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winter racing

Ultraboyruns: Throw a sausage roll at me or something… just chuck it in the pie hole!

What were you doing at 8pm the night before the Falkirk Ultra? Perhaps you were having a relaxing bath? Perhaps you were sorting your kit out? Or maybe you were just listening to Barry White to get you in the mood for some hot Falkirk action. What I’m sure you were not doing was sat in one of the many ‘dance of the lube’ positions while you pushed the massage gun dial to ‘11’ and proceeded to not commit a sexual act on your own bum hole while desperately seeking to resolve the hamstring, hip flexor and abductor injuries that had come hurtling back at that days race, the Chatelherault 6 (read the review here).

I’ve got a feeling I might have been alone in that endeavour.

But here I was, just 12 hours from race start desperately trying to reclaim control my old withered body. When I awoke the next morning at about 5am I sat up gingerly in bed and felt for pain – it wasn’t hard to find but it felt like a dull throb rather than being struck with lightning every five seconds as it had the night before. A very hot shower, lots of stretching and a breakfast of Weetabix and coffee followed as I stared out into the rain splattered darkness I wondered what the hell I was doing.

Anyway with my contemplations (or as other people call it, a pre race poo) done I loaded the car, said adios to the family and then headed down to sunny, sorry, rain soaked Falkirk. Thankfully by the time I arrived the rain was mostly abating but it was cold and I found myself putting on waterproof jacket, trousers and over mitts to keep warm – highly effective I might add.

I ambled down to the darkness encased registration point and despite having already collected my race number from The Foot Store a few days earlier I now needed to pick up my timing chip, I found myself waiting quietly, with my face covered due to Covid-19 being far from eliminated, but my eyesight was drawn to the runner at the registration desk who with bright lights shining behind her looked like she was rather bare bottomed! It took a second or two to register that her rather peachy pink leggings we simply creating an optical illusion but the fatherly side of me wanted to offer her something to cover this pseudo nudity – then I realised I was probably just being old fashioned and instead averted my gaze.

A moment or two later I was called forward to collect my timing chip and it was all very simple and easily done – the guys at the Falkirk Ultra know their stuff. I ambled round for a bit, dropped my kit bag off in the newly and excellently positioned checkpoint and then stripped off, ready to race.

It was about this time that I was then confronted by one the most awesome sights I would have this day and it was ‘Badge’, a gentleman I hadn’t seen since the last Falkirk Ultra (read the 2020 review here) where we had shared many little moments across the 8 hours. I had wondered if he would be at the race, perhaps even running but no he was back on support duties and it was wonderful to have him there – I would be catching up with him later!

The Falkirk Ultra is an oddity in that it’s my home race, but it’s only been my home race since 2019, yet there would be lots of runners I would know here, well, if the entrants list was anything to go by. Neil, Pauline, Graeme, a few of the Linlithgow Running Buddies and a Fiona or two were just some of the names I recognised and then there was the smorgasbord of others from Instagram and Strava that I might recognise.

Oddly, in the build up to blast off, I had seen none of them but I assumed they were going to make a late dash to the start to try and keep as cosy as possible, for as long as possible.

As the minutes to the start of the race eeked away I made my way to the start line and met a couple of lovely chaps, one of whom was asking about my Topo Athletic MTN Racer 2 and the other was a fella I had met the previous day at the Chatelherault 6. He’d managed to run about 33 miles at the race the previous day, a lot more than I had managed, and he looked incredible whenever I saw him during today’s undertaking. Talking to him reminded me there are ultra marathoners and there are ultra marathoners – he was definitely in the better category than the one I belong to.

It was while the chatter was happening that the race brief took place and the start happened, I was in my own little bubble and completely missed it and with all the urgency I could muster set off after the crowd of runners ahead of me. It’s times like this that I think I really need to pay more attention to the race itself instead of trying to enjoy myself.

There was no chance of going off like a rocket as I needed to keep an eye on the injuries that I had sustained during the previous day‘s racing. However all that massage gun therapy had left me feeling reasonable and having had a lazy start to the race I thought I’d better catch up a bit.

Just a few hundred metres into the race I saw Fiona and she shouted over to me, but just as we were about to start a brief catch up, she dropped something and I found myself in the company of Alan, a runner that I’d never met before but coincidentally had just been asking Fiona about this guy on Strava called, ‘UltraBoy’. Lucky for him Fiona not only knew him but she also knew his real name and so I started my first of many enjoyable chats of the race!

Alan though was moving at a pace that I needed to slow down from, for the sake of my injuries and as we descended, what would become, the long slow mud slide, I bade him farewell.

It was also here that I passed the ladies, Lynne and Frances that I knew from the Linlithgow Running Buddies but I had no doubt that they would be once more overtaking me any second.

I had decided that if I could have lap one as a bit of a flying lap then I would be in a better position to slow down later in the race if the injuries reared their head. Therefore as I came to the first of the many climbs in the Falkirk Ultra I knew that the only sensible thing was to take it easy and even as I saw runners battering past me I tried not to get drawn into running beyond my body’s current ability.

