Back in the bling

Does my bum look big in this? Thanks to Rolf for the photo

What possesses a woman of mature years, heading towards her dotage, to spring out of bed at stupid o’clock on a Sunday morning, squeeze herself into the best anti-bounce sports bra money can buy, slip on a multi-coloured tutu and pin a number to her vest? Bling is the answer, bling.

Granted, the tutu was optional and was in honour of a very good – though somewhat tutu-obsessed friend – but the rest of the gear got this girl ready for a return to racing. At last.

I don’t usually enter road races, they have two things going against them, they are races and they are on the road. There’s no real scenery, unless you count street furniture, little chance of mud and no al fresco toilets, just those wobbly green Tardis-like structures that smell of disinfectant, warm plastic and worse.

But trail and fell races don’t tend to offer bling. Sometimes there’s a tee-shirt, but more often than not, it’s pie and peas and cake, usually on the same plate. Can’t beat it, but when you’re coming back to racing after a year of physical and mental limping around, only bling will do.

The Abbey Dash is a fast, furious, flat PB course. It’s a popular feature on the local racing calendar, though people do come from as far afield as Lancashire to run it. The out-and-back course from Leeds city centre to Kirkstall Abbey has even been voted a top 10k by the readers of Women’s Running. We know they are a discerning lot, because they also voted Woodhouse Moor parkrun as their favourite!

Most of the local clubs enter, and those who aren’t running tend to be dotted along the route, cheering and waving pompoms. The road is well-known to anyone who lives in the city, usually clogged up with traffic moving even slower than I run. It’s official, on a busy Saturday near Christmas, I can run into the city faster than I can drive.

So there I was, along with 7000 other runners, ready for the 34th Abbey Dash, and as far as I could see, only four were in tutus and we were running together, Jaz, Pritti, me and Pete. Yes, Pete, pretty in his pink tutu!

I’d not raced since last year, so wanted my return to be marked with a bit of bling. We have a collection of medals, which dangle from the knob of the cellar door. With doubling up by Noel and me on many races, there’s a lot of medals and they make a lovely jangling noise every time we open the door. The cats also love to play with them, though are very sorry when they pull one off and it bounces onto their head, it usually means opening another bag of Dreamies, or Bribes as we know them.

Noel wasn’t racing, the Bastard Cancer has postponed his PB bids for a little while. Not that he’s bothered about bling, he just likes to run like the wind, whereas I run as if I have wind. I suspect his return to racing following recovery from forthcoming surgery, will involve mountains and tartiflette, plus a belly full of beer.

But in the meantime, I was back Abbey Dashing at a very slow pace, enjoying the freedom of traffic-free running, but as a friend pointed out, it was a season’s best. Season’s best and bling? I’ll take that.

Running with my best friend


About four kilometres into my favourite race and my calf started to hurt. Definitely something wrong there. As usual I was leading from the rear so there wasn’t anyone around to sympathise, just a couple of birds who were more interested in each other than a weird human plodding across Ilkley Moor (with a hat, in case you were wondering).

Then there he was, my best friend, waiting patiently for me. I could have cried with happiness rather than the pain I was feeling. Noel, my nippy husband of 18 years, had disappeared into the distance as we set off on the Ilkley Trail Race.  Actually everyone had disappeared into the distance as this is a race of two halves, the first half being up, and I’m really not quick up those hills. However, one of the reasons I love this race so much is that the second half is down including the finish, And I’m good at downhill, I’ve even been known to overtake other runners, runners who were actually running, not just those who stopped to tie their shoelaces.

Noel had paused to sample the al fresco facilities and was a little worried about me as I’d griped about a sore knee that morning, but wanted to run. I was in a gripey sort of mood, which instantly vanished when I picked up my race number, it’s always a pick-me-up to pin on the number, an extra bonus if it’s on straight, which is rarely is.

On the way up, before the Calf Incident, I’d been amusing myself with memories of past races and favourites. Ilkley always features, it’s only short, about 11km, but challenging and really well supported. Another favourite that stood out was my first ever Flat Cap Five on trails above Dewsbury. We were stuck in traffic and arrived after everyone had set off, so Noel and I ran together, it was lovely. If only we could do that again, I mused.

So there we were again, running together, chatting on the way, generally enjoying ourselves, because that’s what running’s all about, isn’t it? My calf was hurting so there was more walking than running, but I did manage a speedy hobble for the final straight.

