Sunday, 28 August 2016

The Challenge Cup Final. Hull v Warrington 27/8/16

Nope, this blog is not about running. My other life-long passion is rugby league and this is pretty much a diary-entry to remind me of an amazing day. Rugby league players are incredible athletes, they need to be very powerful with a huge amount of fitness.

On Wembley way
As Hull FC travelled further down their challenge cup path this year, it was as if someone had opened up the book of sod's law and decided to start applying random rules to me. Just before the semi-final against Wigan, I realised that I was down to work the weekend of the final. Did I tempt fate and try to change it, or wait to see if we beat Wigan? I decided to wait. Very soon after the win at the Keepmoat that put us in to the final, I started frantically trying to change my shifts. While I was worrying away about all this, I was diagnosed with a stress fracture just above my left ankle. So now I was in the a boot (visible in the picture above) and on crutches. How the hell would I get up the steps to my seat? In the event, I was only on crutches for 2 weeks so I would only have the boot to contend with at Wembley, thankfully. At least I didn't need to get my shift changed now as I would be on sick at the time of the final.

Not since 1983 have Hull been the favourites going in to a CC final, in fact, they've been big underdogs. And being the underdogs, I approached each of the finals in the same way, with no expectations of a win, I just went to enjoy the day regardless of the result. But this year it was different. We were favourites. We sit deservedly top of super league having beaten 2nd team Warrington twice this season in tight games. We had beaten Saints, Cats and Wigan to reach the final, a very tough, all super league route against top 8 sides. This year, we really could do it and for the first time, I was actually nervous before a final. Friday evening before the match was very, very long and I whiled away my time watching old videos of challenge cup memories on line.

And now some background. I started going to Hull FC games in 1983 aged 8 and the very first game I ever saw them lose was the 1983 cup final at Wembley, beaten by Featherstone Rovers who were the biggest betting underdogs of all time at the time, until Sheffield Eagles played Wigan in 1998, who also overturned the massive odds.
Since then Hull have returned to the final in 1985, 2005, 2008 and 2013 winning only once in 2005 at the millennium stadium in Cardiff. All told, Hull FC had lost 8 times at Wembley without ever winning. Speaking of which......

Now imagine, if you will, that you are a small rugby league club managing to punch a little above your weight and that across the city is a much bigger club. The bigger have won more derby games, more leagues, more cups, more challenge cup finals and have a lot more fans. If you were a fan of that little club, you might clutch at any straw you could and the straw that Hull Kingston Rover's fans have been clutching at for the past 36 years is that they won their solitary challenge cup victory at Wembley against Hull. The Rover's fans even sing their own version of Hull's anthem "Old Faithful" changing the lyrics to "You'll never win at Wembley" Now I am yet to meet a Hull FC fan who gave a crap about where Hull FC's 3 challenge cup wins happened, the only reason it became important is because of those clutched straws in the sweaty palms of the desperate Rovers fans. But in the end, the city of Hull has to face it, both teams are massive under-achievers in the grand scheme of rugby league but as bad as Hull's record is, Rover's is much worse. And if, in 140 years, your team had only won the cup once, and that was 36 years ago, you'd think that you probably wouldn't want to bring attention to that fact, but that's Rovers fans for you.
This year, the "Wembley hoodoo" talk reached a crescendo. Not mentioned all that much in previous cup finals for Hull, this year the press picked up on it much more and it was constantly mentioned. Breaking with tradition Hull's coach, Lee Radford talked about it a lot in the lead up to the final. He really wanted to shut up those Rover's fans and was using it as motivation to the squad.

And so in 2016, it had come to pass, that the 2 top teams in super league would battle it out in the cup final, the most eagerly awaited final for many years by most neutrals, never mind the fans of the 2 clubs. It was mouth-watering. Super league's 1 v 2, Yorkshire v Lancashire. Too close for most pundits to call. Two big packs promising to deliver a battering, bruising match and they delivered in spades.

Sophia and I arrived in Stanmore after a 3 hour drive and managed to park about a 5 minute limp from the station. We caught the train to Wembley park and by the time we arrived, the boot was rubbing the crap out of my shin as I limped along, but the view down Wembley way has a way of making you forget all about such things. The Hull fans were turning it into a sea of Black and White.

The lead up to kick off is full of pomp with a red carpet line-up and a rendition of "Abide with me" before the national anthem with all 76000 fans on their feet.

The first half was a brutal affair with huge collisions from both sides. I doubt many people would have predicted that it would take until the 34th minute before the first points would be on the board. Neither team had looked like scoring with defences on top until a pass from a very tired looking Frank Pritchard was intercepted by Chris Sandow who went the best part of 90 metres. Amazingly he was hauled down by Jamie Shaul who had set off after him like an Exocet missile. It only delayed the inevitable as Warrington scored with the next play. 6-0 to the Wire at half time and it was probably a fair reflection of a close, hard-fought 1st half.

I wasn't worried at all at half time, Hull have been a second half team all season coming from behind many times to win games. The most significant probably being the semi final v Wigan. In a lot of those matches, around 50 minutes in to the game, Hull had come alive, blasted out 3 or 4 quick tries and killed off the game. When we hit the 62 minute mark and it was 10-0 to Warrington, I definitely WAS worried.

Now, unfortunately a quick mention of the referee before we can get back to talking about the rugby. He was terrible. Truly awful. At my count he made 4 of the worst decisions ever seen in a cup final. "Letting the game flow" is all very well and something most fans would generally like to see in a cup final but failing to give blindingly obvious penalties is not ok. I have now watched the match again on TV to verify what I thought I had seen in the stadium, after all, I was a long way away in the stands and it is easy to see something different from so far away in the heat of the moment, but the TV footage was on my side. So here's his top "hits"

Failing to give a GIGANTIC knock on from a kick off against Wire. The player turned towards his own posts and pulled the ball towards himself. A blatant knock on, somehow, the ref seemed to think this was backwards. Even if it was backwards (it wasn't), these types of drops have been given as knock-ons for seasons now. Not that I think that that is right, but you can't suddenly change it now, in the middle of a cup final. 
No 2: Minichello gave out a pass with Hull on the attack, a Wire hand knocked it down and we regathered and set off up the field. Incredibly, the ref managed to miss this. He clearly hadn't seen what had happened but saw fit to give a none-existent knock on against Hull. The touch judge had to come on to put him right. It wouldn't have been so bad if the ref had realised he was un-sighted and requested the touch judge, but that isn't what happened. Even though the right decision was eventually made (No thanks to the ref) it had stopped Hull's momentum and gave Wire a chance to regather their defence that they didn't deserve.
Only a few seconds later, the ref made another horrendous gaff. A Wire player clearly took out a Hull player in an obvious obstruction and once again waved it off. This wasn't marginal, it wasn't a maybe, it was massive.
There were other terrible decisions he made (like giving another knock on against Minichello when he managed to regather the ball and knock it backwards without it hitting the ground or a Wire player) but those were his worst ones. 
A referee who makes such huge bad decisions in a final clearly isn't fit to officiate and needs to be kicked out of super league until he improves by a vast amount.

Now we have that over with, we can get back to the action that we SHOULD be talking about instead of crap, inconsistent refs. 
With 20 minutes to go, Hull looked down and out. Both teams were out on their feet and Hull's energy levels looked as low as they come. Then came the moment of magic, the pivotal point, the game changer that will be talked about by fans for years to come....

