Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Western Europe Finally Conquered - But Not Without a Battle

The one piece of advice everyone gives you when you are injured is to rest as time is the best healer. When you have told everyone you know that you are going to run 50 half marathons and you are doing it for charity, this advice isn’t on the option list. For the past few months my right leg has decided that it doesn’t want to be a team player and even with a small fortune spent on sports massages, greatly reduced training it was not showing any signs of talking to the rest of my body. I had also paid a rather expensive race entry as well as flights and a hotel. So failure was not an option and off to Copenhagen we flew (we being me and Victoria aka wife, “coach” and rubbish meteorologist).
If you ever watch the London Marathon or the Great North Run you will see that the elite athletes don’t wear numbers they have their name in big letters instead, other elite runners, not famous enough for this are usually allocated the low numbers. For some reason, Copenhagen thought it would be funny to put even more pressure on this runner by 1) printing my name in big letters and 2) allocating me number 701 (in a field of 23000), which was printed under the giant name in smaller numerals. This could be the nearest I get to being an elite athlete!!
The reason I question Victoria’s weather forecasting skills, is that her logic normally involves checking several on-line sites until she finds a one that she likes and that is then the official weather forecast for the day. I now probably more accurately forecast that I will suffer great pain for this paragraph when she reads it. Anyway, the forecast by Mrs C required sun glasses and a hat to protect against the blazing sun. To be fair that was 100% accurate for the start of the race.
So, after two great days sightseeing in Copenhagen I joined 20,000 plus other runners at the start of the race. The Copenhagen Half was really casual, each runners number was colour coded to show their estimated finish time and rather than forced into a pen like you are in races such as the Great North Run, you could join any group you wanted to. In the UK, this would mean 50,000 people fighting to stand in front of Mo Farah, but in Denmark, the vast majority of people actually started in their recommended position. This created a really friendly atmosphere of runners of similar abilities and once the race started no issues with big speed variances and congestion.
At around 11:15 Sunday morning the elite runners left, I finally reached the start line some 20 minutes later. The course was through the city centre, with crowds lining route almost all of the 13.1 miles. I made the decision to not run to a target time, but instead run to a pace I felt comfortable with, all was going well and the sun was shining for the first 4 miles. Then it got interesting…

The first sign of the weather changing was a few spots of rain. Then the sky got increasingly darker, closely followed by thunder, lightning and then torrential rain. I don’t mind running in the rain, but to have to do so with forks of lightning all around was a little frightening. Then the fun really started…
The rain slowly started to change to hailstones, which got steadily larger in size and heavier in quantity. At around 7 miles I had one of the most surreal running experiences I have ever had. The majority of the 20,000 runners started to take cover in doorways and anywhere else they could escape the storm. Being a stupid northerner, I saw this as an opportunity to improve my already rubbish position, so onwards I persevered. I ran on with another Danish runner and we pretty much had the course to ourselves. It is difficult to accurately explain the intensity of the storm, other than to use a childhood expression which sums it up “It bloody knacked”. I didn’t realise how bad it was until I got to the end of the race and discovered both arms covered in tiny bruises from the hailstone impacts. It may have only lasted 5 or 10 minutes but is was one of the funniest running experience I have ever had.
As the storm subsided the soft runners came back out of the shadows and with 5 or so miles to the finish the sun again came out. This caused the next running problem, when you add bright sunlight to a route white with frozen water, flash floods appear. For some reason, most of the runners, already soaked to the skin from the earlier rain, thought they needed to tiptoe around the puddles. Sod that. I was already so wet, I had had dryer baths in the past, my option was route one, straight through the puddles regardless. This is not somethings the Danes embraced and when the rest of the field went in single file around the lakes that covered the majority of the roads, one Geordie bull-dozed straight through the middle (I use the word bull-dozed as skipping over the surface is not something that describes my running style), and again made up a few more places and valuable seconds.
Given the extreme conditions, I crossed the line in just over 2hrs 15minutes, far better than I had ever thought, and amazingly the weather had completely taken my mind of my painful right leg. Crossing the line, as is the norm, I was given a medal and immediately received a text confirming my time, job done. There then came an announcement on the PA system to say that the race was now cancelled with immediate effect. Running through the storms had got me in just in time. I later discovered the reason for the race being stopped was due to 2 runners being struck by lightning, fortunately not to seriously I believe.
So, by the skin of my teeth (and some of the skin of my arms), Half Marathon number 49 was completed and along with it the challenge to run a half marathon in every country in Western Europe. Denmark completed a list that includes England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Portugal, Czech Republic, Sweden, France, Switzerland, Finland, Belgium, Iceland, Italy, Austria, Germany and Luxembourg.
So only 2 more challenges left
  • Coast to Coast – COMPLETED
  • Half Marathon in every Western European Country - COMPLETED
  • 50 Wainwright Peaks (35 completed for far)
  • 50th Half Marathon – Artic Circle flights booked for January
Thanks, everyone for your kind sponsorship so far. Still a lot of climbing and training to do between now and the beginning of next year.


Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Coast 2 Coast Bile Ride - June 17

Coast to Coast (via a few pubs)


The main story

As part of the year long  challenge I decided to take on the Coast to Coast cycle ride which is 140 miles from Whithaven in the West to Tynemouth in the East. (There is a slightly shorter route, but that ends in Sunderland - always going to go the long way). To make the logistics easier I decided to do it by joining a group of other cyclists, this should have been a really sensible option, however in hindsight choosing your riding partners carefully is time well spent, i didn't spend this time. I chose the “Plods and Bombs” annual trip (no I don’t know what it means either), organised by one of my staff; John Geoghegan and his sidekick Steven Morrison.
So, at shortly after 5am on Thursday myself and 35 other “keen” cyclist left on a bus from Consett to the start, closely followed by an 18t rigid full of bikes and a support van full of luggage laden with excessive amounts of lycra. It was about this time the rules sheet was handed out, 11 rules which had to be obeyed throughout the trip. They included, only drinking with your left hand, only pointing with your elbows, addressing Mr Morrison as “Your Honour” for the duration and always carrying your rules at all times. Pretty much a stag doo with bikes then.

After breakfast in Whitehaven the Peloton headed out for the first day of riding, crossing through the Lakes to Penrith. This involved just over 50 miles of riding with almost 4000ft of ascent including climbing over Whinlatter before dropping into Keswick for lunch then on to Penrith. The day went pretty well, although I did get a puncture at 10 miles, and showed my complete inexperience in changing them to the watching crowd. All hills were conquered without the urge to get off and walk, however I had apparently broke one of the unwritten rules and had weaved while climbing a hill! This resulted in a summons to a court session over dinner. “Your Honour” turned up with the full judge’s wig (see above), with Mr Geoghegan as prosecutor. As you will probably expect the court session was pretty much “you are guilty, until you are proved guiltier”, so then the sentence was passed, a lovely ½ pint of chilli sauce, made with the finest Scotch Bonnet Chilli’s topped with a raw egg. Let’s just say it didn’t last long. On a positive note, I am sure John will love the 10-year-old Hino he will be getting to replace his brand new 17 plate Mercedes Actros (Trucks for those who don’t know).
Day 2 was a little shorter at just under 35 miles, but still with almost 4000ft of climbing including Hartside Pass. The views from the top are spectacular, except when we got there it was shrouded in mist. After passing through Alston and into Nenthead there is another nasty climb out of the village before a long ride down to our overnight in Allenheads. Accommodation this night was in a dorm with 4 bunk beds and 6 other riders, most of which had eaten spicy food for the previous 48 hours and drank their own body weight in beer. This was not conjusive with getting any well needed sleep. On a positive note I did narrowly avoid a second Court Session. I committed the crime of forgetting my rules, so when the rules check was called I managed to steal the fixture list for the Allendale Darts League from the notice board in the pub and hold it up, no one noticed. Sorry to any Allendale Darts players who have no idea who they are now playing this week in the league.
Day 3 was the final push from Allenheads to the coast, but not without more hills. The start of the days was straight into a climb out of Allenheads before dropping down to Stanhope and the hardest climb of the trip, Crawleyside Bank, just over 2 miles and near 1000ft of climbing to the café at Parkhead. The first mile averaged 10% gradient, which doesn’t sound much, but I suggest you try cycling it with a hangover and little sleep. After Parkhead there is a steady run down back to Consett, so near to my home, but still 30 miles to go before the coast. All the riders regrouped and we annoyed all the motorists of my home town by driving through in one large group before heading off to Newcastle. The pace to the Quayside was as quick as I have ever done it, joining 4 other riders we averaged over 17 mph, which for a large amateur on a heavy bike, is pretty good going.

After rehydrating on the Quayside at Weatherspoons we all headed for the last push to the coast, 140 miles, 10000ft of climbing, one puncture, ½ pint of chilli, several beers and very little sleep. At the end as is tradition having dipped the back wheel in the Irish Sea at the start, the front wheel was dipped in the North Sea. We didn’t all make it, 3 of the 36 starters ended up in hospital after falls, fortunately nothing major, a couple of broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder and some severe grazing - it is dangerous sport cycling.

Having heard about my fundraising the other lads generously clubbed together and donated £300 towards my fundraising, which is a great effort. Big thanks to John and Stephen (Your Honour), for putting on a great trip. They managed to put on a bus to the start, 2 nights’ accommodation, dinner and breakfast twice, all for £110, exceptional value. Hard work for 3 days but a good laugh and another challenge completed.

Now for a summer of training and mountain climbing. Next race is Copenhagen in September. Until then thanks to everyone for their support so far, I will send the next update after my trip to Denmark.