Once we reached the first stretch of relative flat though we all realised that today was going to be heavy going. The course was churned up pretty badly and this usually pretty quick stretch was muddy and claggy and easy to get bogged down in. Most runners were moving to the sides to get through but such is my desire to embrace the filth I simply went straight through the middle and leaped across the mud attempting to clear the worst of the wet in a single bound. Obviously this was the action of a runner on their first lap, it would not be the action of this runner on his second or third lap, I’d simply stumble through the mud desperate to keep my feet.

However, for now I chuntered through the trail, doing my best impression of a runner and trying to stay in the 33 mile game. If the course was the same as the first time I ran this in 2020 then it should be fine, there would be a significant stretch of flat ahead and I would be able to keep it together for 8 of those kind of loops. Up on to the hard packed trail I could see some more volunteers in the distance but instead of letting us go past they were directing us to the right, or as I like to think of it, upwards.

Bugger.

Here I saw Badger once more, armed with a massive grin as he saw my face at what awaited us. The notion crossed my mind that he had asked for this marshalling point because he has that wickedly cheeky grin about him that would both soothe and infuriate runners as he sent them on their way. Part of me wondered if he had asked for it so he could have a laugh at my expense, I mean that’s what I would have done had the roles been reversed.

Anyway after our first bit of banter he told me to get going and so it was that I joined the throngs of other runners, attempting to make the best of the new, seemingly more challenging route. Here I saw some of the runners running up the hill but I knew that if I wanted to make it much past the first lap I was going to have to move uphill at a more sedate pace and so I slowed to a fast walk. The great thing about a fast walk up a hill is that it can often be more effective than running and I found myself stomping past people who had taken the first 100 metres of the hill at a fair old lick and then slowed to a crawl, and although they would catch me when we finally reached the inevitable downhill I knew that my running strategy for the day would work if my leg held together.

At the top of the hill the route flattened out for a little bit and this whole section was good running and when the downhill arrived it wasn’t so severe that you felt out of control, in fact, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the race, albeit that this was the first lap.

Round and down we continued and past more lovely volunteers, all looking pretty freezing, but all super enthusiastic and there was the water stop for the route – very considerately, not located at the start. It takes a great race director to think that you might not need water at the start line but that it might be better placed on the route somewhere, especially when that same RD has provided a massive tent for you and the other competitors to keep your own supplies in at the start. This was good thinking Falkirk Ultra.

Thankfully it was too early in the event to be needing water and I was carrying my own supplies anyway and so I carried on to the next volunteers just a couple of hundred metres along, presumably stationed to stop you running down the path and making a significant wrong turn. The two ladies here seemed quite comfy with a couple of seats and possibly even a hot drink, so I did suggest they could get me a nice hot cuppa for my next loop – I thought I heard them say they’d do their best but the tea never materialised, ha!

We now looped back on ourselves and I was finding that this iteration of the route was much more fun and possibly even a bit faster than the previous edition I had run. As I was bimbling along I could now hear the buzz of the race village next to Callendar House and it really gave me a little lift even though I had no real idea how much more winding and wending around the park I was going to have to do before I would return to the start. The reality was that I was probably only 2km from the start again but before I got there I needed a little stop on the last downhill of the loop.

This stop was to be my regular, built in stop that would give me a minute or two to stretch both my hip flexor and my hamstring and try and bring them under some form of control. All the way round the loop I had been able to feel my hamstring and given that I had been pushing a little bit this was unsurprising but the exercises I had been given, and my own variations on them, to maximise their effectiveness, proved both timely and race saving. When I returned to the race, a couple of minutes later, my leg felt a more secure and certainly more warmed up then about half an hour ago.

I arrived at the turning of the first climb to be greeted by a tremendous volunteer who must have had a sheet with the names and numbers of the runners on as he greeted so many of us by name and had a little joke or word of encouragement for everyone and not generic encouragement either, he was a brilliant volunteer amongst the sea of brilliant volunteers, this coupled with his buddy at the entrance to the run round the lake (the chap with the music) was such a wonderful sight to see on each of the loops but on the first loop it was such a nice surprise and one that delighted and inspired in equal measure each time I saw them (twice per lap).

From here it was a relatively relaxed bimble back to the start but I continued to press harder on this first lap so that I really could slow down and with a little under 40 minutes on the clock I was feeling pretty good that I could slow down by about 10 minutes per lap and therefore manage my body to the finish.

Before I reached lap 2 though I was greeted by two wonderful volunteers who I shared a little dance with and this became a recurring theme throughout the event as I looked to up the ante each time I would amble past them. This was one of the highlights of each loop and as these volunteers stayed in position for the whole event I needed to plumb the depths of my dancing knowledge to do something a little different on each rotation.

I battered on past them though and headed straight past the checkpoint area, stopping only to moan at poor Pauline who, along with Fiona, have had to listen to my griping since we first crossed paths all those years ago at the Skye Trail Ultra. I’m sure I should buy these lovely runners a pair of ear defenders each with the words, ‘sod off’ emblazoned on them so that when they see me coming they can just put them on!

Eventually I was told to get a move on and so I beat a hasty retreat to the course and did as I was told.

From here it was then a mental battle of could I keep going and beat my next target of halfway before the 4 hour mark. If I couldn’t get to the halfway distance by the end of half the time then I would call it a day and try and save my aching for the following weekends pair of races in Kent.