Marc Sneyd, Hull's scrum half caught the ball on the fifth tackle with the team still pinned back in their own half. Warrington players were bearing down on him, he had a split second to get rid of the ball before he would be crunched. He took only two steps and drilled an incredible, inch-perfect kick. It bounced once, then again on the touchline before dribbling in to touch coming to a halt only a few feet later. A 40-20 kick in the nick of time. Hull had a full set of 6 deep in Wire's half. A couple of tackles later Sneyd put up an excellent kick in to the corner and I tell you, Mahe Fonua soared higher and farther than any Hull fan in a grey place dares to dream (TM The Shawshank Redemption 1994) He landed just before the line and had the presence of mind to stretch out and plant the ball down. Hull were back in the game with 18 minutes to play and when Sneyd landed the difficult touch line kick he piled on the pressure to the beleaguered Wire.

Wire were out on their feet but Hull looked like they didn't have much left either. The barrage on both team's defences carried on. Players were hitting the floor all around and the blood was flowing from many of them, not least from Kurt Gidley, Wire's iconic Australian import who was forced from the field with his injuries which was quite some blow for Warrington.

It was coming down to who wanted it most, pure grit and determination. 7 Hull born and bred players took the field for Hull FC that day, and no one wanted the win more than them.

Around 72 minutes, Hull looked to have gone in front when a fantastic grubber into the corner again by Sneyd was stopping perfectly in the in goal area with Michaels flying in. Unfortunately the ball was pushed out by Ratchford a split second before Michaels would have touched down for Hull. The video confirmed how close it was. It was beginning to look like it was too late for Hull when.............
with 5 minutes to go Hull forced their way deep in to Wire's half. Sneyd put up a poor chip kick in to the corner. It was landing close to the touch line and on the 10 metre mark in the middle of a pack of players, but once again, Fonua took to the air above everyone else and tipped the ball back to Sneyd who gave an immediate pass to the screaming Jamie Shaul who was clear through. Shaul made sure he put the ball down under the posts to make the kick all but a foregone conclusion. There was to be no "poor lad" moment as Sneyd went through his usual lengthy kicking routine, coming from around a sharp corner to chip the ball over the posts. 6 minutes for Hull to hold on to a 2 point lead. In the stands, the tension was unbearable. My heart pounded like a 90's rave track.

Warrington were desperate now. Only 10 minutes previous they had had a 10 point lead and were cruising to a win. Most of the players on both sides were visibly shattered but Westerman still had energy and his jinking runs and side-stepping were causing FC bottoms to squeak. Hull were defending out the game, 4 or 5 drives then a hoof as far down the field as possible and it felt too early, it felt like there was enough time for Wire to win it. Time and again the players forced their way forward with herculean efforts, as tired as they were the Hull forwards took in battering drives. At times, with the ball in Warrington hands it became like a 7 aside match with Wire throwing the ball around, not moving forward and Hull holding their defensive line, happy to watch Wire going no where. Then, with 2 minutes to go Wire had forced their way on to Hull's line and suddenly Currie had the ball with a seemingly clear run to the line, certain to score.  Danny Houghton came in from nowhere with a miracle tackle, his 52nd of the match. Currie crashed to the turf inches short and the impact dragged the ball out of his grasp a split second before he slid over the try line. Watching it time and again, I cannot for the life of me see how he managed to drop it. The look on his face was pure anguish. 

Wire threw the ball around like the harlem globe trotters and made mini breaks and with less than a minute to go they were breaking down the right. A bullet pass came out and it looked like Wire had a big overlap. In yet another miracle tackle, Watts launched himself from the floor at the Warrington player, forcing him to drop his intended pass short and Minichello landed on the ball. The game was over. Hull had their Wembley win.

In the stands there was a barely a dry eye. Players littered the pitch like a battle field. The relief and release washed over us supporters. Finally.

The steps to the royal box were climbed, the cup lifted, the champagne sprayed, the pictures taken, Old faithful sung, tears cried and fireworks, erm, fired.

That's the Warrington terraces were looking at, hence them being a bit empty

I hopped down the stairs at Wembley feeling amazing but with my right foot (the one that ISN'T broken) hurting more and more as I limped on to. After 24 hours of nervous energy I was now exhausted and feeling quite breathless, something the heat in the train didn't help.

4 hours later we arrived home and had a quiet drink in the local to celebrate followed by prosecco, before heading home to watch the replay.

I collapsed in to bed gone 1am knowing that in the morning, I would have to remind myself that it had really happened. 

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Marshaling the Hardmoors 110/160

Tweet me @scott_leach

When the industrious proprietor of the Hardmoors series of races, Jon Steele, put out a plea for marshals for his 110/160 mile events on facebook, I realised the date clashed with the 3 peaks. Then very late in the day when I knew I had to drop out of the 3 peaks, I offered Jon my services. Unsurprisingly with such a late offer of support, I was given a graveyard shift of 4am-9am Sunday morning shift at the check point at Lord Stones, a point 131 miles in to the 160 and 83 miles in to the 110. My mind boggled at the sights I may see!
I don't have a picture from Lordstones, so here's me dancing with Usain Bolt

I got out of bed at around 2:15am Sunday morning. "I'm off to a car park in the middle of nowhere!" I said to Sophia, in what my have been one of the dodgiest sentences of all time. Luckily, she knows me well. I downed a large cup of fresh-ground coffee and an hour and a half later I realised my sat nav was NOT taking me to Lord stones. Crap. Cue frenzied googling and hoping that I would get enough signal for it to direct me. 
I arrived at the check point at about 04:02 when I realised I had been stupid enough to forget my head torch.

The checkpoint was a tiny road crossing where Peter had parked his campervan and Karsten had set up a chair and a table filled with jelly babies, pork pies (which proved VERY popular) sausage rolls, flat coke and of course, water. 

Around 40 people started the 160 and about 150 started the 110. All told around 80 people reached the Lord Stones check point and it was remarkable what good spirits the majority of them were in, though almost all looked completely exhausted. As the runners made their way up the next hill, the gaits of some of the competitors was interesting to say the least, especially considering they had nigh on 30 miles to go. Some looked like they couldn't take another step, never mind cover more than a marathon, but each one shuffled off up the pretty sizeable hill with grim determination abundant. 

The most hilarious thing is that in true ultra runner style, often the runners showed concern for us, seeming to think that WE had a hard job! "So what time did you get here?" I answered 4am and the other 2, answered 2am. "Wow!" the runners said, "That's tough"
Everything is relative of course, but being a little bit cold as you stand around pouring out the odd drink and handing out the pork pie is not really hard work in anyone's book and especially not compared to people who had been in this race from 8am the previous morning in the case of the 110ers and 5pm 2 days previous for the 160ers!!!!!

Our shift was due to finish at 9am, but Jon Steele is nothing if not a vague bugger and we were still waiting for the tail runners at 10am.  We continued to chat about running between ourselves and Peter told me about many races but not least his Bob Graham round back in 1984. Karsten had done a few of the Hardmoors marathons and told me about his favourites. 

Eventually the last runner came in accompanied by the trail runners and the rain that had held off began to fall as we cleared away the detritus. 

It's impossible not to be inspired by these superheroes dressed in the guise of normal human beings, armed mostly with nothing more than pure determination to finish a truly herculean race. Yes, you think they are crazy, yes, you think they look total wrecks and yes, I wished I was them.

Driving home I was amazed to see the view that it had been too dark to see the night before. It was spectacular. The thought helped to keep me awake on the A1M motorway until I arrived back.
I still don't have a picture so here's a stormtrooper beating Usain Bolt

At home, I watched the Hardmoors facebook feed as the runners came home and a remarkable story unfolded. One guy, Frank Murphy, had arrived at a checkpoint with 15 minutes to spare before the cut off of the 160. He decided that rather than rushing himself to beat the cut off, he would have a sleep instead, knowing that it would disqualify him from the race. Not that he was dropping out, he was going to carry on, but with no check points open and no race support other than his own support team. He grimly carried on getting further and further behind the cut offs. The cut off for the entire race was 50 hours, he eventually came through in 71.5 hours! By that time he landed he had dozens of people cheering him on on facebook and a crowd had gathered to welcome him home (Think Simon Pegg in "Run fat boy run") including Jon and Shirley Steele, who, despite his official disqualification from the race, presented Frank with his finishers tshirt and medal. And that is the true Hardmoors spirit.  Do yourself a favour, and sign up for a hardmoors race today!

