Let the mudfest begin


The judge casts a critical eye over the mud cover, Reena and Clare join in. They’re disqualified because they’re not called Caroline or Anne.

Winter’s on the way, skimpy singlets are giving way to Smartwool tops and the deep-lugged trail shoes have been de-mudded, ready to be saturated in icy boggy water and then re-mudded. Bring it on!

This weekend signalled the start of the annual Peco cross country series. Five or so short, steep runs in lovely places around Leeds. They are so popular that the start has to be staggered, men then women on this occasion. Personally I’m always staggering, so that’s a bonus. Plus, it’s a real Yorkshire bargain, just £3 to register then a couple of quid per race, followed by free food!

As usual, I’ll be working my way to the back, what with lack of training and recent illness, but I can always train more – and I can shake off viruses and migraines, so improvement is on the way, soonish… In the meantime, any thoughts of any awards are definitely out of the window. Or are they?

There is one prize within my grasp, and I am well-qualified to win it. What with all the rain, puddles and soft ground and slippery-slidey slopes, and my skills in finding mud when no-one else can, I’m betting on me to win the Mudder of the Year. We’re not talking Tough Mudder here, those fun, but expensive assault courses with faux mud, barbed wire and shouty sergeant major types. No, this is the genuine sticky smelly stuff found at any Yorkshire cross country worth its salt.

Competition for this coveted title is fierce, but limited. Very limited in fact as there are just two of us, so I’m guaranteed at least second place. I’m not sure who started it, but it the game is on between Caroline and me.

The aim is simple, get as muddy as you can during a race. There are no rules about how the mud gets there, though a panel of independent judges takes a dim view of mud which looks like it has been deliberately applied. Last year, my Adam Ant look disqualified me and Caroline’s smearing of grease from her bicycle chain on her leg gave her penalty points. Ultimately she won by taking a tumble at the Temple Newsam Ten and breaking a couple of ribs. There were no extra points for broken bones, personally I thought she should have had them deducted for showing off, but her collection of twigs, leaves and a Mars Bar wrapper stuck to a layer of mud gave her the edge and she won.

But this is a new mud season and the game is on. Today’s race had the wrong kind of mud, non-stick mud, we were hardly dirty, it was embarrassing. After a quick inspection, the judges declared a draw. Let’s hope it rains a lot more before the next one!



Splishety splashety sploshety


You’d think the 30-minute shower with the heat turned to 11 and the spray set at ‘feels like razor-sharp needles’ would remove even the stubbornest of mud. That’s what I thought as I watched dirt, grit, clumps of grass and small invertebrates disappear down the plughole, shortly before it was blocked by a small boulder which had lodged itself between my toes.

But no, the fluffy white towel was transformed into a muddy mess, I’d missed a bit, in fact I’d missed a lot. It’s going to be trouser time this week, I can’t be seen in meetings with muddy legs.

All around Yorkshire, plugholes have been blocked and cleared out and towels dirtied as runners from the first Peco cross country of the year de-mudded. We’d already been warned that after all the recent rain, the course near the former Vickers tank factory in Leeds would be a mudfest.

Yet there we were on Sunday morning, 700 of us, squeaky clean, sparkly and ready to run. Just to make it a bit more interesting, a few tanks had been borrowed from Vickers to churn up any unchurned parts of the course. And what with a couple of waterjumps, mud would very much be the order of the day.

Always being nearer the back than the front, I was running where 699 had trod before. Mud was everywhere, all I could hear was splishety splashety spolshety and the occasional curse as someone slipped, never to be seen again, though it did mean I moved up a place. No-one said cross country was a safe sport.

I collected a lot of mud and other debris, but amazingly didn’t fall. Well, there’s always next time, which I am very much looking forward to. Though I may have to buy new towels.

Small bum, thin legs

Noel, my personal running mantra. Thanks to Andrew Byrom for the photo

Noel, my personal running mantra. Thanks to Andrew Byrom for the photo

It was that point in the race, first hill conquered, downhill pounded, welcome water gratefully thrown in the general direction of my mouth, some of it even going in, that the second, most significant hill loomed. I felt like crying as I saw it reach for the sky. Actually, I think I did.

