Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Bullock Smithy 2011 (Preview)

The first weekend in September marks the highlight of my running year, the culmination of a spring and summer's training and racing. This is the weekend of the Bullock Smithy Hike, a 56 mile loop through the Peak District starting and finishing in Hazel Grove, Stockport and passing through, Lyme Park, Bow Stones, Chinley Churn, Edale Cross, Edale, Castleton, Peak Forest, Miller's Dale, Chelmorton (nr), Earl Sterndale, Brand Top, Cumerbland Cottage, Walker Barn, Whiteley Green, before the monotonous slog down the Middlewood way to Higher Poynton and on to Hazel Grove. The Bullock Smithy involves some 7500ft of ascent and passes through some beautiful parts of the dark and white peak district.

This year will be my twentieth entry and If I finish will be my 16th completion. I remember my first Bullock Smithy at age 15. I had grown up in Hazel Grove watching my youngest sister and her friends who were members of 3rd Hazel Grove Venture and Ranger Unit try, and in many cases fail to complete the course. At that age I couldn't understand the difficulty. "We have been walking since we were three years old haven't we? Isn't it just a case of putting one foot in front of the other for a bit longer than usual?" I used to ask. My sister replied "just wait till your old enough and you'll see how hard it is". Then came my rude awakening.

I managed to get a parental consent form signed off in 1991 and set foot out of Devonshire Park for the first time. 28 miles later I came to a staggering halt followed by the DNF bus back to Hazel Grove. Somewhat embarrassed by my failure I went back the next year and came to a similarly despondent end dropping again at half way, Miller's Dale, 28 miles. Looking back I must have been a bit plucky (or daft) because I entered again the following two years each time dropping at Earl Sterndale, 36 miles. I'm not ashamed to remember that I cried after my fourth DNF. The Bullock Smithy seemed entirely insurmountable and I questioned if I'd ever get round the course. Looking back I didn't know the Peak Park like I do now and the appropriately named, Axe Edge when you are approaching 20 years old with little experience of the outdoors was a bit daunting. Although I admit each DNF I was physically and mentally knackered, I don't think its a coincidence that I tended to retire before or around midnight. Getting lost in the Peak District in the dark in the early hours didn't appeal to me at that age.

2004 - Steve Tiffany clips my rear view tally card at Whiteley Green!
And so my first success on the fifth attempt at what must have been 20 years of age. I remember my usual haunts, Miller's Dale and Earl Sterndale seeming usually attractive as convenient DNF spots especially as I had recently discovered the delights of the Quiet Woman at Earl Sterndale. This year however I had shuffled the previous leg with a couple of typical rugged fell runner types from Sheffield. I can only remember that one was called Bill and both seemed hard as nails. Those two saved the day and are in part responsible for my love affair with the Bullock Smithy ever since. They whipped, kicked and tricked me out of my DNF chair and onwards up the road to Axe edge via the 'old route' from there they enticed me across to the Cat and Fiddle and then 'carried' me across a boggy shining Tor to Pym's Chair and on to the Moorside Hotel at Disley. They pushed me out of the penultimate checkpoint and were only then satisfied that I would not DNF. They left me at that point, I'd held them back far too long. They had sacrificed their event to make sure I got round and In an odd kind of way I will be eternally grateful. The tears flowed again as I ran alone down the A6 from Disley to Hazel Grove part through pain and more through happiness and in September 1996 I completed my first BSH in 17 hours arriving back to the scout hut at 5am, the feeling of self satisfaction was incredible. I should have left it there...

 Sadly my first success began a mild obsession with the event and distance running in general. I questioned whether I might be able to run the entire route and the I did the following year. In subsequent years I got more confident and faster and in 1998 I broke the 12 hour barrier. I've been back each year since and last year ran a PB in 10 hours 2 minutes. I remember saying to my partner afterwards "that's it now, I can't go any faster than that I'm not doing it anymore". And so off to Hazel Grove I go again after having entered online....that happens each year, "never again", then you enter.   