Monday, 20 June 2016

Losing my triathlon cherry: The 2016 ITU World triathlon Leeds

Tweet me at @scott_leach and also donate to Bloodwise 

I'm in there, somewhere in the middle

Never done a triathlon before, so why not sign up for a world series one?

If proof were ever need that I am an idiot, then it was in abundant evidence in the sequence of events that led to me entering Waterloo lake in Roundhay park, at 07:24am last Sunday morning. I was wearing a brand new wet-suit that I had never swum in and had only briefly tried on twice, about to swim nearly a mile in open water for the first time, having not been swimming for around 2 years, at the start of my first ever triathlon.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Going back a few months I had been pretty excited when I heard that the world series triathlon was coming to Leeds, so I began googling to find out where exactly it would be. There was no information on that, but to my surprise, it turned out I could enter it. Why watch it if you could do it, I reasoned, whilst downing my beer?
An Olympic triathlon is one of the short ones, right? Doesn't take too long, only a 10k at the end.
By the time I got around to entering it had sold out, so instead I got a charity spot for Bloodwise. I don't usually like to take charity places as I know how much they cost the charities, instead I usually sign up first, then contact the charity to tell them I have my own place. In this instance I had to pledge to raise £400. If I reached £200 Bloodwise would send me a triathlon belt and if I made £400, they would send me a trisuit. I nearly decided to turn down the suit as I didn't want to cost the charity any money, but then I realise they order these things in huge bulk (There were 400 Bloodwise athletes in Leeds alone) so would get them pretty cheap and also, running and cycling round emblazoned with Bloodwise was excellent advertising for the charity.
After an initial facebook appeal had only garnered £100, I began to panic. How would I manage to raise £400!? I didn't think a full-Monty show in my local working man's club when earn much but then I came upon a genius idea- race photos! I often take race photos, usually when I am injured and they receive huge amounts of attention on facebook. If I could get just a few people to donate on the back of them, I might have a chance to hit my target. So off I went out to Ilkley moor for Rombald's Stride in February to photograph around 400 runners in freezing conditions completing the gruelling 22 mile route. I wrote about it here. It was a tough day but well over £100 rolled in for the charity! I had found my way to make money. Over the next few months I went out to a few races, some gaining more money than others, but I eventually hit the target with ease, then went way past it. Consequently, my trisuit arrived from Bloodwise. Unfortunately, the suit was way too small. I am a medium in absolutely everything else, so I found this odd. Even the replacement large was still a little too small, but it was ok and I squeezed my moobs in to it.

The Wheely Bit

A triathlon was probably always a bad idea for me for numerous reasons. For starters, I hate cycling, I find it boring and I really don't feel especially safe on the roads although I know that stats don't support that fear. However, I have a turbo trainer (One of those things you attach a bike to to make it in to an exercise bike) and I decided that I could do most of my training whilst watching HIIT videos on the internet which always seem to feature a suspiciously large amount if fit women in small lycra outfits. In the event, I barely managed to do any cycle training at all as I discovered that cycling brought on the nerve pain through my left foot that I have been struggling with for nearly a year. I hoped that working with a physio would cure it in enough time that I could get some good cycling in, but it never happened, so the little cycling I did was pretty uncomfortable. Once I had managed to cover the required 40k distance on my mountain bike on roughish terrain, with a 5k run afterwards, I pretty much left it there.
The world series triathlon apparently came with some funding for the area to promote the sport, so in the weeks prior to the event there were various free sessions set up on different aspects of tri.
I signed up for transition training at Leeds Beckett. To my amazement, this free session was with a coach from the national triathlon centre! The info I received there proved invaluable during the race. I was taught how to mount and dismount the bike and the rules of transition along with all sorts of tips.
I left the session with a large graze on my elbow and some large bruises on both legs from my first attempt at a flying mount that went wrong as I manged to jump a little too far.
I mentioned to some experienced triathletes that I was planning on using my mountain bike. They all confirmed that this was a terrible idea, not because I was trying to win the thing or was worried about my time, but that it was a bad idea to add 30 minutes to an already tough event and the extra effort that would involve. Luckily, my good friend Mark offered to lend me his road bike and I gratefully accepted. I went out a couple of times on it and practised mounting and dismounting a few times. It was definitely much faster and easier to get about on the roads than on my old mountain bike.
Annoyingly, on my first attempt at a flying mount on it, I managed to kick the pump clean off it, breaking the mounting bracket. A quick trip to outdoors for a replacement ensued.

Photo by Debi Nicholson- amazingly she managed to spot me in the crowds!

The Wet Bit

I was a swimmer when I was at school but years of it eventually meant I very much fell out with it. As an adult I have never really liked swimming much and only really do it when injured and unable to run. I think it is the sensory deprivation that you experience in the pool that I don't like. Consequently I didn't really plan to do too much swim training, but I certainly planned to do some. In the end, the only bit I did was a half hour acclimatisation  in Waterloo lake a couple of weeks ago that involved very little actual swimming. 30 newbies flailing around in the small cordoned off area in front of the Lake house in borrowed wet-suits soon stirred up the 6 inches of  what-ever-the-hell-that-sludge-is-at-the-bottom and we were soon swimming in a green soup with floating bits. Not pleasant. It felt like that scene in trainspotting when he chases the drugs down the toilet.
And now I needed to buy acquire a wet-suit. I had been in a wet-suit maybe twice in my life and certainly didn't own one. I wasn't about to spend vast amounts on one either as I might never use it again. I bought a large size for £13 from Clas Ohlson, only to find out it was too small. I ordered another for £20 from t'interweb carefully studying the sizing guide before ordering. Again, no banana as it proved to be too small. I borrowed one from a friend, but couldn't even zip it up. I know wetsuits are meant to be tight, but this was ridiculous. And I mean, what is it with triathletes? Are they all total short-arses?! How could I, at just shy of 5 feet 11, be too tall for large wet-suits?! Third time lucky I got one from gooutdoors, this time I was able to try it on before purchase. But as I said, stupidly, the first time I would swim in it, would be on the day of the event.

The Feety Bit

Running wise I have now been carrying a very niggly injury since last August meaning on-and-off I have suffered tingly nerve pain (sometimes becoming sharp pain) through the middle toe of my left foot, so over the last few months, my usual 100+ miles a month running has dropped to 60-70.

All in all, training was not going well. Then, there was the organisation of the event.........
This confused look was pretty much my default look

I need to go where? When? How?

Information about the event was very slow coming out but eventually it emerged that there would be split transitions. So I learned, in most tri's transition, the start, finish and the registration are all in the same general vicinity. Not so with this one. The swim was to be in Roundhay and the run and finish in the city centre. It was already beginning to seem complicated. As the event got closer the seasoned triathletes pulled apart the plans for the race and highlighted numerous errors in the information provided. For instance, the run was stated to be 4 laps of the city centre in earlier communications but 5 in later emails. Transition 2 was originally planned to close at 14:30 until everyone pointed out that would make it impossible for us plebs competing in the open race to see the elites without retrieving then locking up your bike in the city centre, and how would anyone get a lock there to make sure the bike was secure? 5000 bikes of varying expense , many worth thousands of pounds scattered around the city was not a good idea....