Over the course of the next couple of hours I ran, trudged and grumbled my way round the challengingly fun course and met oodles of amazing runners and volunteers that just kept me going that little bit longer.

I would be extremely fortunate to meet runners old and new that would provide good conversation to keep me going, I got a sizeable update from the amazing Fiona and I chatted to a wonderful athlete called Elspbeth who had come from Orkney to race at Falkirk, just two of those little chats that make this such a great race to compete in. The one runner I didn’t see though was Graeme and this was disappointing because he is a big character and the kind of guy you’d want on the course to give you a big dose of reality and to put a big smile on your face. However, despite him not being there the race had lots of tremendous personalities and you were never short of someone to share a few moments with.

I suppose my trouble wasn’t a lack of interesting running buddies, my trouble was that as the race grew further into the day I could feel the difficulties brewing in the injury department.

Sadly no amount of stretching, chocolate milkshake stops, chitty chat or dancing volunteers could take away from the fact that I was ruined and I’d decided, long before the fourth hour ended my race by not being further than halfway, I would retire by my own hand.

Fate however, has a way of really pissing me off and I ran into some faces that I knew from the Linlithgow Running Buddies and there’s something in my DNA that can’t give up when there’s a face I recognise. Had I not seen Lynne and Frances then maybe I’d just have finished my lap and said thanks very much for the memories, but, I did run into them, and then kept running into them. Let me assure readers that I really wanted them to sod off so I could stop – but they didn’t and so instead of stopping I kept going.

I found something of a second wind, or as I like to think of it, the telling of some ‘poo stories’ and suddenly the idea of stopping seemed ludicrous.

More running was done and even after the guys from the Running Buddies had finally left me behind the race seemed to know what I needed and there in all her running awesomeness was Linda… Linda of Doune!

‘Doune!’ I cried, ‘Harvey Maps!’

And suddenly I found myself deep in conversation with a delightful runner and learnt all about the little town that I’d been through a thousand times to get to races, but never stopped at, despite being desperate to visit Harvey Maps. (Linda should you be reading this I did, the day after the race, finally get to go to Doune, where I ordered a bespoke map from Harvey Maps, visited the shop, went and bought a ton of plants from the wonderful little plant shop opposite, had amazing curry, chips and curry pie from the little take-out place and best of all got muddily, soaking wet in and around the lovely Doune Ponds).

Sadly, Linda told me she was cutting her race short at five laps – having not raced for quite some time – but even as we parted she looked really strong and I look forward to coming across her again at some point.

It was these interactions that were keeping me going but then two massive things ensured that I wouldn’t give in at one of my favourite events. The first was the arrival of a very familiar voice coming at pace from behind me. I could feel the hot breathe and even hotter feet of Neil chasing me down, looking to lap me. Well bugger that for a game of tennis, he wasn’t getting past me without a fight and suddenly my aching muscles found their way out of third gear for a moment and made the good doctor work for his overtake.

As we ambled along together for a while I realised I hadn’t seen him in about 2 years and yet he is one of those people you just immediately are pleased to see, even if he is overtaking you (three times). Now that overtake was inevitable but came much later than I thought it might, I feel this was mostly due to Neil running with another chap who was racing an absolute blinder but perhaps not quite at Neil’s usual race pace. This slither of good fortune meant I didn’t watch them running off into the distance until I had finished lap 5 and was back down at the bottom of ‘the mudslide’ and cosying up to another musically inclined and incredibly supportive volunteer!

I mentioned two things happened though, the first was seeing Neil but the second and perhaps most important thing happened, the family turned up. One of the runners said to me that having them there must be a real lift and truth to tell I doubt he understood just how right he was. Seeing ASK and the GingaNinja is always a boost, especially when I’m finding it gruelling and rest assured dear reader I was finding this incredibly gruelling. With my family hanging around for the remaining laps I knew I had the incentive to keep going to the end and with time now firmly on my side I could only see a positive conclusion to the race.

Obviously there were the remaining laps to conclude and with runners now entering final laps and the large groups of runners thinning as the laps counted down it became harder to maintain the momentum from the various boosts I had received. However the on course support from the volunteers was immense as I pounded inch by inch closer to that 33 mile finish line.

As I approached the conclusion of my 7th lap I still had more than 90 minutes remaining before the race cut off of 8 hours was reached and there was a moment where I realised that even if I walked the route slowly I would reach the finish before the end of the event and even with the cheering at the race village I slowed to a bit of a meander for that final loop – I did not have it in me to run.

On the mudslide I could see ASK at the bottom alongside the GingaNinja and the wonderful volunteer who had sung and danced through the last 7 hours of the race and I gave it a little bit of welly to make sure I didn’t disgrace myself in front of the child. I then gingerly moved along the tarmac and back into the woods were I slowed to a crawling pace, ensuring I got all the stops I needed by having a little chuckle with the lovely marshals and waving at the passing runners I knew who were soon to be finishing.

And so there I found myself, on the final lap, sort of alone, happy in my thoughts, going as fast as possible but without putting too much pressure on myself.

Lovely.

