The DFR Top of the Forest race does pretty much what it says.
Starting from the Grove car park the route meanders west then north,
climbing steadily to around 427m (1440 feet). The surface is pretty much
hard-packed forest drive and upon reflection I think I would’ve been
better in road shoes than trail shoes. There are a couple of interesting
stretches on footpaths and a jolly bit of descending amongst some
tussocky heather, but for the most part, it’s all tracks.
I started at the back of the 30 or so field and passed a couple of runners in the first few hundred yards. Then a few minutes later I passed someone else. Then, well, that was about it. The remainder of the 8.5 mile course was a pretty lonely affair. I nearly caught someone just before the top but he deftly stayed away by the clever ploy of having very long legs, which he unfolded at the top and disappeared John-Cleese-like leaving me on my own again. I finished fourth (last) in a time of 76:10 – a result I was pretty happy with, and I believe Will Horsley was around somewhere (near the front). I was cheered on into the finish by Tom Reeves who suddenly appeared slightly surreally on a bicycle. The prize (a can of Caffreys) appeared to be very democratically awarded to all runners regardless of ability, a decision I have absolutely no problem with, and believe all race prizes should operate this way.
There was a certain satisfaction in the steady climb and feeling of being at the top of the forest but for me the handicap course is far more interesting. I mean, there wasn’t even any mud! How can you call it a fell race if there’s no mud?
The Para’s 10 was a bit of a mystery. An unknown quantity. What would
it be like? We couldn’t ask anyone who’d run it before, because no-one
had run it before. At least not for at least 20 years when it was last
held at Aldershot in 1993.
Peter, Lindsey, Shaun and me wandered around at the start surrounded by paras in full military clothing. After some prodding from Shaun I nervously approached one who didn’t look too threatening and asked him if I could try lifting his Bergen. He happily obliged and I found it wasn’t too bad to carry. For about 30 seconds. However the thought of running with one for a couple of hours (while wearing boots) comes well down on my list of fun things to do.
The start of the race was a classy affair. As the website says, “Be
the Breast” (I don’t get it) and bubbly Sun page 3 beauty Peta honked
the horn that started the race while the photographer seemed to want to
get Peta to pose in some very intriguing positions. Probably something
to do with getting the light right.
Peter was running steadily and was just in my sights for the first
three miles after which he put the foot down and was soon lost from
view. I was surprised to suddenly catch him around the 8 mile mark where
he was struggling up a steep hill. The decent thing to do at this point
would be to nod some encouragement and speed by, but moments like this
don’t happen to me very often so I decided to slow down and milk it.
After making a show of holding back so that he could keep up with me he
soon suggested that “You go on without me, I’ll only slow you down”, or
something like that anyway. It may have been something else entirely. I
knew I hadn’t been getting faster and it was obvious that the course had
not been kind to Peter’s achilles.
catterick - county durham - england - europe - running - racing -- sun 14 sep 2008 11-35-24
I found the steep descents on the smooth concrete sections made my
shins sting, and the cattle grids (of which there were many) were a
tricky affair. There was a short, brutal climb a mile or so from the
finish which caught many by surprise. The course itself was quite scenic
with trees, glades, flowers, ponds, birds, burnt-out tanks, army
patrols and occasional sounds of gunfire. Being passed by runners in
full military gear and carrying full packs can do strange things to
one’s self-esteem. It’s an impressive feat but I’m sticking with running
vest, shorts and trainers.
Shaun had been in a full 10 minutes when I arrived at the finish and
Peter arrived (not that I was counting you understand) at least four
minutes after me cautiously nursing some tender ankles and thinking of
This was a very interesting race with variable terrain. No flat bits. I would probably do it again. Our garmins all measured it as closer to 9.5 than 10 miles. Most of it I really liked but the steep smooth downhill stretches on the smooth concrete and the cattle grids were unpleasant. If the Jelly Tea and Para’s 10 are on the same day next year it’ll probably come down to the toss of a coin.
If it hadn’t been for Jan’s announcement on Wednesday’s club night I
would’ve missed this steep and cheerful race. I was having second
thoughts right up until the last minute about tackling something this
tough, but the temptation was too strong and the weather too sunny to
let it pass by.
Durham Fell Runners Handicap Series 4 - Bib 132 - 24 Aug 2008
Around 10 minutes before the start, just as I was beginning to think I
was the only Strider there, I saw a dash of purple as Debs bounded up
to Registration. We gave our 10K times, which were processed through a
random number generator and converted into start times.