I was lucky that I left it very late to read the finer details of the event as I avoided relying on incorrect early info, the final email contained information that seemed to be correct, or at least correct if everything had gone to plan, which it spectacularly didn't.
Everyone that has done a tri before, assured me that this level of complication was not usual for a tri and that if I could get through this, any other one would be a piece of the proverbial. In all seriousness, it was beginning to look so damned complicated that if I had not already raised hundreds of pounds for Bloodwise, I would probably have sacked it off.

Registration and set-up

There were various ways you could go about the difficult logistics of this race, but as I had a start time of 07:24, it didn't seem practical to set up in the city centre in the morning then get to Roundhay for the start, so on Saturday (The day prior to the tri) I headed to the city to register. Problem being- I had to carry my borrowed bike in the back of my car as I couldn't drop it off at Roundhay first (You needed to register before you could get entry to T1 to rack your bike). I would need to leave it locked in the car, in Leeds city centre. Safe huh? I didn't want to take the risk of setting up the bike on Sunday morning as it would be too late to correct any mistakes and would require me getting up even earlier than the 05:30 I already planned.
Registration at the Rose Bowl (A univeristy building) was quick and easy and the volunteers were extremely helpful. Just to hammer home my "newbyness" I was surprised when I received a swim cap in my wave colour (Red) so I was glad I didn't buy one as I had been planning to. Apparently, being given a swim cap is totally usual in a triathlon. They gave me a black bag to take to the bike-run transition. This was a change to the initial plans where we were supposed to pick up all 3 bags we needed at registration. Now we would pick up the green kit bag on Sunday morning and the blue swim-to-bike bag when setting up the bike in Roundhay at T1.
I took the opportunity whilst in the city centre to make last minute purchases; some shot blocs and a bottle for the bike.
I felt sorry for those who didn't know Leeds as transition 2 was a good walk from registration and not simple. I know Leeds city centre well, and know the venue for T2 as I often park there, yet I still managed to walk the wrong way and end up back-tracking. There were no signs pointing the way at all.
As I was planning to cycle in my running shoes, all I dropped off at T2 was a tshirt- for in case I was cold and a cap in case it was very sunny. Then I headed back to my car, hoping all the glass was still in one piece (it was) and off to Roundhay to set up my bike.

In the race pack I picked up at registration was also a number of stickers with our race number on, which was confusing everyone, experienced or not. There was one large sticker, which everyone seemed to agree was to go around the seat post on your bike but then there was another large one and 3 small ones. Most people seemed to think that the other large one was to go across the front of your helmet, but no one was sure what to do with the small ones. Some thought it was maybe to go on the bags and others thought it was an alternative way to label your helmet. I went with the consensus and was left with the 3 small stickers unused as our numbers were written large on the bags in marker pen.

I found my wave (8) in the transition area (which was making a giant mess of the cricket pitch) and racked my bike. I really wasn't sure what I was doing so I looked around everyone else's set-up then I basically stuffed everything in to the kit bag and hung it off the handlebars as everyone else had done. I put my jacket at the bottom as I hoped I wouldn't need it then cursed that I had left my sunglasses at home so hoped that the small peak on my cycling cap would suffice if it turned out to be sunny. I seemed to be doing much less here than everyone else and I hoped I wasn't forgetting something important. I remembered to change the gear on the bike to ensure it was right when I set off up the large hill. Unfortunately I clicked the gears the wrong way and ended up starting in a high gear instead of low. D'oh!
After a quick walk down to the lake to spot the start with the large pontoon and the drop area for the green kit bags, I headed home to try to get some rest. Through nerves and whatever else, I didn't actually get to sleep until gone midnight.

Race Day

The alarm went at 05:30 and I grabbed a cup of ground coffee. 30 minutes later, we left the house. Sophia had decided she would drive me to Roundhay so she could watch me start, then drive to the city centre to see the finish. We would need to be there anyway as we had grandstand tickets to see the elites in the afternoon. The organisers had planned to transport all our left over gear from T1 to the city for us so we wouldn't need to return to Roundhay. This wasn't a good plan as a lot of people were leaving their cars at Roundhay so would only need to cary it back to Roundhay from whence it had come! (including their bike and a wet, heavy wet-suit). A simple choice of, "Drop bags left to have them remain in Roundhay and right for transport to the city centre" would have worked perfectly well and would have saved the organisers a lot of trouble transferring kit.

I squeezed in to my wet-suit then stuffed all my clothes, mobile phone, wallet etc in to the green kit bag which we were promised would take "up to 2 hours" to arrive in the city centre. Which seemed reasonable as the fastest amateur took over 2 hours to finish the Olympic tri, but of course, it didn't work out that way....

Under Starter's Orders

There's nothing quite as twattish as a triathlon twat

We weren't given an opportunity to acclimatise to the water, so in we went, freezing cold, seconds before we were due to set off. Most advice tells you to use body glide or baby oil around your wrists, neck and ankles to avoid chaffing in the wet-suit so I had duly applied some baby oil. I wondered what sort of state I would be in at the end of this thing as my cheap wet-suit got its first outing.
In reality, the water wasn't as cold as I feared and we were soon off.

30 seconds in to the swim my right google filled up with water; they weren't tight enough. It really had been stupid to not get some swim practise in where I could have sorted a problem like this.
I carried on for a while with my right eye tight shut. I am a strong swimmer and knew it would be my best discipline of the 3,  but I really had no idea how long it would take me to cover 1500m in open water so I thought I would try to empty the goggle and tie it tighter. I tried 3 times over the course, but each time the goggle filled quickly and I gave up and swam one-eyed.
Around a minute in to the swim, I managed to take a large mouthful of water. I had always thought that I would be able to spit it out with no issues, but I swallowed it before I knew what had happened. Great, now I was likely to get cholera, typhoid and bubonic plague. (The organisers had assured us that the water had been tested and was fit for human consumption. You can actually see straight to the bottom of the lake at the sides so the water IS clear, but it's that 6 inches of sludge that I was worried about)

Unfortunately, the worst part of the swim was that the nerve pain in my foot started up almost as soon as I set off. Whether this was down to the cold of the water or the fact that swimming leaves you in a very "stretched out position" I am not sure. The cold also left me feeling quite breathless in the usual way you get when you are extremely cold, even though I only felt moderately cold. All that said, I seemed to be moving reasonably quickly and I regularly over took people, including those in different caps from other waves.
For the most part, the route of the swim was obvious, but when we arrived at the near end of the lake it was less obvious where we needed to turn and a lot of people managed to miss going around the two red marker bouys and some were sent back before the marshals apparently gave up on that as so many swimmers made the same mistake. I did the correct route, more by luck than anything and the pontoon eventually appeared. Looking at my result afterwards, I was surprised to have completed it in only 26 minutes, far quicker than I thought I would. I do suspect that swim was shorter than 1500m.

T-1000. Just kidding, that's the terminator, it's T1

There was a 400m run from the lake to the back of the bike racks where my bike was stored. The path was carpeted until the cricket pitch where the grass was bare and that was already starting to get muddy. I felt sorry for the 5000th person that would pass over that field by the end of the day.....
As I ran I waited to discover where I had chaffed. I could see people with red sores around their necks, but I seemed ok and so I remained. First swim in a brand new wetsuit and no issues. Result!

Having a bright yellow bike, it turns out, is very helpful as it stands out like a beacon on the racks. I now needed to make a quick decision, did I need my cycling jacket? No one else seemed to be bothering, so I decided not to put it on. I decided to dry my feet and put on socks, reasoning that as I was going to be in the same trainers for the bike and the run it was worth taking that extra time, especially as I would save time not swapping out of cycle shoes at T2. Then I put on my cycle gloves. And I have no idea why. I'd overheard someone saying that they were going to make sure they didn't forget their gloves. Afterwards I noticed no one else was wearing them and it had been a total waste of time. There was no way my hands would have been cold.