Then I heard the sound of distant chanting, getting ever nearer. At first, I couldn’t make out what they said, my mind was so full of terror at the prospect of conquering the Hill of Doom on the notoriously challenging Pudsey 10km organised by the lovely Pudsey Pacers. But as I got nearer, it became clear. The two women were making great progress up the hill, encouraging each other with the mantra ‘small bum, thin legs.’

Noel, who was running with me at this point following a delay brought about by an unscheduled and unwelcome pit stop in the woods, wondered if they were commenting on his rather shapely legs and pert derriere. I think he too was in a state of delirium at the approaching hill.

Now I quite liked that as an idea, a small bum and thin legs, that is, two of the benefits of hill running. I know other runners who chant motivational messages, such as ‘You. Can. Do. It’ It made me think about my own mantra, What could it be? What would make me run faster? I didn’t have chance to mull it over, as Noel yelled in my ear, ‘Get up the hill, stop faffing around!’ It worked, I did. Everyone should have their own personal mantra chanter.

The morning after the run before

Thanks to Tricia Grant, fellow Eccleshill Road Runner, for the photo.

Thanks to Tricia Grant, fellow Eccleshill Road Runner, for the photo.

I’m sure that when the alarm clock shattered my slumbers this morning it was screaming ‘day of pain, day of pain, day of PAIN!’ First and second attempts to swing my legs out of bed had to be aborted, the first because I couldn’t move them. The second, well, same reason really. So why exactly DID I run the Leeds Half Marathon the day before, then?

It had been an early start with the usual pre-race multiple toilet visits, there will be no more information or description on this particular matter. The main meeting area was bulging with runners of all shapes and sizes, jiggling about and performing weird stretching movements. Old teeshirts covered in paint, binliners with armholes and foil blankets used by many to keep warm, were cast aside as we were herded towards the start. The air was strong with with smell of anticipation, fear, Deep Heat and the warmth from the seats of 50 exhausted chemical toilets. 7000 runners were ready to go.

We don’t usually enter big events, they are expensive, busy, the music is too loud and rap-dominated and parking is usually horrendous. But this is our home city, and it would be rude not to run it just once.

And there is something very moving about running up The Headrow, cheered by friends and strangers alike and seeing the fastest and the best disappearing up the hill into the distance. Soon those hills were behind me and I was enjoying the company of like-minded souls, exchanging pleasantries, complementing the organisers on the availability of toilets en route and counting down the miles.

The route takes up one of the lanes of the city’s ring road, bringing the traffic to a crawl, many of the drivers shout encouragement, at least I think that’s what it is, it’s hard to tell with all the noise. But then we’re in suburbia, weaving around leafy lanes, where residents have come out to cheer, hand out jelly babies, oranges and biscuits and hose down anyone who’d care to be cooled. There’s plenty of little hands wanting high fives, though I do remember one lad calling from the window. ‘This is BORING’. It made me chuckle.

Another change of scene as we hit Kirkstall Road for the final three miles, or as we all know it, ‘a parkrun’ and we’re nearly home. One of the advantages of being a slow runner is that my mates are waiting for me at the finish, cheering, encouraging, high-fiving, oh it’s marvellous!

I stopped over the line and waited for Amy, who was doing her first half marathon and we hugged. We staggered to the enclosure to claim our bling and tee-shirts. ‘By gum, we’ll ache tomorrow,” I said, stating the bleeding obvious.

In a way, it was over too quickly, I reflected as I sat in the lounge, my aching feet submerged in hot water in the mop bucket, my medal clanging against the bowl of hot medicinal custard. And it was. But at least today I can continue to enjoy the experience as every step reminds me of those 13.1 miles as my muscles click and ping. Still, it’ll wear off in a week or so, just in time for the Ilkley Trail Race!

The blingier the better

Even the cake had bling!  And a Manchester United flag, the groom's team.