But in the near distance another runner was slowly gaining on me, she too seemed to be having a lovely day and when she finally caught me at the top of the first of the two biggest hills in the woods we got chatting and my gentle amble to the finish line turned into an experience that I really, really enjoyed.

I’d bumped into the wife of one of the race organisers and I was able to pass on my most genuine thanks through her for everything and everyone that makes the Falkirk Ultra the absolute blast that it is. Much like me though I think she was rather tired of the course amendment of the additional hill but it was something we could complain about together and Lynn made a fantastic running companion for these final few kilometres.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so grateful to her because she ruined my opportunity for a slow jaunt to the finish, instead she inspired me to do things like running even when my legs really didn’t want to and as we came around the lake for the final time she kept me going at a fair old lick.

As we passed the side of Callendar House I saw that ASK was waiting, cheering in that mildly patronising way she does, but this was the time for a dad and daughter to finish the race together – I waved Lynn onwards to the finish, thanking her as she went and then ASK and I started running together.

There is something about holding the hand of your 7 year old daughter that fills you with both joy and energy at the end of a race and with a final blast I could feel the burning of my heart, pumping blood back into my veins. My feet lifted off the ground and ASK and I blasted to the finish, dipping ahead of Lynn on the line and roaring to the end of 33 bloody, muddy, amazing miles.

What an awesome race this was.

Overview

  • Distance: 4.15 mile loop (ish)
  • Ascent: Couple of small climbs
  • Date: February 2022
  • Location: Falkirk
  • Cost: £33
  • Terrain: Muddy, undulating, fun
  • Tough Rating: 2.5/5

Route
Since any of us last ran the route in 2020 there have been a few changes, there is a little bit more climb and little bit more descent. The key change is the amount of fun you are going to have on the route, in 2020 the route was pretty much perfect but in 2022 the organisers have actually managed to improve on it. Yes the ascent is a little bit tougher but the descent is such fun, it is the kind of the thing that makes you go ‘weeeeeeeeeeee’ as you’re running. However, it is not just the addition of the new climb it is also the way that we took back to the beginning which is much less like a mud bath and infinitely more runnable and these aspects make the course a little faster overall in my opinion.

Could you get bored doing 8 hours on this loop? Not a chance, it has a little something for everyone, for me that thing was the wet and the mud and the route has enough of this to keep you interested and ensure that you go home with filthy running shoes and wet feet.

The route, as was the case in my previous running, incredibly well signed and also heavily marshalled in a truly supportive way, I always felt like there was someone with a kind word to get me through to the next bit. I love this route, because you get something of everything and you’ll never be quite sure what you will get on the day, if the Falkirk Ultra had a very rainy year then this route would be an absolute trudge fest but a wet, fun trudge fest, if it was snowy or icy then that would present a different type of test again, if it is reasonably dry as it was this year then you get good, pacey running and people lapping you (well if you’re at the back like me).

Everyone should give the Falkirk Ultra a go, it really is an absolute cracker.

Organisation
There were a few changes compared to last time such as the opportunity to grab your number and goody bag in the week leading up to the race and I felt that this was a really good move – not just because of Covid but because it improved the pace of everything on race day. Runners were able to arrive ready to run and the queue for the collection of timing chips was a swift moving affair.

That whole organisation of the event is tremendous and while I am sure it is incredibly stressful and challenging putting this together, especially under the glare of the pandemic, the guys make it look easy. There should be nothing but respect for both the organisers and the marshalling team that help bring this together.

Value for money
I’ve said it before and I will say it again, this race is too cheap and while I understand the ethos behind trying to bring a great value event to runners I am sure they could charge a few extra pounds and make sure that it keeps coming back year and year and I have no doubt that the runners will still come even if we had to pay a few extra pennies.

Let’s look at what you got… this year we had the t-shirt, the bespoke medal, the awesome Falkirk Ultra bobble hat, beer, Irn Bru Extra, Tunnocks wafer and of course all the gubbins associated with the event itself. I cannot express how amazingly good value this event is. I mean part of me doesn’t want to mention it for fear that you’ll beat me to a place in the 2023 edition but there we have it, at a time when everything else seems to be offering you less for more money, the Falkirk Ultra offers you more for less money. Thanks guys.

Volunteers
I’ve been fortunate to run at events with some truly inspiring volunteers – the St Peter’s Way, Vigo Tough Love 10, Skye Trail Ultra, The Yorkshire Three Peaks Ultra, Jedburgh Three Peaks and many, many more but there is something about the atmosphere that the marshals and organisers bring to the Falkirk Ultra that is extra special. You never get all the volunteers names and I’m writing this several weeks after the event and therefore I really have forgotten all the names I collected but what I haven’t forgotten are those special individuals that made this event possible. The pair of chaps at the entrance to the woods and the entrance to the run alongside the water those two were absolutely amazing and really kept me going when I felt like giving up. The pair of young ladies at the waterside who shouted, ‘dancer’ at me on nearly every single lap and had to put up with the least effective twerking that any human being has ever witnessed. The lone chap with the wonderful beard who stood there smiling for 8 long hours, the lady at the bottom of the mud slide who jigged her way through 8 hours of supporting runners, the guys who laughed and joked with the runners from their secluded position under the trees (I think these poor guys had to listen to my terrible jokes), the ladies who stopped us heading off to the road and all the water point marshalling volunteers – all brilliant. And of course there were the volunteers who sent us up the new hill (not a euphemism), including the awesome Badger (disappointingly bordering on cleanly shaven), all of whom gave us the positive vibes needed to keep going with clapping, cheering and cow belling you could ask for – thanks guys! What I can say is that I will have forgotten people, such as all the team in the main ‘race village’ area and to anyone else out on the course that I have missed, you too were awesome.