I sprinted off for the mount line holding the seat, not the handlebars, as I had been shown at transition training. Another 400m later and I exited the longest transition ever (so the triathlon experts informed me) I had trained to do a flying mount whilst still moving, but there seemed little point as it was such a steep hill straight out of transition. I jumped on and discovered that I was in a high gear. Quickly clicking down through the gears I eventually managed to set off.
T1 with the 1st few bikes in it

Once again I had no idea how long the cycle would take me, but I thought up to 90 minutes was possible. It took me a while to settle but soon I was zipping along over-taking lots of people and also being regularly over-taken, mainly by people on seriously top-end bikes.

As it turned out, the bike route in to the city was mostly downhill, which meant cycling back to Roundhay was quite hard work. However, by the time the third leg, back in to the city began, I knew the route and what I had to do, which was basically, hit it as hard as possible as I knew it was mainly downhill to the end. I began over-taking A LOT of people. I was swapping places with quite a few people, losing time on each uphill section then catching them on the flat parts and on the numerous downhills. I ended up having a battle with a woman in a triathlon trainers outfit and I set her as a target. We swapped places on quite a few occasions before I eventually pulled away from her.
At around ten miles in to the cycle my foot was beginning to be extremely painful. I tried stretching my leg out behind me on the downhills. Another cyclist pulled up along side me and laughing said, "I thought you were going to take off for a minute there"
I laughed too, "I wish I could, my bloody foot is killing me"
At one point I discovered that cycling with my toes took the pain away, but it didn't last long before it came back. I was just going to have to put up with it, and as I arrived back in the city centre I couldn't wait to get off the bike and start running.

T2- Revenge of the transition

Then came the hilarious part- I scared the crap out of a lot of people as I came up to T2......

I had been shown how to do a flying dismount and I fully planned to do this, especially as I was in my running trainers already. So here's what you do according to the national triathlon coaches: As you approach the dismount line (you need to get off BEFORE this line to avoid a penalty) you slow down to dismount speed. I then swing my right leg around the bike and bring it in between my left leg and the bike. You are then poised to with your left foot still on the peddle to jump off the bike whilst it is still moving and and hit the ground running.

The MOST important part here was: Slow Down To Dismount Speed!!!

I, however, came in at break-neck speed and as I had already swung my leg over the bike, I was in trouble. The way the brakes on my loan bike are configured, meant I couldn't really pull them as I would need to shift my hands on to the bottom of the drop-handle handlebars and I wasn't confident of doing that without falling off. I was too close to the dismount line to try to swing my leg back over the bike so I had no chance but to tough it out. I was going to have to just jump.
The dismount line approached and I went for it. I hit the ground at such speed that my knees buckled and I stumbled. The small crowd let out a big "Oooooo" but I recovered and took a a few more steps. Then I stumbled again and the crowd let out another large "Oooooooo!!" Both they, and myself were expecting a spectacular face-plant at any moment, but somehow I managed to recover yet again, however in the process the bike started to twist and fall. I managed to grab hold of the handlebars and straighten the bike, then I quickly switched my grip to the seat and I had made it. Amazingly, I was running along safely with the bike. The crowd had a moment of stunned silence unable to believe I had pulled it off,  before they gave out a cheer and I, of course, carried on running as if I had totally meant to do it, casually as you like, whilst inside I was thanking the Gods of triathlon for allowing me to survive.

I entered the rubble-strewn car park that is the site of the old international pool which was transition 2. The state of the ground didn't bother me as I was in my running trainers, but many people had issues as they were running barefoot through it with their cycle shoes still attached to their bikes.
I found my bike rack quickly and put the bike on seat first. Then I remembered the advice about putting it on handlebars first with the rack jammed in between the brake levers and the handlebars so I wasted precious seconds spinning the bike around. Then I struggled to stuff my helmet in to my bag hanging off the rack. I quickly decided I wouldn't need the tshirt or cap and off I went.

Run Fat Boy, Run

I took three steps away from the bike and on the third one a sharp pain shot through my foot that felt like I had been stabbed and I let out a yelp. At that point I actually wondered if I would be able to finish this thing or have to walk the 10k. The pain relented a little and I found I was able to run. To my surprise my legs didn't actually feel like to large blocks of wood like they had felt the few times I had run straight after cycling during training.
I had definitely been looking forward to the run, but wasn't excited about a 5 lap route. In the event though, it went a lot quicker than I was expecting, if only in my head, rather than on the watch. On my first lap I discovered there was small cheering section for Bloodwise situated on the Headrow and I would be passing them 5 times. I shouted to them that I want a Mexican wave. Eventually, on my 4th pass they did do a full Mexican wave!
The pain in my foot was pretty unpleasant as we looped around the short, undulating lap. 

For some reason, they had made the merge point the narrowest part of the lap, so each of the 5 times I past it, I was slowed down by congestion. 

The route took us through the grandstand they had set up in millennium square and unbeknown to me, Sophia was in the stand taking photos. She had done amazingly well to get photos of me coming out of the swim. I say amazing as there were obviously dozens of us in red swimming caps and pretty much nothing else to identify us.

The run was also congested and I needed to weave in and out of lots of much slower runners before I was able to go down the finish tunnel at the 5th pass. I gave it a bit of a sprint to make sure the runner next to me didn't ruin my finish photos (Seriously!)
The marshal with the medals tried to hand it to me and as always, I insisted that they did it properly and put it over my head for me. The marshals all found this pretty funny and with a smile, my medal was placed around my neck. 

The Aftermath

The timing chip attached to my ankle that had the event looking like a mass prison break recorded each section of the race and here's my results:

I came 521st out of 2200ish athletes in 2 hours 32. I have to say I am pretty pleased with that, all things considered. Not surprisingly, my best result was the swim where I finished 433rd. But the incredible thing was my T2 time- 10th overall! I say incredible considering that I messed around with racking the bike and struggled with getting the helmet in the bag. I am sure that my 10th place had lots to do with me already being in my running trainers and lots of the people who had used bike shoes struggling to run in the rubble. And of course, my ridiculous entrance to the transition area.

After the finish the worst problems were to come. The area directly after the finish was tiny and soon filled up with finishers as- unbelievably- we were unable to leave this area because we needed to cross the running track that was now full with hundreds of runners. A few finishers at a time were able to sprint between athletes trying to complete their runs.

After the finish area were were offered a lump of stale bread, half a brown banana and an orange quarter. Triathletes, apparently, are used to much better than this and probably have a right to expect better considering the cost of these events.
Erdinger provided pints of alcohol free lager which I have to admit was pretty tasty, then we ran in to the most major problem of the day...

I arrived at the baggage pick-up to a very large crowd and discovered that the first 1800 bags had arrived as expected, but that the next lot were delayed. At this point, over 3 hours had elapsed since I had dropped off my green bag in Roundhay, so the promised 2 hours had been greatly exceeded.
Most people were taking this bad news in pretty good spirits. It certainly wasn't the poor volunteers fault behind the counter and I really felt for them doing a tough job.

So now, I was stranded in the city centre, in nothing but a triathlon suit, with no phone, no money, no clothing and no way to contact Sophia to tell her where I was. I was unaware that she had seen me finish so I didn't know if she was worried about me or not.

I decided to make the most of it and I headed off to the Bloodwise cheering section and I spent some time chatting and cheering on the other Bloodwise runners.

Half an hour or so later I headed back to the bag drop to find it in just as much chaos. I was incredibly lucky to get my bag back at this point, many other people were not so lucky. So now I had a phone, I was able to contact Sophia and was able to put on some warmer clothing. The organisers were very lucky it was a warm day, otherwise they might have had a hypothermia epidemic on their hands. As it was, I had started to get chilly, so was glad to get a sweat shirt on.

