Saturday, September 3, 2016

Keswick Ladies' Billy Bland Challenge

No one can quite remember when the excitement started, but it was certainly well back in the rainy months of winter, when Julie Carter, a Keswick AC member and Bob Graham Round completer, mooted the idea of attempting a Bob Graham Round Relay, the Billy Bland Challenge, with a Keswick AC Ladies team. Everyone was inspired!

Here is a description of the challenge from the website

The Billy Bland Challenge relay is based on the five legs of the Bob Graham Round, starting and finishing at the Moot Hall in Keswick. It covers about 66 miles, 28,000 feet of climbing and 42 peaks. The challenge is open to all teams of 10, split into five pairs. Each of the pairs is designated one of the five legs and a baton is passed from one team to the next. The relay is to be completed at any time in the month of June. Entry costs in the true spirit of the BGR, are free.

The Keswick ladies took on the challenge with a few aims: to have a great day out on the fells, to try and beat the Ladies team record of 16.04 hours, and to get as close as possible to Billy Bland’s times for each of the legs of his record breaking solo Bob Graham Round. The first one was definitely achieved, the second one has inspired us to have another go (55 minutes off the record), and the third one showed just how incredible Billy Bland’s solo Bob Graham Round record is!

So on Saturday 4th June, at 4am, the Leg 1 pair of Hannah Horsburgh and Catherine Spurden, our fastest runners, set off from Moot Hall. Unfortunately the cloud was very low between 4 am and 11 am. However, this did not bother Catherine and Hannah, and they set a new Ladies team Leg 1 record of 3.03 hours, smashing the previous record of 3.27. But how did Billy Bland do it in 2.16 hours?!

The beaming pair then passed the ‘baton’, a tracking device, to Katy Moore and Trudy Beetham, our Leg 2 runners. Clough Head, which usually looms intimidatingly, was concealed by thick cloud, so the Leg 2 pair soon disappeared, and they stayed in clag all the way. Quite a lot of compass work was required, but after 3.43 hours Trudy and Katy emerged, smiling happily as they descended to a sun-bathed Dunmail Raise.

At Dunmail Raise the mobile Keswick AC nail-painting unit had come out in force, with Jo Gillyon and Catherine Evans showing off their freshly painted green and yellow nails as they received the tracker from Katy and Trudy. However, Cat and Jo immediately set their focus on Steel Fell, striding away with great purpose. They maintained a fantastic pace, despite the rising heat, and they whizzed up Broad Stand with the help of Julie Carter and Mandy Glanville. Julie and Mandy had attracted some incredulous looks as they carried the ladder up from Wasdale, with Moss their dog in a Keswick AC vest too! Cat and Jo then flew down to Wasdale, coming within 8 minutes of the Ladies Leg 3 record, but very happy with their time of 4.30 hours.

The Leg 4 runners, Rachel Findlay Robinson and Victoria Haworth, had been waiting nervously, trying to keep cool in the hottest part of the day, but they soon established a composed stride, making good progress up Yewbarrow and topping out before Cat and Jo had even finished their well-deserved ice creams.

Rachel and Vic did an excellent job of ensuring they visited every possible summit of the indistinct summit areas on Leg 4, and they came hurtling down to Honister in beautiful evening light, setting an excellent time of 3.51 hours.

Then it was time for the Leg 5 pair, Annabel Holmes and Sam Ayers to have a go, having waited patiently all day and avidly following the tracker on-line. Annabel and Sam had prepared extremely well for Leg 5, practising their route off Robinson meticulously, and even practising the final sprint to Moot Hall, so it is wonderful that they were rewarded with a time of 1.52 hours, the only pair on the team to beat Billy Bland’s leg time. However, the fact that Billy Bland ran nearly as fast as their fresh legs, after 60-odd miles of fell-running, is quite extraordinary.

In the gorgeous light of 20.59 on Saturday evening, Sam and Annabel touched the green door of Moot Hall, cheered on by several Keswick AC friends and family. The overall time was 16.59 hours, and we all agreed that it had been a great day out on the fells.

Thank you to everyone who helped the team: driving, reccying legs, nail-painting, supporting at Broad Stand, and cheering us on.

The numbers bit:

Start Saturday 4th June 2016: 4am

Splits (taken from time incoming runners arrive (so Leg 2 includes Leg 1/2 handover etc)

Leg 1 (Catherine Spurden and Hannah Horsburgh): 3.03
Leg 2 (Katy Moore and Trudy Beetham): 3.43
Leg 3 (Jo Gillyon and Catherine Evans): 4.30
Leg 4 (Rachel Findlay Robinson and Victoria Haworth): 3.51
Leg 5 (Sam Ayers and Annabel Holmes): 1.52

Total: 16.59

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Keswick AC smash record in 'Billy Bland Challenge'

A team of runners from Keswick AC wiped a massive 50 minutes off the record in the 'Billy Bland Challenge' Bob Graham Relay on Sunday, setting a time of 12 hours 24 minutes to beat the previous mark held by local club Ellenborough AC.