The link to the Just Giving page is below. Have a great summer.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Hills, Hills, Hills and More Bloody Hills

Next Exciting Instalment in the 50th Year Challenge
The last couple of weeks have had a lot of ups and downs, all in the name of this 2017 challenge.
When many people had a relaxing time over Easter, myself and Victoria booked a cottage in Ambleside and set about climbing as many Wainwright peaks as we could in one week. The lakes threw every sort of weather at us in 7 days. On day one we ended up buying after-sun, after getting burnt, on the final day we almost got blow off the top of Clough Head due to gale force windows. In the interim we had hail stones, rain, wind and sun. A typical week in the English lakes.
This is not Victoria doing a Donald Trump Impersonation, it was Very Windy, honest
We did however manage to “bag” 21 Wainwright peaks in a week, taking the total for 2017 to 25, so halfway through this part of the challenge. For the Fitbit geeks, we walked over 110 miles in the week and around 210,000 steps each. For the non Fitbit geeks 10,000 steps per day is considered an acceptable level, we averaged 3 times that, and our steps were 50% up hill. The Wainwrights conquered were: Hartsop Dodd, Stony Cove Pike, Thornthwaite Crag, Gray Crag, Nab Scar, Heron Pike, Great Rigg, Fairfield, Hart Crag, Dove Crag, High Pike, Low Pike, Tarn Crag, Sergeant Man, Sour Howes, Swallows, Yoke, Ill Bell, Froswick, Troutbeck Tongue and Clough Head.
We did get joined by our kids and Alfie the dog, who suffered from mountain wind ears
So, after that week of hills we set off to visit Luxembourg to tick off another country and my 48th Half Marathon. The weekend actual involved two runs, the first was an impromptu run across Newcastle Airport. When I booked the flight to Brussels the confirmation confirmed the flight departure as 6pm, when we arrived at the airport at 4:20pm there was no 6pm Brussels flight on the board, several expletives followed when we noticed the 5pm Brussels flight. A very quick sprint across the airport only just got us to checkin before they closed. Within 40 minutes of arriving at the airport we were on board and taxiing down the runway. Victoria thinks this is a great way to travel, a sentiment I don’t agree with.

Half Marathon preparation wasn't brilliant with a couple great and late nights in Brussels. A night at Delirium Café which boasts over 2000 different beers apparently is the wrong type of carb loading, I have now discovered. After 2 nights in Brussels it was off to Luxembourg for the Semi Marathon Des 2 Luxembourg.

Finding a half marathon in Luxembourg had proved difficult as there only seems to be 3 in the year and due to prior commitments, I could only make this one. This event took place in the small town of Beckerich (population 635 according to Wikipedia). I had emailed the organisers to get a list of hotels in the area, the list was very short, there wasn't any, but one of the local farms had a B&B. We arrived Sunday afternoon at Four Oaks B&B, only to find it to be an American Ranch themed farm, with all things cowboy everywhere. We had cow hide lampshades, horseshoe towel rails and cowboy boot toilet roll holders? What we also discovered was Luxembourg shuts on a Sunday night, fortunately Mike, the Cowboy who ran the “Ranch” (he even drove an American Dodge Ram Pickup), had found one restaurant open, about five miles away, which turned out to be quite good, actually.

In my haste to book the Semi Marathon Des 2 Luxembourg, I had not bothered to look at the route, which most races post on line. I made the mistake two days before I ran of looking at this, the online description “hilly” should have set the warning bells away, (this may have explained the need to have a few beers in Brussels).
The very Hilly Profile of the Semi Marathon Des 2 Luxembourg
This race was unbelievably good value for money, the cost of entry was €5.50, which when you compare it to The Great North Run at £54, it is for nothing. The organiser, Michel, was extremely apologetic that as they had gone to chip timing they had had to put up the price from €3.50!! To make it even better value every runner got a €2 voucher to buy food or a drink at the end (I spent mine on a celebratory Diekirch beer, brewed in Luxembourg). No medal or T-shirt, but I think that would be too much to ask for.

So, the run, as well as the hills (1500ft of climbing) the race turned out to be a trail race (again never checked that out). For those who don’t know what a trail race is, think school cross country, but 13.1miles of it, almost all either uphill or downhill, they don't do flat in Luxembourg.

The route was stunning, through woods, a 600m tunnel, over the border into the Belgium Province of Luxembourg (hence the race name), back into Luxembourg and home. All on a course of forest tracks that either climbed or descended (well almost all). The event was friendly, cheap, a great route and bloody hilly. It wasn't a quick run, but one of my favourite half marathons so far.
So now back in the UK, 48 half marathons completed, next stop for running is Denmark in September, which is the only Western European Country I have not completed a Half Marathon in. First priority is to blow the tyres up on my push bike, see if it will start and get cycle training, I now have 7 weeks until the coast to coast bike ride.
  • 48 Half Marathons Completed
  • 1 Country in Western Europe to Run in
  • 25 Wainwrights to Climb
  • 1 Coast to Coast Bike Ride to cycle
  • 1 fiftieth Half Marathon to Run in the Arctic Circle
  • 1 embarrising flashing incident in Wales
  • 1 nearly missed flight to Belgium
  • 1 expensive pair of compression socks purchased
So, the rest of the year will be fairly quiet… Thanks for all your support so far, the challenge continues……

The Justgiving Page can be found at