My blue bag with my wet-suit etc in it still hadn't arrived so I would need to return to the bag drop once again, later on to get that too.

I enjoyed a gorgeous sausage sandwich in a bar before heading back to the grandstand and thoroughly enjoying the wonderful atmosphere as the elites showed us how it should be done. Jorgenson put in an amazing run to make up more than two minutes deficit from the bike to win the ladies and the Brownlee brothers dominated the men's race from the minute they donned their running shoes.

All in all it was a fantastic day, the open race that I took part in was on a great route and I would have enjoyed it very much if it hadn't been for the foot pain and I am now very much looking forward to entering another once I have had some physio.
The elite races went off without hitch and the crowds made it an incredible event.

The complaints and ramifications of all the poor parts of the organisation of this race will no doubt rumble on for a long time. Reading the complaints from experienced triathletes, it turns out that every time British Triathlon organise an event, it tends to turn out this way! So now I know whose events to avoid.
All that said, I still managed to enjoy the event and yes, I will do another triathlon.
A week later and I still have a numb toe on my left foot, but otherwise, no damage done, and now I can't stop looking at nice road bikes to buy.....

Monday, 18 April 2016

My 5 favourite parkrun memories

#loveparkrun tweet me @scott_leach 

The start at Woodhouse moor parkrun, Leeds

Support Stoke Gifford's campaign for their parkrun to remain free by signing this petition . Do it, it's important.

I'm going to start this blog with a big statement, so get ready. I've considered the following statement carefully, and though it is huge, I believe it to be true and stand by it. Are you ready? Here it is:

parkrun is the greatest thing to happen to sport in this country, ever.

parkrun (One always spells parkrun with a small "p" happarently) has encouraged over 23000 previously inactive people to take up running. 939665 different people have taken part in a parkrun. It's now spread in to 12 countries and there are 800 events worldwide with 150000 people taking part, every single week. Any number of expensive government initiatives have failed to garner anything like this kind of response and at a fraction of the cost. 

I've now run at 8 different events and intend to do many more, but why do I love it? I could wax lyrical for a long time on that, talking about inclusivity, the sometimes beautiful locations, the incredible effect on a nation's health, the hundreds of communities that it has created, etc, etc, etc, but instead, I will give you my 5 favourite parkrun memories.

5) My very first parkrun

There are now a couple of parkruns closer to me than the Woodhouse moor event in Leeds but back in March 2012 it was my local run. Like many people I had been meaning to get to a parkrun for a long time before I actually did. 
On that day 291 people ran. The first home took 16 minutes 6 seconds, the last was a 70 year old woman who came in in 54:36 and there was everything else in between. 
I remember lapping a guy who must have been 30 stones plus. He was working hard. Really, really hard. His determination and grit were incredible. I wanted to run with him a bit, give him some encouragement and tell him how fantastic he was doing, but I couldn't work out a way that wouldn't sound horribly patronising. 
I watched with joy as people pushing buggies, people with dogs, people of every shape and size crossed the line. And I fell in love with this event. I knew it was something very, very special to bring this diverse bunch together, laughing and smiling on a Saturday morning in the park. 

4) Keswick parkrun

For my 40th birthday I invited my friends to join me in my favourite place in the world; the lake district, and on the Saturday, some of us ran at Keswick. The run at that time was along a path created out of an old railway track that was sadly damaged in the floods so is not currently being used, I sincerely hope it's repaired soon.
Anyway, back in September 2014 the race director gave his speech and asked if there were any parkrun tourists today. In what I am sure is no surprise the majority of the crowd put their hands up, which raised a laugh. The 4 people who ran from my birthday party, I am proud to say, came 1st, 4th, me in 5th and 35th. Not a bad return I'd say! Typically of my friend Mark, when asked if he'd done alright, said, "Yeah, not bad" When pushed, he confessed he had won. Although he has won medals for running before, he had never before, nor since, finished first in a race, so it made his modesty all the more funny. Apparently the guy in second had asked Mark if he wanted to take the lead as thy ran, but Mark declined. When eventually Mark spotted the finish line he sprinted hard and won by over 10 seconds. The guy in 2nd was disappointed, but what he didn't know was that Mark could have gone very very much faster. 

3) Halloween at Wetherby parkrun

I am absolutely no fan of fancy dress. It's just not my thing, so I tend to avoid it. However, last year I decided I would enter in to the spirit of a night race I had entered on Halloween and buy a skeleton onesie to run in. When the race was cancelled I decided not to waste the costume and wear it at Wetherby parkrun instead. Wetherby is run entirely on grass so it was pretty amusing to don a pair of inov8 x-talons with the onesie and run around the football pitches. On this occasion I finished 2nd, my highest position at a parkrun ever. A few people told me that it was amazing that I had come second in a onesie. What they didn't know is that the onesie was actually great to run in, it was a cold day and it kept me just the right temperature. Wetherby parkrun typically has around 60-100 runners and is a perfect example of why parkrun is great. It has a lovely small community and a dedicated bunch of volunteers keeping it going, much like hundreds of the other events.

2) Christmas day at Bradford

I was working Christmas day 2014, but a bit of jiggery-pokery with our shifts, some quid pro quo and I was allowed to complete the Bradford parkrun before heading in to work. 232 runners enjoyed a wonderful start to their Christmas day. I gave it my all and was pleased to break the 20 minute barrier on a tough course with a "teeny tiny hill" (You'd need to go to Bradford parkrun to get that joke) I finished in 6th position overall. Just let that sink in; in a park, in Bradford, 232 people got out of bed, on Christmas day to run 5k. Incredible.
Paul Dennison, race director of the 3 Peaks race at Bradford parkrun, Xmas day 2014

1) Debi's runs

The very best thing about parkrun is how it is completely inclusive. Everyone is an athlete on Saturday morning at 9am. A few years back, after some very serious persuasion, Debi rocked up to Woodhouse moor parkrun with me. She was scared. She thought everyone would laugh at her, or that she would finish last, that she wasn't a good enough runner to take part. Of course, all those things are exactly why parkrun exists. Because at parkrun, none of those things matter. I ran round with her encouraging and taunting her in probably equal amounts and she got round. 
From that tiny acorn planted at parkrun, a runner was born. Debi has now completed the Great North Run, ran everyday in January and finished a gruelling local off-road race: Rombald's Stride amongst other achievements. She is even the treasurer of my running club. 

Debi at Bradford parkrun

Sunday, 20 March 2016

The Hardmoors 30 1/1/16

Hardmoors 30

Hands up those who are fed up of me banging on about me, myself and I in my races!?

1...2..3....4...5.. Ok, I get the hint......

So instead of talking all about me, I am going to tell you all about the people I met during the Hardmoors 30 on New Year's Day

Inov8 raceshell 220 Bloke

I trotted alongside a tallish, slim gent with a neat beard for a mile or two on the cinder track heading towards Whitby at the start of the race. Eventually we spoke.

"Do you come here often?"

This is the question that is asked many, many times during each Hardmoors race I imagine, although it's generally worded "You done many Hardmoors races then?" which is what I said, but it amounts to the same thing.
He was from Teesside and in a lovely, soothing, lilting, North East accent he told me he'd done a few and he returned the question. I confessed it was my first. He asked if I had anymore planned this year. I sheepishly admitted I hadn't as I had other plans which, or course, elicited the question, "What plans are those?"
I didn't really want to admit to an ultra runner that my main aim for the year was a road marathon PB, but that's what he asked.
As it turns out it was ok though, as he told me that he had done the same a few months ago in Edinburgh and that it had left him injured for a few months, but he managed to beat his friend's PB as well as his own, so he was happy. Over the course of the race we bumped in to each other a few times before he pulled away from me as I took a long time at a checkpoint trying to massage my feet into life and away from stabbing pain.