Awards
A simple and very effective medal and I certainly earned that medal this year.

I’ll probably treasure this medal even more than the 2020 one because of the way I managed to hold it together despite the injuries and the pain. As mentioned in the value for money section there was also another awesome branded bobble hat and a simple, branded black technical t shirt. You get a lot of useful stuff for your money at this event – other race directors take note!

My race
Can I complain about how I got on? No of course I can’t because I finished and about 12 hours before the finish there was still a massive question mark over whether I would even get past the starting line. It took every ounce of control I have to run gently, to remember to stop and stretch, to not get over excited and caught up in running with other people (although this did happen a bit when I came across runners I knew). I understood that my body wasn’t in any shape to do this event and yet I managed to manage things well enough to get round. The Falkirk Ultra remains in my top 10 races and rightly so, because it is a tremendous event, and I was very keen to make sure I started and I was equally keen to make sure I finished and I did just that.

Conclusion
‘Life is a lemon and I want my money back’ sang Meat Loaf, but had he met me at the end of the Falkirk Ultra he would have realised that life is anything but a lemon and I’d pay again and again to live these kinds of 8 hours again, hence why if the race returns for 2023, 2024, 2025… (you get the idea), I will be back.

In 2020 I went to the Falkirk Ultra with no expectations because I had never done it before but in 2022 I went with expectations that were sky high because of my amazing previous experience. I am pleased to conclude that the 2022 edition of the Falkirk Ultra exceeded all my expectations.

To find out more about the Falkirk Ultra visit their Facebook page.


‘When we get back you can kick his right gonad in and I’ll kick his left one in’ … this was part of a conversation I had with fellow runner Sonya as we ascended the final climb of the Winter Wipeout from Cold Brew Events about one of the race organisers, Barry ‘Brilliantly Sadistic’ Kemp.

What a race; what an event! I do hate a half marathon but this was an absolute cracker.

But to fully understand why both Barry’s gonads deserved a bloody good whack with a large blunt instrument and why this was an absolute ‘must run race’ you really have to roll back about 6 hours or so.

In the car at about 4.45am I set off from a rather chilly Falkirk down towards Ingram and the race registration. All was going well, 90s dance music was playing loudly in the car, I was being mindful of both speed cameras and road conditions and I hadn’t eaten all the remains of the festive sweeties I had brought with me.

Life was good.

I’d successfully negotiated all but the last couple of miles of the journey when I felt the backend of the car flip out from behind me. Check 1, anything coming towards me? No. Check 2, anything behind me? No. Check 3, anything hard and wall like that I might be about to hit? A wall!

Thankfully I hadn’t been going too fast because it was clear this back road was rather icy and so I looked to the side of the car and simply moved with it allowing it to touch the grass verge that it was heading for and as it gently mounted it I tapped the accelerator around the tight corner.

What I can confirm was it was a brown trousers moment and I felt, had I been in dire need for a poo, then it is almost a certainty that I would have sprayed that brown goo all over the drivers seat.

For the remaining 1.9 miles of the journey I glued open my eyelids and gave it the obligatory 110% concentration arriving into the parking a little before 7am with very sweaty palms and a bladder ready to pop.

The parking was pretty quiet save for a few T5s and similar and I enjoyed the peace and quiet as I quickly slid out of driving clothes and into race clothes. As the minutes slowly rolled by I was sure that soon a massive influx of runners would arrive but by 7.30 it was still really quiet and so I wandered off to register.

Outside the cafe there was a gazebo with a very friendly chap and a young girl, probably not much older than my own daughter handing out race numbers. No razzmatazz – just hand your name in, get a number, pick up some pins – perfect. I was very impressed by the young lady handing out numbers, as it was pretty chilly at that time and she kept smiling even though I suspected she would much rather be inside.

I headed back to the car with the smell of bacon sandwiches on my nostrils from the cafe but I knew I’d soon return and this time armed with a few quid to turn the smell into the taste of bacon. Before I could get my wallet though one of my fellow competitors said, ‘don’t suppose you could help move my van could you? Got stuck in the mud when we arrived last night’.

‘Of course’ I replied and we took a side each while what I assumed was his wife attempted to reverse but despite rolling it and rolling it the van refused to budge and when the gent conceded defeat I wished them well and set off for coffee and bacon.

Coffee and Bacon were delicious and even better was an opportunity to speak to Barry Kemp, the man, the legend, the tormentor – it was nice to see him again – but I was sad not to see him in his tiny running shorts as he was the first time I met him at the start line of the Skye Trail Ultra in 2016. I think all Winter Wipeout competitors should be treated to a glimpse of a Barry in his shorts.

After a brief chat with Barry I sauntered back to the car to finish my coffee, finish getting ready and then sit back and watch the newly arrived throngs of runners.