After a suitable rest and vigorous foam rollering, I’ll be back on my training programme. It’s a Big Birthday next year, I’m going to run the Calderdale ultra marathon with my best friend. But don’t tell him, I don’t think he knows yet.

Running…because I can


Thanks to Andy Wicks for the photo

I had a lovely running friend, sadly no longer with us, who was a great inspiration to all of us who enter races knowing we haven’t a snowball’s chance in Hell of bothering the prizewinners.

Arthur James a sprightly septuagenarian, ran as best he could then finished with a thundering sprint. ‘Run….because you can…’ he said. And I did.

It’s now ten years since I ran my first ever 10km through the dark satanic mills of Dewsbury and Batley, passing the HQ of an organisation that had treated me very badly and resisting the temptation to make a moon-related gesture. Never in my whole life did I think I would run that immense distance, especially in my late 40s without the need for supplementary oxygen and emergency chocolate. The very idea! But I did, and I didn’t collapse in a heap, in fact, I was euphoric. And I got a tee-shirt and what’s more it still fits!

Joining a club and taking part in races was a natural next step, that was after I bought suitable trainers and movement-limiting running gear. Did you know breasts have no muscles and left unrestrained, will make a figure of eight when running causing untold damage and massive chafeage? I discovered that very quickly and thank my lucky stars for Shock Absorber #4 which keeps everything in place, though does catapult across the room when unhooked. I once found it hanging lazily from the reading lamp after looking everywhere, that’s the power of elastic.

But it can be a bit disheartening when all the fast folk just breeze past on their second lap and I’m puffing and panting, hardly able to acknowledge their encouragement. My poor legs just plod away and I feel like I’m getting slower and slower!

Noel was quick to give advice, ‘If you want to run fast, then move your legs quicker…’ Excellent. You can imagine the response. He’s right, though, and I’m working on it, speed sessions, hill training, it’s hard work and sometimes it doesn’t feel it’s making a difference. But I’m motivated and encouraged by Arthur’s words, I can run, so what’s wrong with that? It’s not about racing or medals, though I confess I do like a bit of bling.

The best run I had recently was splashing through the fresh snowfall in the local woods, savouring the clean, crisp air, the winter sleepiness of the leafless trees, the glimpse of the occasional bird, the sound of my own unlaboured breathing, the total freedom of running, is there anything better, really?

So as I enter my second decade of  running, I do want to run freer and faster. But most of all, I want to run just because I can. Thank you Arthur.

Losty McLostface #3



Thanks to Dave Woodhead for the photo


There were definitely no footprints other than those left by sheep. And poo, the sheep had left that too. The few dozen runners racing ahead had either gone another way or floated above the sticky mud. Clearly someone was lost, I strongly suspected that someone was me.

Fortunately, I was bringing up the rear true to form, embarrassingly sporting the number one on my vest, I should have married Mr Zephyr and changed my first name to Zondra. A few hundred metres behind me was the final runner, plus the sweeper. Thank goodness, I thought, we can’t possibly go wrong with the sweeper, if all else failed, he could even carry me, at a pinch.

“Are we going the right way?” I called to the sweeper, the wind whipping my words.

“Oooo,” he pondered, looking at the featureless moorland around us, “I don’t know”, said the sweeper, let’s call him Ron, short for Wrong. So it was official, we were lost up on Ilkley Moor and only one of us had a hat. Catching a death of cold was in the offing.

We were just 2km into the 11km Rombolds Romp multiple choice race. You could do the trails, fells, or just get lost, the third was a destiny rather than a choice. The difference between trails and fells is the accessibility of the route. Trails are supposed to be easier to run on, almost kissing your feet, while fells are more technical and tricky. We’d set off on the trail but were now definitely on the fells, if not the wilderness. There were no markings, no stripey tape and no marshals in sight.

Fortunately I have an inbuilt compass and keen sense of direction, neither function, but it’s good to know they are there. The race briefing described a newly-demolished forest which I could see in the distance, beyond the heather, tussocks, bogs, shooting butts and something that looked like the Slough of Despond. I suggested we made a bee-line for that, as it was a certain landmark, but I was over-ruled. Ron, whose route-finding skills wouldn’t have got him his Scouts’ map-reading badge said we should head for the wall over to the right. It’s not a good idea to be alone on Ilkley Moor wearing nothing more than a tee-shirt and shorts, even if I did have a hat, so the three of us slowly made our way towards the wall. A marshal appeared and looked a little surprised to see we’d taken the scenic route.