Paul from Glasgow

Coming out of Whitby the coast path was extremely muddy and I began to overtake people in trail shoes as my mudclaws afforded me far more grip. I caught and started to pass a stocky guy in a pair of full-on, heavy duty, combat pants in a camouflage pattern.

"How you getting on?" He asked in a thick Scottish accent.

"Terrible", I said. "How are you doing?"

"Not bad. What's up?"

I told him I was having trouble with stabbing pains through my feet. He said something in such a thick Glaswegian brogue that I couldn't catch it and asked him to repeat it. He tried again and I still missed it. I took off my running beanie to uncover my ears, "Sorry, go again"

"They gi'ing ye some jip, pal?"
Yes, they bloody well were.
Turns out Paul had been a marine a while ago and he had decided he needed a challenge again. He had travelled all the way from Glasgow for the race and had stayed in the Boggle Hole youth hostel, which, he said, "Was a f****** nightmare" as drunken new year's eve revellers falling about, making noise and turning on lights at 3am had prevented a full night's sleep. He told me it was his first ultra. "But you must have done long stuff for the marines though", I said. His last challenge to become a marine was a thirty miler with full pack in army boots. As he walked the uphill inclines I pulled away from him.

Barefoot Guy

The cinder path to the Hayburn Wyke pub was a neverending incline. I was in a whole world of pain with my feet. Running was agony, walking was worse.
I was rapidly catching a tall man dressed in a blue waterproof jacket in front of me. As I caught him I realised he was in some sort of barefoot trainer. They turned out to be vibram 5 fingers. "Nice vibrams" I said. "Oh yes, I love them." he replied.
I like a chat about minimalist running as much as anyone and I desperately needed a distraction so I walked along with him and had a chat.
He told me that it hadn't taken long for him to transition to barefoot trainers and he had been using them for about 5 years
At first he had alternated each run with vibrams and normal road trainers. He said the difference in impact was huge- it was far less when he ran barefoot. His running gait was incredibly light and it looked like he wouldn't break egg shells if he landed on them. He had done plenty of ultras in his vibrams too.
Our chat ended prematurely when bizarrely I ran into.....

3 people I know!

Mark, Kelly and Dave were walkers from the group I was a member of before I returned to running. I know Mark often cycles the cinder track because I see his traces on strava and he lives in Scarborough. He nearly managed to throw himself off his bike by attempting to give me a flying hug and stop his bike at the same time.
"What you up to?" he said.
"Killing myself"
I told them about the race and moaned about the red hot pokers that were stabbing through my feet. "Well you're doing brilliant" they said. The walking group they are members of is not exactly hardcore. 6-8 miles over the course of 10 hours is kind of the norm, so impressing them is not really too hard. That said, Mark and Kelly have attempted the 100km Trail trekker Oxfam event as walkers, but neither managed to finish. Kelly is a runner but stops at the half marathon distance.
"Where you heading?" They asked.
"Erm, wherever the markers take me"
"You turning around at the pub?"
"I think so"

The course description and maps didn't come out of my bag the entire day.
I bade farewell to the group and set off after the barefoot guy.

The marshalls at The Hayburn Wyke pub.

I caught the end of a conversation between 2 marshalls. "Jon needs to start disqualifying a few of them"
(Jon is Jon Steele, the organiser of the Hardmoors series of races)
"Wait", I said. "What is it I need to do to get disqualified??"
"Ha! you're not getting out of it that easily!"
"Oh come on, surely I can do summat!? I know, Jon said abuse of the marshalls is automatic disqualification!"
"Nah, we've got really thick skins around here"
A sign was leaning against the car. "If you give up now, you can be relaxing in the pub pretty soon", it said.
Tempting, extremely tempting. A marshall came out with a pint in his hand, taunting us all.
"I say we we gang up and pour that pint over his head" I said to the large crowd of runners milling around. There was general agreement. (And laughing!)

The rugby union player

As I headed away from the pub, I was behind a runner wearing a pair of shorts and a top from his rugby union club.
"I've got a story for you that you'll like" I said.
Rather than him recoiling at this rather strange thing to say to a stranger he said, "Oh yes, go on" in a friendly tone.
During ultra marathons talking to strangers to distract yourself or pass the time is what you do, so it wasn't as strange as it sounds.
I told him a true story that had happened a couple of weeks ago......
For the 2nd time in a short period, I returned to a 94 year-old lady with dementia to dress a second skinned knee. After a while she asked, "Am I alright then?"
"Yes", I said, "But you're going to have to give up playing rugby league"
She looked at me with horror.
"Well I am not switching to union" she said.
My new friend laughed heartily and said, "Fair play!" He told me he actually thought league was a much better game to watch and he had full respect for anyone playing it. I asked why he played rugby union then? "I'm not hard enough to play league!", he laughed. He told me had tried it but got too battered.
I soon lost him as the first of many, many steps started as we headed back to Robin Hood's bay.

The RAF lass

A stocky girl with short-cropped hair appeared on the horizon and I caught her up. I needed more distraction so I said hello and asked how she was going.
Turns out she was another military type, albeit one that had just joined and was still in her training. She was doing "logistics movement" I thought logistics WAS movement, but what do I know?
She was a regular to Hardmoors events and lived close by so knew the paths very well. Which turned out to be a very lucky thing as I would definitely have gone the wrong and added a fair bit to the distance. As it was we still slightly over-ran the Cleveland way and had to turn back, but it was only about 30 yards.
She told me that she had completed the Hardmoors 110 and obviously, that commands huge respect! She said she hadn't done much since then and hadn't trained for this race so was actually finding it a little tough. Her hoka's lack of grip in mud wasn't helping either. We started to catch people along the very muddy coastal path as everyone skidded around. I seemed to be more sure footed than most, though, and despite my very slow pace and the trail shoes I was now wearing, I over took quite a lot of people. I stuck with the RAF lass for a bit, chatting away, but at the climb down and out of Boggle hole I left her behind.

The rugby league legend

Running through the shoppers in Robin Hood's bay was an odd experience and probably as much for them as it was for us.
Then suddenly, I spotted a big, familiar man amongst the shoppers.
"Andy Dannatt!!" I exclaimed. He looked at me with no recognition, as he wouldn't, seeing as how I had watched him play at the Boulevard from the terraces in the 1980's and 90's when he was a tough-as-nails prop for'ard for Hull FC and Great Britain.
I held out my hand and he shook it. I then realised I had my gloves on. The incredibly sweaty gloves I had worn for 30 miles.......
Whooops. Ah well, having played professional rugby league he was used to worse I am sure. He seemed pleased to be recognised and also when I told him I had loved watching him play.

Adam from Kirkstall Harriers

Sophia offered to pay for a massage for me back at Flyingdales village hall when I'd finished, probably less out of the goodness of her heart and more out of not wanting to do it herself, but still, I was very grateful. As I waited a familiar face asked if there was a queue, "There is now" I smiled.
The familiar face that I couldn't quite place asked if I was going to do PECO on Sunday. "Ah, is that where I know you from?" He said yes, and introduced himself as Adam, a Kirkstall Harrier. I recognised the name from their facebook page. He recognised me from the ridiculous Phillip Bland picture of me at the last PECO where I jumped and pulled a silly face (See below). Adam had been carrying a gopro camera during the race. I said I had run past him when he had the camera on a selfie stick early on, "Not sure I got you on it", he said. "You want to be on it?" At this point I was lying topless on the massage table, but I am always up for a laugh, so I feigned being in terrible pain. "Umm, how about a thumbs up?" he said and I obliged.

"Thanks" to Phillip Bland for this photo.

Jon Steele

Before I left the hall for the drive home that was peppered with long queues in bank-holiday traffic and road works, I went over to thank Jon for the race. I shook his hand, "Great race Jon, thanks a lot", I said, "I think......"