Ah, kit watching time I thought to myself as I put the seat back and half closed my eyes.

Time though soon disappeared and I headed back to the registration area, queued for a wee and awaited the race briefing from Drew, who managed to joke about the councils role in the demise of the 2021 Cheviot Goat – something that, quite rightly, clearly was still chaffing his arse.

The race brief was clear, short but succinct, most of the people grouped at the starting line had done stuff like this before and knew what to expect but the Cold Brew Events crew made sure we were all aware of the way things would play out.

And then with as little fanfare as the registration we all set off into the Cheviots to face bogs, ice, wind and… sunshine?

I was in my usual place – at the back and was thoroughly enjoying myself as we all squeezed along the little path to the road. There was a very cosy atmosphere as runners began jockeying for position and to find their feet within the race. I like everyone else did my fair share of jockeying and manoeuvring around the ice and all the time I was taking in the beautiful scenery that surrounded me.

Amazingly I’d never really been here, certainly never as a runner and I couldn’t believe that I had been missing out on this untamed wilderness for all these years. After my disappointment at the views of the Peak District my love of the English outdoors was being restored by Northumberland. But this was only the start and I now fully expected to embrace the wilds even more as I raced along the route.

The tarmac that we were running on for the first little bit was soon replaced by trail and the Winter Wipeout looked like it was going to earn a big star as a genuine trail run. We were greeted at the turn to the trail by a marshal who pointed us onwards and upwards and I was pretty sure that there was a wicked smile on his face as he sent us to meet our fate in them there hills.

From here it was a steady climb across the hills and conditions were absolutely wonderful, it was cold, it was dry, the wind was nowhere to be seen and although there was ice it was reasonably runnable. In my head I wondered what all the horrific conditions warnings had been about and I continued to make steady progress.

Despite the hustle and bustle of the runners I felt a lovely tranquillity about running here and I had lots of time to soak it in as I slowly climbed the route.

The uphill was hard going and the impression given was of a chain gang or wagon train heading ever onwards and upwards – runners were strewn all over the place in a sweaty, heavy breathing messes. In the distance you could sometimes see a neon jacket or the reflective strip of a bag from a runner who was that bit further on and you wondered why just over a 1,000 metres of ascent was feeling so damned tough and what was it going to take to get you to the next bit of hill.

I was loving it and I spoke briefly to lots of the runners who were either going past me or I was going past – little conversations that made the whole experience very friendly indeed. Half marathons are my least favourite distance and I’ve long avoided them, returning only briefly last year at the boring as buggery, Tour of Tameside Heroes Half – but this was a completely different beast – this was magnificent.

I remember looking down at my watch at about the four and half kilometre point and thinking that, although challenging I was making decent time and I figured if my progress continued like this I’d be on my way back to Scotland by about midday. The route of course though had other ideas and suddenly the runners found themselves moving from gentle climbing to calf grinding, thigh burning uphill and with a increase in both the wind and the general chilliness of the day.

I rolled my sleeves down and covered up a bit as we passed the marshals and mountain rescue guys who were huddled behind a big rock watching us make our merry way up the icy trails.

There was more chat as we went on and I kept meeting people who had migrated from places I’d lived in to Northumberland and hearing their stories, albeit in brief, was a real delight.

Had opportunity arisen it would have been lovely to have chewed the fat properly with runners but you took every chance your body gave you on this course to run because the ice, as we got higher, was making progress slower.

It was on the first major climb that I ran out of puff and began stomping through the undergrowth to keep my feet beneath me, this was hard work as the undergrowth was cutting you to bits while simultaneously sapping all your energy away. I pushed as hard as I could but knowing that there was likely to be another even more difficult climb over this little peak.

Thankfully the path started to flatten out for a while and then rolled into a downhill, I knew that there was a risk that if I hurled myself down here that I might end up injured, covered in shit or dead but with the wind on my back I made my MTN Racer 2 do exactly what they were made for – go fast on the trails.

Boom!

I thundered down that hill until my lungs or arsehole where about to burst. I’d kept my feet beneath me and I wasn’t covered in shit – life was good. The little burst of pace though meant i meandered gently over to the fence line via the ice rink as the peak wasn’t going anywhere and I didn’t feel the need to rush.

I started up the final ascent before the turnaround and was greeted by the front runners – all of them foolishly hurling themselves down the course. I had no idea what these people where thinking, I knew that I would not be hurtling down this ‘slide of doom’, I’d be lazing back and strolling down the hill, much as I planned on strolling up it.

Conditions on the hill were considerably worse now and visibility was poor – lots of the runners were clearly grateful for the many layers that they were wearing. Although I had a full set of waterproofs and a proper thermal in my pack I decided to instead use a piece of kit, that although I’ve owned for nearly 6 years, I’ve never used – my Montane Fireball hat.

I’ve never used it because it makes me look like a prick and while I’m usually happy to look like a bit of dick this hat takes it to a new level, but here, near the summit of Hedgehope, I found myself dropping to my knees and putting on the hat. I also managed to get my waterproof overmitts on because these are perfect protection against the wind which ultimately is what was making my hands chilly.