Even the cake had bling! And a Manchester United flag, the groom’s team.

“So what do I wear, then?” I asked Nazia as I examined the invitation to her Mehndi and wedding. “Oh bright and blingy – in fact the blingier the better, Asian weddings are VERY blingy!” she said. I don’t need that kind of prompting twice!

It was definitely a new experience, starting with the Mehndi, a girls’ get-together with the bride, where there’s eating, (non-alcoholic) drinking, great merriment and lots of henna, which was painted in intricate patterns on hands and feet.

I know Nazia from my running club, she came along as a new runner and went from hardly being able to run at all to doing her first 10km. Nazia always wears the hijab, so I was amazed to be greeted by the stunning young lady with luxuriant hair wearing a green sparkly saree, very bling, but in a classy way. It was a privilege to spend time with Nazia, her sisters, friends and relatives and of course Kate, Helen and Ghizala, from Eccleshill Road Runners.

For the wedding itself, I bought what I was assured was very ‘in’ from one of the many bling establishments on the road between Leeds and Bradford. A red jumpsuit with a green lace coat? Seriously? Very different, very bright, but not very blingy, so I sewed on sequins, beads and jewels, though it seems more ended up on the carpet, sofa and cat, with quite a few blocking the vacuum cleaner.

Nazia again looked stunning, her white jewel-encrusted dress and veil were magnificent. The bride and groom were installed on thrones to greet their guests, it was all very relaxed, very colourful with a certain amount of bling and rather wonderful.

But it will be back to normal running on Friday when Nazia joins us for probably the last time before she moves down to that there London where Imran lives and works. He’s promised he’ll try running with her – so long as she has a go at his sport, cycling!

Photo note

While we took lots of photos, Nazia requested that none of the couple nor their families be posted on social media. Just take it from me, they all looked fantastic!

100 runs, 500km, lots of friends

100 parkruns, running with my friends

100 parkruns, running with my friends

I remember my first. It was a dull March day, Noel was away and my feet were itching to do more of this new-fangled running thing. At my age, I ask you. Still, we’d heard about this weekly event where you could turn up, do 5km in whatever style or speed suited, and get a proper time that didn’t come from an old Timex with no second hand. There was even the promise of coffee afterwards, what’s not to like?

So I turned up ridiculously early, wearing far too many clothes, including a woolly hat and gloves, carrying what in hindsight must have been a 50-litre pack with the usual assortment of essentials dangling from the gear loops and holding a giant bottle of Yorkshire’s finest tapwater. Soon it was like someone had opened a can of runners, they spurted, sprinted and trotted from everywhere. Some were dressed in nothing more than their skimpy vests and shortest of shorts, I remember thinking they’d catch their death.

As we started, I realised I was the one in danger of catching my death, from heat exhaustion, as layers and loads were peeled off to keep me cool. I was almost wishing I’d worn a vest. Almost. As I crossed the line, there was a chirpy bipping from the timer which set a whole train of high-tech happenings in motion resulting in me receiving an email later that afternoon telling me I’d run 5km in 32 minutes 19 seconds and had completed my first ever parkrun.

Three years later and I still turn up ridiculously early, though it’s to help set up the course, or warm up, before stripping down to my vest and shorts, though only if the sun’s shining. I run for all I’m worth, and have knocked four minutes off that first time. And, not that I’m competitive, you understand, I want to go faster and faster and faster and faster. Noel and I also get to direct the runs, which mean I do what I do best, which is shout, boss people around and show off, while Noel gets to do what he does best, which is sort of techie stuff and write the odd computer program to do clever stuff I can’t possibly understand, we’re an ideal team.

Today was special. Today, I ran my 100th parkrun and allowed myself to take my time and enjoy this fabulous phenomenon, surrounded by the many new friends I have made along the way, not forgetting rediscovering a couple of old pals too.