(L-R) Phil Winskill, Mark Lamb, Lee Newton, Dave Birch, Carl Bell, Sam Stead, Peter George, John Battrick, James Appleton, Steve Hebblethwaite (photo
The Billy Bland Challenge is a team relay over the route of the Bob Graham Round, a 66 mile loop over 42 Lakeland fells with over 27,000ft of ascent. The route is split into the 5 traditional 'legs', with a different pair of runners tackling each leg in an attempt to equal Billy Bland's legendary time of 13:53 from 1982.

Keswick's attempt was spearheaded by Steve Hebblethwaite and Mark Lamb. Setting off at 8am from the Moot Hall in Keswick, they stormed round the leg 1 peaks of Skiddaw, Great Calva and Blencathra before arriving at the changeover at Threlkeld in just 2 hours and 10 minutes, a new record for the leg. One of the intricacies of the Billy Bland Challenge is deciding the parings and which leg to place them on. It was clear that these two were well matched, pushing each other the whole way.

Leg 2 saw Sam Stead and Phil Winskill cover 12 peaks on the Helvellyn Range. They enjoyed the best of the day's challenging conditions and arrived at the next changeover at Dunmail Raise in 2 hrs 27 minutes, 17 minutes faster than the previous leg record. 

Leg 3 is arguably the most arduous leg of them all with 13 of the highest tops including Scafell Pike to cover between Dunmail Raise and Wasdale Head. Carl Bell and James Appleton had clearly taken note of the forecast as they sprinted up Steel Fell attempting to beat the incoming rain.
Carl and James sprint up Steel Fell (photo

 They carried this speed all the way to Sca Fell, the final summit of their leg before a small mistake led them on the wrong path on the descent. The team's supporters, who were able to track the runners' progress online via a GPS tracker, watched on helplessly as Carl and James sped towards Burnmoor Tarn. Luckily they noticed their mistake and only 10 minutes were lost and they still managed to hand over at Wasdale Head in 3 hours 10 minutes, another leg record.

When Keswick AC held its breath

By this time, the weather had deteriorated dramatically with heavy rain accompanying low cloud. Fortunately, two of the teams best navigators were up next and Dave Birch and Lee Newton expertly found their way across Leg 4 in atrocious conditions, arriving at Honister in 3hrs 12 minutes in what was undoubtedly the performance of the day.

Thanks to their team-mates efforts, leg 5 runners Peter George and John Battrick had the luxury of 2 hours in which to break the overall record, but they only needed 1 hour 25 minutes to finish the team off in style to rapturous applause at the Moot Hall, with another leg record to boot. Despite the  team's amazing performance, all involved had a new found appreciation for Billy Bland's incredible solo effort of 13:53.

Peter powers towards the Moot Hall (photo

The Billy Bland Challenge; a true test of stamina, navigation, tactics and teamwork. A fitting tribute to a legendary athlete.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Pennine 39

Result: Pennine 39: 39 mile trail race with 1,500 metre of climb, 18th June 2016
Neil Ford 2nd out of 51 in 6.31 hours.
The Pennine 39 race is a fairly new event, organised by the same company that runs the Tour de Helvellyn. Run entirely on the Pennine Way, it starts in Bowlees in the upper Tees Valley and heads past Cow Green Reservoir, before passing the spectacular High Cup Nick and descending into the Cumbrian village of Dufton. The next section starts with a big climb to four tops, including Cross Fell, at 890 metres the highest point in the race and the highest top in England outside the Lake District. The route then traverses moors via an old miners track before dropping down to the pretty village of Garigill for the final riverside run into the finish in Alston.
Although the weather can be testing on Cross Fell, it was very calm on the day of the race, with a lot of sunshine and no wind or rain. Most of the race route was attractive but the old miners track was hard and stony, wearing both the patience and the feet of runners. My own experience of the race was marred by the lack of a checkpoint and feeding station at Garrigill, as the organisers had been let down by a volunteer and the replacement had not turned up when I came through the village.
I’d been banking on getting some supplies at Garrigill for the final four mile section but the lack of anything to eat and drink caused me to stagger for a mile or two. I eventually resorted to drinking from the River North Tyne (not recommended!) and then knocking on a farm door for some food. Thank you to the kind lady who provided me with bananas and an apple! I had expected to be overtaken by a horde of other runners by the time I reached the finish line but must have had a big lead on the chasing pack. I was very happy to end up in second place, albeit a long way behind the winner. There was a fairly small field despite the race being part of the Runfurther British Ultra championship.

Neil Ford

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

English & British Fell Running Championships 2016 - details and pre-entries

Here is a list of all the 2016 English and British Fell Running Championship races and their entry can click on the races, for a link to details of each race.