At 13 minutes past something-or-other I set of in a group of four and
settled into a steady pace. The weather was great and the scenery
superb. I was enjoying this leap into the unknown, with little idea what
lay ahead. Probably just as well. After a mile or two of steady
climbing and following the arrows we had a steep descent. I gleefully
charged down through the conifers to emerge on a forest road. Looking
optimistically around for more arrows I was soon joined by other
reckless descenders. In a matter of seconds there was soon a jolly
little party of about a dozen head-scratchers, all vigorously agreeing
that we didn’t know where we were, or which way to go. The seconds
ticked by as we elected a foreman of the jury and started weighing up
the evidence. Soon sub-committees formed as people became restless. I
looked around and noticed we all had ‘big numbers’ on, which meant we
were all new kids in the race (the old-timers get small numbers). It
wasn’t long before people started wandering of in various directions and
I decided to cautiously retrace the route back up the hill. Almost
immediately I spotted someone with a small number – an old hand – and
gave chase. I was back on course! (Debs said later that she had made the
same wrong turning but someone had shouted after her before she got too
This was fun! I’d lost a couple of minutes on the detour but who
cared! I passed someone that I’d passed some time earlier, somewhat to
his bewilderment, and charged on.
We dropped down the valley and started up the other side. I started
walking up the steep slopes and the flies began to take an interest. I
tried to run again to get away from the flies, but my lungs and legs
didn’t like it. I settled for the flies and slogged up the hillside as
they buzzed mockingly around my head.
A long, relaxing level bit then another arrow, left. Well, not so
much left, as left and UP. Up the soul-sapping boggy moor to Doctors
Gate Quarry. I could see specks of colour away in the distance of the
runners ahead and this gave me something to go for.
Once on the tops there were fantastic views and few flies before the
return to the valley floor. I was feeling quite reckless on the steep
paths down to the finish and even enjoyed the rare, no, UNKNOWN
experience of another runner stepping aside to let me past!
This was a great fun event. Like the handicap, but with more mud. Much more mud. (And a can of Carling).
What a stunning race. The route took us up high from the start and
then left us on the tops until a few miles from the finish. For most of
the race we had great views over the surrounding hills and valleys
although it was difficult to appreciate them while being blasted by a
In what is becoming a standard MO for me, I started well, and ran
steadily and comfortably until about half-way. Thereafter I ran
unsteadily and increasingly uncomfortably until shuffling across the
finish line in a pretty disappointing time.
I loved the first brutal climb straight up the grassy hillside and
didn’t feel too bad. However all the time my temperature gauge was
creeping upwards, and at the half-way hill Phil and Dave cruised by with
their Climate Control still apparently working well. By the time we’d
crested the half-way hill the heat had gone from being mildly
uncomfortable to slightly frightening. There was a palpable texture to
the sunshine that I found quite unnerving and I took my foot right off
the gas. I walked more of this run than any race I’ve done before. Even
Water stations were a bit congested but that was hardly surprising
given the weather. Overall it was a well organised straightforward event
with an interesting and challenging route and I’m already looking
forward to doing it again next year.
Shaun adds: special mentions to Barrie Evans whose new knee got him round a full fourteen minutes faster than last year, and to Alan Purvis who was the only Strider who actually ran the whole course! Good runs, too, for ex-Striders Stewart Gardner (74.42) and Charlotte Roberts (90.33), now running for Calder Valley.
A row of cars along the roadside indicated the location of the Angel
Inn hotel, but a couple of signs would’ve helped find the Registration
and Start. There was no real problem as the time-honoured tradition of
following people who seemed to know where they were going did the trick.
The Start was a little muddled as we were shuffled around until a white
line on the gravel footpath was settled on.
I’d had a long hard stare at the course route at registration and it
looked very wiggly with a series of chicanes, loops and flyovers that
made memorising impossible. Any reservations I had were quickly
dispelled as all the marshalling was excellent with loads of
encouragement and lots of “Come on Elvet!” which gave me a boost. There
is one soul-destroying energy-sapping long, straight and narrow
nettle-sided climb that is punctuated by brief moments of excitement and
fear as the demented Elite runners charge down towards you having
turned at the top.
Even though much of the run is on leafy footpaths I have a disproportionate impression and recollection of grimy unlit underpasses and suburban pavements. And I’d like to have seen more of the Angel than the brief rear-end view as we scrambled past before heading for the road. Having said that it was a good friendly race and I’d do it again.