I have to confess to being somewhat grumpy at this stage, I can get lost for free, I don’t need to pay for it, even if I do get a bottle of beer at the end. So back on course I put as much distance as I could between me and Ron to prevent the exchange of a few choice words. There was light relief when I hit a very steep stretch of road where the laconic Dave ‘Woodentops’ Woodhead was lying in wait with his camera. ‘Oh it’s you!’ I exclaimed, genuinely happy to see him. ”Tha’d better look as if tha’s running for t’photo’ he said, so I did. Dave and his wife Eileen give so much to the Yorkshire fell-running community and will be crowned monarchs of our fair county come the revolution of devolution.

Noel, who had done the fell race, or rather someone who looked like him, but painted shades of black and brown, greeted me at the end. It turns out he’d fallen full-length four times, probably showing off as usual.

The last runner and Ron followed some time later. I think Ron was presented with a framed map of the route and told never to tail run ever again.

When it’s too hot to run…but you do it anyway



Nearly there – thank you to the wonderful Simon Cullingworth whose photo makes me look like I’m actually enjoying myself!


You know it’s going to be a hot one when you’re only on the start line and the sweat is already trickling down your back and gushing into your butt crack. Gross, I know, but sometimes you just have to tell it as it is.

The heat was no surprise, with a forecast of 27C, but I’d paid and I was bloomin’ well going to run, or shuffle at the very least, I’m from Yorkshire, me, I like to get my money’s worth.

The midnight migraine hadn’t helped, though the drugs had, unfortunately they are performance-diminishing and add lead to my legs and that general feeling of fuzziness to my head. Thank goodness there were no random drug tests, though they may have taken pity and upped me a few places.

The Pudsey 10K isn’t for wimps, mainly off-road, just short of 200m altitude gain and lots of hills, including a sneaky one at the end, just when you don’t want it. But I’d run it before and I knew what I was in for. Noel’s ITB was playing up so he didn’t want to risk further injury and gallantly offered to take photos. I considered running it twice, so as not to waste his place, but the marshals couldn’t stay there until midnight, they’d much better things to do.

I made sure I took precautions, hat, sunglasses, factor 50 liberally applied and, for good measure, a pack with a litre of water. There was only one official water stop on the run and that was at the highest point, I was certain I would have expired by then if I didn’t carry my own. I even considered making a batch of marzipan balls for extra energy but in that heat, they’d have been liquid before the first hill, I’m not sure the world is ready for marzipan drinks yet. It seemed over the top when most of the runners around me were bare-headed and pack-free, but fair Irish skin (Irish since the Brexit debacle!), a complete aversion to heat and a migraine-induced fuzziness made it a necessity.

It’s never a good sign when a paramedic comes hurtling past you on a quadbike just three kilometres into the race.  When I got to the water stop, I found him helping my lovely friend Karen, who had twisted her ankle. Her race was over, though she was there at the finish cheering folk in after getting a lift back, and she’d claimed her tee-shirt (she’s from Yorkshire too!)

There were a couple of ambulances near the finish which were unfortunately occupied by runners who looked like they’d succumbed to the heat, I understand they were OK – I hope they got their tee-shirts!

As always, the support for this local race organised by the Pudsey Pacers was amazing. I was thrilled to be squirted with Supersoakers – after being politely asked if I’d like to be soaked. Oh yes, that did very nicely. As did the water from a hosepipe aimed at us (thanks, guys!) and all the extra water to pour over my head.

Even so, it was brutal, I walked where I should have run, if it hadn’t have been for the encouragement of the marshals, supporters and photographers pointing their lenses at me so I had to run, I would have given up and I don’t give up easily.

The best bit, though, was to turn the final corner and eyeball the finish line. Two of my team mates ran beside me, oh my goodness, that gave me such a boost. The rest stood there cheering, I felt like I’d won the race rather than brought up the rear, it was fabulous. I’ll be back next year, whatever the temperature.

You can’t get wetter than wet


By gum, it was wet. Thanks to Andrew Hardaker for the photo

I knew the rain was a bit heavy when it carried stones down the track, which smacked into my calves, bounced off my ankles  and then tumbled down the hill ahead of me and hundreds of other runners. Maybe not the best of conditions for a race, but I’m from Yorkshire, me, and I’d paid for it so I was bloomin’ well going to get my money’s worth, or die trying.