Anyway with my kit updated I pressed on over the icy, boggy and now rocky ground. Runners were literally moving in all directions looking for safe passage through the route. Eventually, with the wind and conditions battering my body I saw the summit and two little beacons of red next to the trig point.

I felt so sorry for mountain rescue guys who were seated behind a little wall trying to escape the worst of the very chilly wind. I thanked them as I touched the trig point and then began my assault on the return.

Now I had intended to stroll back down but instead I did exactly what lots of the other runners did – I hit the turbo and started hurtling down from Hedgehope Hill with all the gusto I could summon into my legs. I took a mildly different route to most of the runners I had seen sliding down the ice earlier – I stepped into the undergrowth and just pulled my legs up, leaping across the landscape as fast as I could.

Two young ladies behind me would occasionally make some ground up on me and I advised them that they were going to have to work to overtake me and then I would put a little spurt on to put some distance between us. That back and forth would continue for quite some time yet and the two young ladies would easily, eventually overhaul me but having someone sat on your shoulder really does inspire you to perform a bit better.

As I completed the last of the icy uphills I stopped for a moment to just enjoy the lack of wind and the sunshine, removed my hat and gloves and then once more set off, noting that the young ladies were closing fast and the ice had departed in favour of becoming bog – so now it was time for my beloved Drymax socks to keep their reputation in tact. I dove feet first (thankfully) through every icy puddle on the route and battered down towards the rocky outcrop that housed the other pair of Mountain Rescue crew. I was mostly flying but I could also feel the exhaustion in my legs and as I passed and thanked the safety team and here I slowed down and allowed the two young ladies behind me to get ahead of me.

From here I continued to press on but my efforts had left me bereft of energy and there was still 142metres of climb apparently as well as a river crossing. I hoped that the river crossing was at the very end and that the remaining climb would be spread evenly across the remaining kilometres. Oddly the organisers must have been able to read my mind as they decided to do exactly the opposite of what I was hoping for and witnessed this first hand as I started down the final bit of trail and back to the road where the race had really gotten started.

In the distance I could see more marshals and mountain rescue types and so followed the arrows to join them at the river crossing. With much enthusiasm I exclaimed that this was the bit I was most looking forward to – albeit I hadn’t counted on that bloody big hill I’d have to climb afterwards.

And then with as much energy as I could manage I hurled myself into the water and then flailed about as the cold caught me – it was absolutely wonderful and upon getting to the other side I proceeded to jump back in the water snd splash about a bit more exclaiming that, ‘you really need to go nutsack deep to appreciate this’.

The young lady about to enter the water, Sonya as I would later discover, replied, ‘I don’t have a nutsack’. I hastily retreated from the water and began to climb, very slowly and very steadily. Had this been the tale of the Hare and the Tortoise then I was one of the lamest Tortoises ever to have raced but I was still moving. It was here that I was joined once more by the lovely and very friendly Sonya, she was the kind of runner that really perks you up and makes you feel like you’re the best runner in the race and I was grateful that she joined me.

We climbed the final hill together, both vocalising our displeasure with the very naughty Barry Kemp for making us do this final hill and we expressed this to the lovely marshal at the top who simply laughed at us.

From the top we could see Ingram and therefore the finish and so we both pushed what remained of our running and headed out, well until Sonya decided to take what looked like a heavy fall, but awesome runner that she clearly is, she dusted herself down and got right back up – impressive,

I’d have stayed down and waited for someone to carry me home!

We chatted a bit as we went and I hope we encouraged one another to keep going, I especially had a bit of a wobble as we entered Ingram but my running buddy put the metaphorical arm round my shoulder and told me I could do it – and she was right.

With the finish within touching distance I urged us onward to a bit of a sprint finish. It’s the one thing I always remember a man named Jimmy McKenna saying to me, ‘always finish well, no matter how the rest of the race went’ and so as we came to final few hundred metres I pumped my arms and thundered toward the finish but Sonya, who had been so instrumental in these last couple of kilometres, was not there and so I slowed, so we crossed the line together.

I’ve never been so happy to see a finish line but nor have I ever been so keen to go straight back out on the course again. It was absolutely wonderful.

Overview

  • Distance: Half Marathon
  • Ascent: 1000 metres (approx)
  • Date: January 2022
  • Location: Ingram, Northumberland
  • Cost: £33
  • Terrain: Icy, Boggy, Trail
  • Tough Rating: 3/5

Route
This was brilliant, it had just about everything, it was wet, it was muddy, it was winter, it was just the perfect bit of trail for some ridiculous winter fun running. I mean yes it was a bit brutal in places and the chap I saw running in road shoes must have had balls of steel to take this on in them but the only thing you really need to know about the route is that it will bring you joy, laughter and tears in equal measure.

Organisation
What can I say, other than the organisation was brilliant – from the parking, to the facilities, to the people who were there to ensure you had a safe and brilliant day out. This was an event with a lot of moving parts and Cold Brew Events made it run like clockwork. Great job guys.

Value for money
It’s not the cheapest half marathon I’ve ever run but it is the best value for money half marathon I’ve run and a great value packed event. I’ll be honest I’d hope they’re charging enough to ensure that they keep this brilliant event just as it is because I know I’d be happy to pay a little bit more for such a tremendous event.