It’s great that I’ll receive a tee-shirt and that a lovely little icon now appears next to my name to show that I have run 100 parkruns, 500km, which is, incidentally, the distance from Leeds to the Cairngorms. But for me, the best of the best of the best of all are the friendships I’ve made. Friends from Eccleshill Road Runners came, and there were cheery greetings from fellow runners. Then at the end, Andy, an old friend and Stuart, a new one, flanked me to the finish line, where I picked up a token and a few hugs. Noel was of course waiting there, camera in hand, to record the event.

It’ll take some time to reach the next milestone, though I look forward to either running or volunteering every week. And who’s counting, eh? Not me, unless it’s chalking up lots more personal bests!

An unfortunate turn

Bringing up the rear (but not last!) at the Peco, West Park. Thanks to Stuart Lowe (Astronomy Blog) for the photo.

Bringing up the rear (but not last!) at the Peco, West Park. Thanks to Stuart Lowe (Astronomy Blog) for the photo.

Race starts are always heart-pumpingly exciting. We’re all penned in, ready to be released like a coiled spring, the pungent smell of Deep Heat, mingled with last night’s vindaloo and a whiff of my Chloe Eau de Parfum strong in the air, well one does have standards.

When it’s the inter-club cross country races, like Sunday’s Peco, I make a point of staying well back, there are serious runners in the pack who will have finished, washed and changed and eaten their pie and peas by the time I cross the line. I know them all, well I know what they look like from behind, I’ve never seen their fronts. As far as I’m concerned, they could have three noses to help them get deeper breaths, or an extra couple of arms to drive back as they up the pace, because all they ever do is disappear into the distance. But that’s OK, I’m not competing against them, I’m just joining in and getting a few points for the club. I also like to think I bring a little je ne sais quoi with my artistic interpretation and style as I splash through mud, poo and water though not usually in that order.

So as we stood there waiting to start, I realised I was facing the wrong way, not unusual, it’s always a clamour, and I’m never quite sure which direction we set off anyway, so I turned. Strange, I thought, I can’t usually hear the announcements and warnings of high peril they make, it’s usually drowned out by the murmurs and farting of the runners in front. But there were no runners in front, because I was there, at the front, with the lithe, spindly, vest-clad bodies of the proper runners. Shit, I thought, shit I’m in the company of greatness, an imposter, I’m going to be in trouble with the Running Police who’ll haul me out as and charge me with Not Running Fast Enough. Shit, shit, S-H-I-T! There was nowhere to go, the horn was about to blow and we’d be off. There was nothing for it but to set my face to ‘serious’ and do that half-bending foot-forward stance that Mo Farrah does. For a split second, I was Mo, then we were off and I had to watch out I wasn’t mown down.

Of course they all streamed past me, but I got to see their faces before they disappeared into the distance, everyone had just the one nose and two arms. They charged ahead, churning up the mud and making it into the kind of brown, lumpy soup served at motorway service stations in the 60s, for those of us at the back of the pack. I personally believe we tail-enders should get extra points for running through everyone else’s left-over mud, but I may be in a minority on that.

Still, I felt a pang of competitiveness as I stood with the best runners at the start, I may just have to do some more of that training stuff.

A running qualification

There I was, setting up an arty photo to show off my coaching badge and Cat decided to get in on the act. Good grief.

There I was, setting up an arty photo to show off my coaching badge and Cat decided to get in on the act. Good grief.

If someone had said to me five years ago as I coughed and spluttered my first ever run which didn’t even clock one kilometre that I’d consider 10kms a short training trip and ten miles my favourite distance, I would have laughed in their face, once I’d managed to catch my breath, that is. Which would have taken some time.

Now after a year of great enjoyable, though challenging, running I have not only completed half marathons ten-milers, 10kms, mudfests and enough5km parkruns to get my 50 Club teeshirt, I’ve only gone and got myself an England Athletics qualification. Yes, dear incredulous reader, I am now a LIRF (Leader in Running Fitness).

That means that after a day of running-related exercises in a chilly athletics stadium and giving a couple of coaches a serious listening to (that was the hardest part) I can now lead a running group. Thank goodness I can lead from the back, because I’m not the fastest.