The Chevin Chase is the annual Boxing Day trail run around Otley Chevin, six or seven miles, depending how far you go to avoid puddles, mud or stones. It’s a fantastic event, open to all, whether you’re an Olympian Brownlee or, well, a slowcoach like me. Fancy dress is optional, but rude not to when so many others are going to the trouble. I was one of three Kirkstall Harrierettes, dressed in the purple of Kirkstall Harriers with an added flourish of feather trim and a Santa hat. Karen, Alyson and I ran together, much to the amusement of the handful of spectators who braved the deluge to cheer us on.

Within a nanosecond of stepping out of the car, it felt like someone had hurled a bucket of water at from a great height. I was soaked, the feather trim was dripping, but I wasn’t alone, everyone was saturated. These were unprecedented rains that had already flooded Cumbria, the north west and were working their way across the Pennines to cause flooding and chaos.

That water just kept on coming. Tracks became streams, roads became rivers, Otley Chevin became a lake. As those in front of me headed to the banks of the deep puddles, I was so wet I reckoned that running straight through them was easier and less likely to lead to a tumble than scrambling up the sides or hopping over walls. Besides, I’d lost all feeling in my feet and my legs were chafed by the sopping scratchy feathers and knocks from stones.

This is was my fourth Chevin Chase, the wettest and wildest so far, but definitely the most fun, I definitely got my money’s worth. Now all I need is for my shoes to dry out in time for the next race!


The tortoise and the hare


They grabbed the baton and were off so fast they made a sonic boom, at least I think that’s what it was. “By gum, they’re speedy, that’s the last we’ll see of them in this race,” I said to my partner. “They’ll be on their way home to bed by the time we finish.” How wrong I was.

It was the 25th annual Leeds Country Way relay, a race of six legs, taking in the countrified boundaries of our fair city. Teams of 12 run each of the legs, averaging just over 11 miles, in pairs. It being a relay, there’s a baton to pass on, so much pride is at stake to get the baton from start to finish. I’d done the sums, for us to do that, the whole team would have to average eight-minute miles. I’ve never run an eight-minute mile in my life, so the chances of us ever seeing the baton, let alone getting it to the next pair of sub-eight-minuters were negligible.

To cater for those suffering baton bereftness, and to make sure no-one was benighted, each leg had a mass start if the baton didn’t arrive in time. The speedy pair were a good 10 minutes ahead of us as we left the beautiful Golden Acre Park. My partner and I were happy to enjoy the glorious Yorkshire countryside, snacking on home-made marzipan and raisin balls, happy to not have the responsibility of carrying a baton.

We were six or seven miles into our run, having conquered a couple of steep Yorkshire hills when we heard fast furious footsteps behind punctuated with language as ripe as the blackberries on the hedgerows. It was none other than the Speedy Pair, as I’ll call them. They’d had a navigational mishap and were now moving even faster, we wished them well as they disappeared into the distance. “That’s the last we’ll see of them,” we said to each other. How wrong we were.

Our ten miles ended on a steep uphill, our fabulous teammates had waited for us, encouraging us, knowing we were definitely bringing up the rear. As we arrived at the checkpoint, I expected them to pack up and go, off-loading the left-over flapjacks and other goodies. But no. There was another team still out there, it was the Speedy Pair.

We looked behind, no sign of them. Then, over the hill, coming from the opposite direction, they appeared, all speed and swearing, we heard them before we saw them, baton in hand, crestfallen.

We tried not to look too pleased that we’d beaten the pair who we knew from our other competitive races. When I say knew, I recognised them from behind as they sprinted off every time.

They confessed they’d done nearly 15 miles and had gone wrong a few times, but were going to run back, probably not the same way they came, to pick up their car from Golden Acre.

We took pity and offered them a lift, I’ve been the victim of my own creative navigation many times. They were clearly gutted and didn’t have the heart to run back, as well as having had no clue what to do with the redundant baton. I suspected their team captain would have a few suggestions.

In the car we discovered the reason for their multiple mishaps. It was the first time they had run the route, and the instructions, which are, let’s say, short and sweet, were not clear to them. And of course, it’s hard to read at speed.

We shrugged our shoulders, we’d run the route and knew where to go and where not go. They may have been the speedy hares, but the tortoises won out in the end.