Support
I’ve mentioned how sorry I felt for the guys at the top of Hedgehope – they must have been frozen but huge thanks to them. However, really it’s a huge thanks to every single person who was involved in making this happen, Cold Brew Events, the team at the cafe, the volunteers – including the young lady at number collection, each person really made this feel like a well loved and supported event. Of course there were also the ton of runners and runners friends and family who gave the whole event a really warm atmosphere – wonderful.

Awards
Great medal, nicely made mug, hot soup. Thank you very kindly that’s just grand.

So many races have got a bit puritanical about giving out medals and awards and I understand that not every runner wants or needs them and that races are attempting to become less wasteful and more environmentally friendly but some of us love a medal and a mug and I applaud Cold Brew Events for giving us great ones!

There is perhaps something to learn here – if you’re going to do a medal then do it properly, as Cold Brew Events have, and then, in my view, it’s not a waste – it’s race treasure.

My Race
I had such a great time, I didn’t come last, no fresh injuries and I came away from the race wanting to do it again. Yes I could have been fitter and carrying less festive fat and therefore run faster but I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it any more than I already do.

In terms of kit, my Topo Athletic MTN Racer 2 were the perfect shoe for the race but I carried too much kit in my pack and didn’t need my thermal layer or extra socks – what I didn’t carry too much of though was food and I found myself, just before the summit of Hedgehope, stuffing my face with about a dozen chocolate bars – something I’ll remember for when The Goat finally comes around. Waterproof over mitts were incredibly useful (much more useful than warm gloves I was carrying and remained unused) and I was very happy to finally use my Montane Fireball hat, albeit briefly. I will also once more praise my awesome Drymax socks, which when I discovered them about 7 years ago I wasn’t sure about but then really do keep your feet warm when wet and on a day like this that is very valuable.

Conclusions
I dream of running The Spine Challenger but until I’m ready for that then I’ll be coming back to this, year after year. The Winter Wipeout has restored my faith in the half marathon distance, but it has taken a very special event to do that and I’m not going to start signing up for lots of halves. This race has something for everyone that is excited by running trails and while it feels incredibly challenging it never feels so tough as to be unmanageable.

When you add in the amazing organisation, the wonderful support and a dreamy winters route then you’ve got magic.

Cold Brew Events know how to throw a trail party and I’ll be back for more of their filthy fun soon! I’d go so far as to say that the Winter Wipeout might have cracked my top 10 favourite races and is probably within touching distance of my top 5 – which isn’t bad when you consider I’ve run about 250 races. I really do recommend taking a crack at this, it was awesome.

The 2023 edition of the Winter Wipeout is open now and you can enter here or you can check out the other Cold Brew Events here.

Importantly, if you happen to see me there next year, looking like I’m dying on the route, don’t worry that’s just me having fun.

See you out there.

So this weekend I should be running The Montane Cheviot Goat, I’ve been excited about this for a long time now – probably about 3 years since I first entered it but was injured in the run up and so did not start the race in 2018.

I entered again only for the pandemic to delay the start several times and so we come to Wednesday, today, two days before I need to leave home and drive down to Northumberland and begin a race I have long admired.

Here’s the rub though, there are issues, positives and negatives. What do I do?

Positives

  1. This is a race that I have long wanted to run.
  2. The organisers have pulled out all the stops to make sure the event goes ahead after storm Arwen.
  3. Running and racing in winter is one of my favourite things to do.
  4. I get to use all the new gear I have bought for this event.
  5. I get out of going to my daughters piano recital.
  6. I get to link up with the likes of the awesome Ian Braizer and Kate Allen.
  7. It’s another opportunity to race.

Negatives

  1. My hip flexor and abductor are fucked.
  2. After my foot injury in the Peak District two weeks ago I have not run since.
  3. Covid and its variants are on the rise.
  4. Storm Arwen damage may make it more challenging both on the day and logistically for all concerned.
  5. I am navigationally challenged.
  6. I was advised by the doctor who looked at my foot 2 weeks ago that I need 6-8 weeks of rest from running for reasons I’m not allowed to publish in case the GingaNinja reads this. The doctor did confirm though that I didn’t fracture my foot as this would have made me an immediate DNS.
  7. Being fucked off by the White Peaks 50km has left me in a bit of a funk about running.
  8. There is the fear of a Goat DNF.
  9. I haven’t run an overnight race in about 3 years.
  10. I’m not a very good driver and fear being caught and stranded in snow with nothing but a shitload of chocolate for company.

I’m not worried about the weather or the underfoot conditions or anything like that I worry about not being able to finish or being the stupid bastard that needs the mountain rescue. In fairness to myself I’ve got good mountain skills for the most part, save for being a bit navigationally challenged (though I’ve bought a Garmin Etrex as back up to my Fenix 6X to help with that) and I can read a map to a point.

I’m more concerned about my hip flexor injury and my foot both of which may make a finish unlikely but its a proper trail race and my hip flexors stand up to trail better than they do tarmac and so maybe that might mitigate the problem enough to get me round. The foot though is an unknown that might rear its ugly mug or not show up at all.

Maybe I’m worried about nothing but the question remains ‘to Goat or not to Goat’?

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