My lovely running club Eccleshill Road Runners put this to good use and asked me to take our new runners group. Noel, being the supportive type, offered to come along as a tail runner. The group is ladies (no gents yet!) who want to take their first running steps with someone who won’t tell them they are rubbish, or get are impatient when they have to stop for a rest. I certainly won’t do that, in fact am thrilled that they are giving it a go with such enthusiasm. We’re now in week two and they not only come back, they want extra sessions. Oh my goodness I must be doing something right.

It is a great pleasure to share a passion and enthusiasm with people who are where I was five years ago. The only question now is…what next?!

Feeling good about running

There comes a point in a race, usually half an hour after it’s finished, when I’m overwhelmed by a wave of contentment and satisfaction and just want to go out and give the world a great big hug.

Yesterday, despite steep hills, random scattered boulders, slippery peat and a finish up the cobbled streets of Haworth, past bewildered tourists eating Mr Whippy 99s with sprinkles, that wave of wellbeing hit me almost from the start. I say almost, for to be honest (and this is a technical term) I was parping myself at the prospect of setting off on the Half Yorkshireman. This race is just short of 15 miles, so where the ‘half’ comes in, I have no idea, maybe it’s something to do with losing half your bodyweight on the way round. Technically speaking, and I’m all for technical, it’s harder than the full marathon held at the same time, as all the hills are at the start, it’s just shorter. I think the marathoneers would say the jury’s definitely out on that.

But as soon as we were off and up the first of many hills, emerging into the open moorland, I felt incredibly happy. The fine weather helped, but it was more to do with the camaraderie of off-road runners. I exchanged pleasantries, stories and even debated the social policy underpinning health and social care reforms with fellow runners as we progressed upwards and onwards.

Running on the moors. What's not to like, eh?

Running on the moors. What’s not to like, eh?

Of course it was hard and of course I was far from speedy, but with such fabulous surroundings, why hurry? It will be winter soon enough. Noel had been injured and hadn’t been able to put in the miles, so opted to be photographer for the day, popping up at various points on the route to snap anyone who passed, another reason to be cheerful. He commented that everyone looked as though they were enjoying themselves.

But the biggest boost of all was just near the end. The Half Yorkshireman has a sting in the tail and there’s a steep ascent up a cobbled road to the finish, which is not what you want on wobbly legs and insides that feel like they’re making their way outside. As soon as I rounded the corner I could hear my name being called and loud cheers, it was my lovely buddies from Eccleshill Road Runners, Julie and Martin Steele. Immediately, my head went up, my tired legs lifted and I was off, followed by the Steeles who saw me into the finish.

There was some suggestion that I might try the full marathon next year. Now that’s just plain daft.  Though if it’s easier……maybe……..Naw…….!

A win is a win!

The winners! I'm not sure we'll ever be able to say that again!

The winners! I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to say that again!

As we lined up at the start, I was confident of one thing, I would be in the top ten finishers, well there were only that number of runners. But looking at the competition, it was clear that I would probably also be the tenth.

So it was with some surprise that I wasn’t last and when the prizes were handed out, I was top of my age category – and I wasn’t even the only one in it! Noel completed the Akers double by winning his, though he WAS the only one! 

It was an even bigger surprise to get lost on Pudsey and Bramley AC’s Rush Around the Rhubarb trail run, which is so close to home we walked there as a warm-up. I mean, really, how hard can it be to run just short of 6km on familiar ground? Not hard at all, it turns out, they just weren’t the right 6km.  

The club, its most famous member being Boff Whalley, of Chumbawumba, though most recently as author of Run Wild, where he writes about his experience as a gnarly fell runner. Boff was one of the marshalls and knew exactly where to send us, which was more than could be said for a couple of the others who hadn’t quite got it right when directing us across fields,   At one point we spotted another runner going in the opposite direction and then climbing over a fence. We soon had to do the same and were amazed to find others were behind us, especially as I was even slower than usual last night.

But, hey, we all got to run, have fun, have a laugh and, as our club captain pointed out, a win is a win. And we’ll definitely be doing it again next year!