The Bullock Smithys' a great event. There are lots of brilliant LDWA events that welcome runners but I have heard it said on many occasions that the BSH has something special. For me its a personal challenge to run the best I can. I won't forgot that crumpled, sorry state I was in at Earl Sterndale as my fourth DNF bus came to pick me up in 1994. Similarly I won't forget the tears of elation when I completed at the fifth attempt in 1995.  Good luck to everyone participating this year and thanks in advance to all the organisers especially the volunteers at the check points. Report to follow.              

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Burton 10K 2011

The finish before the start
This was one of oddest races, perhaps funniest races that I have ever entered. I should confess, I spent £17 entering the Long Tour of Bradwell but I would have needed to get out of bed at 5am on Saturday morning to get to the start in the Peak District by 9am. Despite going to bed before ten on the Friday night I was still wide awake at 1.30am and so I turned off my alarm and resolved, with some reluctance not to do it. Perhaps predictably I fell straight to sleep as soon as my alarm was deactivated.  In order to cope with the guilt of a "did not start" the first thing I did when waking (at 10am!) Saturday morning was look for an 'entry on day' race closer to home. Thankfully I found the Burton 10k. The RAC route planner suggested it would take 1hr 15mins to get there and so the plan was hatched. 

I arrived shortly after 9am and registered for a 10am start. By 9.55am there was no sign of an impending race as competitors were still milling about the race stalls. It transpired the advertised time of 10am was in fact 10.30am so I had to rejig my pre race preparations and instead went for my own recee of the traders stands. The next unusual occurrence happened at the first stand. I picked up a race leaflet for the Burton 10k, advertised to start at 10am the week after (14th August). If the Burton 10k was next week, what race had I entered!? Thankfully the bloke manning the stall told me that the 'original' 10k has always been, and continues to be on the weekend closest to the 14th August but this year some other folk had turned up and decided to organise their own Burton 10k the week before. Confused? I was. I asked if there was any animosity between the rival 10k organisers to which he replied "nah not really, they've given us a free stand to promote our event and we've got a record entry next week so we're all happy"...

Impotent arch
I finally shuffled up to the start at 10.25am. We were asked to move a few paces forward and then appeared two unknown Olympic hopefuls. The first was a female 1500m runner, the second a rookie javelin thrower who couldn't talk without moving his arms. His arm movements alternated between looking as if he was giving a verse of Shakespeare and looking like he was practising throwing the javelin. The local Councillor for the area introduced the duo and asked them to do a warm up, what followed was daft.
Off at last
There were hundreds of runners lined up waiting to run and two embarrassed Z list celebrities facing us trying to encourage us to jog on the spot stretch are arms in the air etc. The thought should be commended but it just didn't work, it was so awkward they desperately needed rescuing and perhaps someone else thought the same because all of a sudden the inflatable start arch collapsed, maybe someone had pulled the plug? By this time it was all a bit comical, it was a long time after 10.30am even longer after 10am and I wandered if this race was going to start at all! Some five minutes later the arch became erect again to a round of applause from the humoured runners. Shortly after we were off, phew!

Almost there...
The route wasn't great, loads of twist and turns, the first half mile along a narrow bridge over the River Trent, there were no mile or 'K' markers and a bit worryingly for the back markers, no water stations. The surface alternated between tarmac, mud track and field. The directional markers weren't the best but i didn't get lost. Having said all that I understand that this was the organisers first attempt at staging the 10K and I'm sure they will consider positive criticism, I know it isn't easy organising an event. I saw the organiser asking people at the end for feedback so he obviously cares about the race. I wouldn't say it was a bad event either I get frustrated when people talk about good and bad events, As long as you turn up, run and  finish its a good event isn't it? I had a good race, there was a strong wind that tested the resilience on the way out but 'carried' me home. The route involved a little undulation but nothing to worry about. I finished 28th in 40:29. The race pack included a bottle of water, some lucozade jelly beans and a T-shirt, there were also bananas at the finish and free massages.  The Burton 10k was a fun day out and don't forget it's the Burton 10K next week!