English Fell Running Championships

Black Combe (M) - March 12th (pre-entry is nearly full! Enter online here)

Up the Nab (S) - May 7th (Entry by post on universal entry form to organiser, by 30th April)

Sedbergh Sports (S) - July 9th (Entry available via Howgill website from April 1st)

Borrowdale (L) - August 6th (On official form on website only obtainable after May 31st, limit 500)

Pendle 3 Peaks (M) - August 20th (Entries open 10th January via website, limit 600)

Langdale (L) - October 8th (Enter online on the SportIdent website from 1st August)

British Fell Running Championships

Donard Commedagh, N. Ireland (M) - April 9th (Entries on line via NIMRA website by 26th March, no limit on numbers)

Pedol Cwm Pennant, N. Wales (L) - June 11th (Online entries open on 1st February, limit 300)

Sedbergh Sports (S) - July 9th (Entry available via Howgill website from April 1st)

Merrick, Scotland (M) - September 17th (Entry £4. See website for entry details. There may be entries on the day if the race isn't full)


Northern 12 & 6 Stage Road Relays - Sat April 2nd
National 12 & 6 Stage Road Relays - Sat April 16th

Calderdale Way Relay - Sun May 15th

Hodgson Brothers Mountain Relay - Sun October 2nd
British Fell Relay Championships, Scotland - Sat October 15th

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Best Injury Advice I Wasn't Given

I wrote this as advice to my future self, but figured I’d share it in case it could help anyone else out.

Diagnosis: Impacted stress fracture of 2nd metatarsal, left foot. 6 weeks off running completely and a further 3 of rehab.

Background: Running for 3 years, built up to 65 miles/week. A road/trail runner that dabbles on the fell, 32mins-ish for 10k, 15.50 PB for 5k.

Advice to my future injured self:
            1. STOP RUNNING. STOP. NOW. STOP!!!! I had never been injured before, and am ashamed to have said on numerous occasions ‘I don’t really get injured’. B*llocks. There are two types of runner: Those that are injured and those that will be injured. My naivety contributed to my downfall. If it feels wrong, stop and seek medical advice.

2    2.‘Trust me, I’m a Doctor’ Get the right diagnosis, see a real Doctor. When you’re injured, everyone else seems to suddenly become an expert. Ignore them and seek professional advice. Not a physio, not your mate on Strava who ‘once had a dodgy toe so knows how it feels’ (guilty as charged). Go to your GP. This is nothing against your mates (or my mates) or physios, but that’s what GPs receive 7 years of training for and why they are there. I was lucky enough to be diagnosed quickly by my GP and my timetable for recovery was subsequently confirmed by MRI scan.

3.       3. Get back into your routine. As soon as your Doctor allows, get back into a cross-training routine that mirrors your pre-injury running routine as closely as possible. For me this was 2 ‘sessions’ a week plus a ‘long run’ on the elliptical trainer, plus steady cycling/aqua running in between. This has two benefits: It helps your mental state by removing the ‘lost’ feeling from your routine being disrupted, and it also means you hit the ground running (no pun intended) when you’re ready to stride again.

4.       4. It’s an opportunity. Take the opportunity to work on the parts of your fitness that are often neglected. I’m a better climber now than before my injury, and I put this down to weight training and elliptical work. This gives another mental boost to your rehab knowing that you can come out of the other side stronger in at least one way.  I include training your ‘running IQ’ in this, research why you got injured, plan your rehab, plan your future training and your racing goals.

A combination of the above other advice received has helped me recover well and today I capped my recovery with 2nd place at Orton Fell Race, 9 weeks and 4 days after breaking down.

That’s my few pence, hopefully it will help a few people out.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Hardmoors 60 race report – 19 September 2015

Hardmoors 60 race report – 19 September 2015
A beautiful day welcomed runners to the start of the Hardmoors 60 on Saturday 19th September. The race is 62 miles long with 3,500 metres of ascent and mainly follows the route of the second half of the Cleveland Way. It starts in Guisborough and goes up to Saltburn before running down the coast of the North York Moors National Park to end in Filey. There are no particularly high points on the route but many smaller hills, including lots of alternating cliff tops and bays, so lots of steps up and steps down.
The camaraderie in the Hardmoors ultras is great. Runners help each other out with route finding, food and drink; the marshalls are really upbeat and helpful; and the support teams that some runners have are also often kind. I didn’t use a support team in the race but, as I’m vegan and have a dodgy heart that can play up if my blood sugar drops, race organizer Jon Steele had kindly arranged to have my food and sports drink transported to each of the checkpoints. I was strong over the first part of the course but struggled badly from about mile 30 to mile 42 because of dehydration that triggered cramp. This affected quite a few people on the day: although 20C is not that warm by most standards, it was warm enough to have an impact on a long day of running.
However, I was able to turn things around fairly well and finished just before dark in 11 hours 27 minutes in 11th place out of 195. It was my first race since May 2014 because of plantar fasciitis, so I was pleased to finish with my foot intact. Hopefully I’ve also – finally! – learnt two lessons on how to deal with hydration on warm days in ultras in the future: drink enough that you need to go to the toilet during the course of the run; and wear a wet cap to keep your head cool. Still, the result was good enough to put a smile on my face during the hard winter runs to come.
Neil Ford