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Fell racing: The photographer's view

Please donate to my justgiving page  I'm doing the Leeds world triathlon and I have never done one before! If you've ever appreciated a photographer's time at a race, donate!
Tweet me @scott_leach
The links to the facebook albums of Rombald's Stride photos: One and two

Most people don't realise what goes in to taking the photos at a race. I'm just an amateur and do it for "fun" but imagine being a professional whose livelihood depends on it, with every Tom, Dick and Harry with a camera phone thinking they can do your job and illegally downloading your copyrighted photos? The time it takes to learn your craft, the expense of the equipment, the hours spent editing and uploading, nevermind the time spent out in the cold. Thank goodness I don't do it for money (Except charity- Please donate! ) and in the end, it doesn't matter if I mess it up. The professionals have it tough, but still, that doesn't make it easy for us amateurs.

I signed up for Rombald's Stride intending to run it but as the day neared it became clear that a niggling injury would stop me from running. Then I hit on the genius idea of taking photos instead and trying to make some money for the charity I am raising money for. Judging by last year's likes and faves on the facebook album that Debi had taken, I knew that if only a small percentage of the people donated it would amount to a bumper payday for a great charity, Bloodwise.

On Saturday, at around 1pm, I was sitting on one of those tiny, 3 pronged stool things on Ilkley moor, covered head-to-toe in goretex, barely able to feel my extremities, waiting for the back markers in the race, a 23 miles trail/fell/LDWA event with 2500ft of ascent. The leaders had gone through over 2.5 hours past and the drizzle kept on drizzling, finding ways into every part of me and the cold made its way into my very core. I felt violated, and not in a good way.

As wet, bedraggled and exhausted as the runners looked about 12 miles in, I knew I felt worse, because last year, I had run the race and this year, sitting on that stool, in the freezing cold, trying to avoid brass monkeys crying their eyes out, was no fun at all. Not that I had much fun running it last year, but it was still better than this.

Trying to keep warm in these situations is impossible. Every layer of goretex, fleece and base layers in the world is only going to delay the inevitable. What came as a surprise is just how cold my bottom would feel on that stool. The waterproof gloves I was wearing were just thin enough that I could still use the buttons on the camera, but far from thick enough to keep my hands warm. Stupidly, I hadn't brought my thermal baselayer leggings which would have helped somewhat and I cursed that lack of vision on my part many times throughout the day.

The race started at 9am and I took some really bad photos of the start, mainly due to failing to handle my new camera correctly. It has a fancy 3D tracking focusing system which I decided to use and discovered later that it wasn't my best ever idea to use an unfamiliar setting the first time I try to photograph a race with the camera.

At Around 10 I arrived on Ilkley moor and I was already cold. The sweat from climbing up to my position was cooling on my body. I hunkered down into my jacket and waited for the first runners that I expected in around 20 minutes. However, due to the terrible conditions, the runners were going considerably slower than last year, so I was there for 40 minutes before the leaders arrived. I admit that I was pleased that I managed to take a series of reasonable shots of them, given that I could have fallen asleep, into a coma or have turned into a giant block of ice before they arrived.
I have no idea how Joe Baxter is running with a smile on his face, I believe he is now tucked up safely in a special institute

As the runners came through I struggled with various technical aspects of photographing in such miserable conditions. Luckily the rain was blowing in to my back, rather than the front of the lense, but occasionally I turned too far and the rain blew in. To make things worse, I had managed to forget to bring a cloth to wipe the lense, so each time it happened, I had to find a dry bit of clothing to clean it with which involved taking off my gloves, unzipping my jacket and working my way down to my base layer top, all of which would make me just a little bit colder than I already was. More than once the lense was covered in a layer of water resulting in some "interesting" photos. Not long into the day I decided to abandon the 3D focus tracking as it clearly wasn't working; cue a frustrating time flicking through the menus on the camera (without gloves as those buttons are too small to operate) between runners before I eventually located the correct settings.

As 1 hour turned into two and dragged towards 3 I began to take short runs up and down in between runners to try to feel some life in my feet again. I really wanted to leave, but I couldn't. My friend Debi has sat in just such similar circumstances in many races waiting to take photos of me, so I was determined to stay until at least her and her day's companion, Tanya, had come through and I had got photos. I knew it would be a long wait as they would be at the back of the field of runners, but them's the breaks. I couldn't let her down when she was running a race a full 10 miles longer than her previous longest and 9 miles longer than even her longest training run!
Two other runners in my club, Jed and Simon had long since passed and I managed to get pictures of them, albeit only a couple of Jed as I didn't recognise him from a distance; Simon I recognised from a long way away as his gait is very distinctive.

Simon and Helen

I must have looked bad by this point because the comments from runners got more sympathetic/disbelieving. Here's a small selection, many were repeated numerous times:

Runner: "Not a great day for taking photos"
Me: "I concur"

Runner: "And they call US mad, look at you!"
Me: "I'd rather be running it!"

Runner: "I don't fancy your job today"
Me: "It's only a job if you're getting paid!"

Runner: "You must be freezing"
Me: "No shit, Sherlock"

I didn't really say that last one, don't worry, but plenty of people did make the correct observation that I must be freezing.

And then in the distance, I spotted Debi and Tanya. I had been struggling to keep the mist and rain off the lense more and more as the clag came down and the inside of the lense began to steam up.  I wasn't confident that I would be able to coax the camera in to taking a decent shot given the conditions. I had painstakingly worked out a composition with the path leading the eye through the shot, some background interest with a tree in the mist and the position of the runners on the rule of thirds. A cliche maybe, but one people tend to like.

I'm not convinced it's the classic that I hoped it would be by any means, but it captures the day.

As soon as they left I headed down the hill to the car to warm up and empty my extremely full bladder. My plan was to head over to the Chevin and take some more shots there. Beforehand I headed into Boyes to buy a microfibre cloth to wipe the lense and some sweets doing my best not to be distracted by the store full of bargains; I still had a job to finish.

The drive over to the Chevin took the edge off the chill in my bones to some extent, but as the biting wind threatened to slice me in half  as I stood at the top I soon got very cold again.
Unsurprisingly, not everyone was pleased to see a photographer at the top of the tough climb up the Chevin, but it made for some good shots and I was able to tell people truthfully that it was all downhill from here and they could get a cup of tea at the checkpoint just around the corner.

Debi and Tanya eventually came through and were still managing to smile. I jogged through to the checkpoint with them.

Definitely NOT the best photo I have ever taken but I was totally nithered!
The ladies headed off for the final leg down in to Guiseley and I drove down to the school.
The trip in the car had a bad effect on my camera and by the time I got out, the inside of the lense had completely steamed up rendering it almost completely useless. I was unable to get a shot on my camera so I resorted to my phone.

Yeah, not great, but probably better than the steamy lenses.....

Steam inside a lense is a very serious issue for a photographer. Moisture inside the lense can lead to mould, and mould in a lense means it's pretty much dead and pro lense prices would turn your hair white. And all this in a lense that is meant to be "weather sealed" that I had only recently bought to go with a new weather sealed camera. I nipped back to the car for one of my other lenses; a much more expensive one that I didn't want to risk in the rain as it isn't weather sealed. Of course, given that the lense had been in the back of my cold car all day, it steamed up immediately that I entered the school. It warmed up eventually though and I took some "arty" shots around the school.

The oldest finisher

After I arrived home and thawed out, I set about the arduous task of going through nearly 1300 photos and processing them, then getting them to upload. I eventually retired to bed around 11 with the photos still uploading.
All in all, a very long, tiring, cold and wet day! It's already been made worthwhile though, as the donations to Bloodwise are rolling in. Feel free to join in with the donations!