected. So we ran into the rugby club, expecting the finish to be a line of chalk or flour or something on the ground. But there were just two men taking down numbers, and it was up to FRB, standing at his car behind them to say, “that’s the finish, Rose!”. He’d had to say it to a dozen other runners before me.

My feet were blistered: the Inov-8 socks hadn’t been enough protection for Inov-8 shoes meeting hard stone. And I needed a shower. Descents are hard on my bladder, and I hadn’t wanted to stop and find a toilet when I was so far back already. But the rugby club didn’t have any, so it was off to the toilets with some wet-wipes again. Another woman was washing at the sink and we looked at each other and she said, “well, you don’t do fell-races for the glamour, do you?”

Later, as FRB and I sat on the sofa, exhausted at 7pm, I said, “we really should be a bit more rock and roll, don’t you think?” He said, “we do our rock and roll during the daytime,” and he’s right. Nowt more rock and roll than running with the wind in your face, and the moors stretching out all around you, and the sweep of the hills and the valleys, and the sun, and the running through bogs and bracken with joy. With abandon. With freedom.