I’m still relatively new to running and so every race brings
something unexpected and lessons to be learnt. This was my first
wet-weather race and by the time we’d walked from the car park to the
start everyone was soaked through. I was warm, clammy and uncomfortable,
and I hadn’t run a step. I had a sense of foreboding that leaving the
Lanacane at home was a bad idea.
I’d read Dave’s report from last year and studied the route so had a pretty good idea what to expect. (I find the old race reports very useful and always check them out before running a new race.) The bunch left the market square and I instantly spotted the stonewashed running vest of Alan Purvis, and we ran the first mile together discussing the course and how bored our wives would be while we were away, perhaps sitting in a nice DRY tea shop in the town.
The course is described as hilly, and so it is. It undulates outwards
and upwards for about 6 miles, and then it undulates backwards and
downwards back to the finish, overlapping some of the outward route.
Sometimes it undulates quite considerably and provides a fascinating
study in biomechanics and the different shapes of runners. I found I
wasn’t a strider, but a climber. I would pass people on the climbs, only
to be passed a few minutes later by the same runners as they strode
past me on the descents. Some of the descents were just a little too
steep to ‘let go’ completely and I could feel the thumping on my upper
thighs as I tried to balance speed against stability.
On the subject of thighs, by the end of the race the insides were rubbed raw, a sort of sandpaper pink, and a lesson was learnt. And it stung like a bee when I stepped into the shower a few hours later. I’m already considering the ‘Shaun Roberts look’ and getting myself a pair of long shorts to wear under my short shorts.
Alan wasn’t the first person to approach the finish and ask the crowd
where it was. The approach is clear enough but there was nothing as
vulgar as a big banner proclaiming FINISH. It was discretely nestling in
a bottleneck in the alley next to the school, and many weary runners
ran optimistically rather than specifically in the direction of where
they thought the finish must be.
This is one of my favourite races to date (although I’ve got my eye
on the Chevy Chase for next year). With the varied terrain and hills it
offers a complete body workout. It was quite atmospheric and broody with
the mist lurking around the upper slopes. The crowd and marshals and
support were all great with plenty of water stations and even a sponge
Having concluded that being prepared for a race didn’t produce results I decided to give being unprepared a try. Starting with an afternoon nap, I woke up a couple of hours before the race feeling decidedly peckish. Hmmm, a dilemma. To eat, or not to eat, that was the question. A bit of cheese on toast wouldn’t do any harm. It’s only 6.5 miles for goodness sake. A nice big, no a bit bigger, bit of Welsh Wizard with lots of tomato ketchup. Great.
A few wrong turnings found me arriving at the start with a couple of minutes to spare. The whistle was blown and I walked forward looking for the start line so that I could start my watch. After a brief discussion with a neighbouring prospective-watch-starter, we concluded that no start line existed, so we synchronized watch-starting and of we went. (I liked the start, but my favourite start so far has to be the Snods 6 where someone just shouted GO!).
I like starting at the back. It makes me feel fast! I steadily passed other runners while my various internal organs gurgled happily to one another about the Welsh Wizard and whether or not the ketchup was organic. I peered optimistically (and naively) ahead for more purple vests, but as Father Ted might say, these runners are close, but your clubmates are very far away.
It’s a lovely course. Starting on a quiet road that turns into a track that turns into a path that turns into a bridge. After the bridge there was an unexpected fork on the otherwise well-marshalled route. Left or Right? I cunningly solved the problem by following everyone else. The river is never far away, and is your soothing constant companion as you stride along the leafy elm-lined paths. My favourite moment was passing the baffled horses that looked over the fence in the last mile.
Phil, Mike and Dave had already had their supper and beer when I sauntered nonchalantly into the bar pretending I’d run a slow race on purpose. It was a good atmosphere and a good race and I’ll be back next year.
Good Grief that was tough. Really tough. I mean I knew marathons were hard and I was expecting it to be hard and I’d done the training and everything for this, my first marathon, but it was still a lot, lot harder than I expected.
I didn’t start too briskly, being passed by Phil before we’d even reached the start line. I had a mild shin strain so I took it very easy for the first few miles. After 5 miles it had eased away so that was one less excuse, and it was time to start lifting my pace and running to my plan. I was also being driven slowly insane by a manic Scot dressed head to foot in tartan with a bizarre selection of Tupperware dishes under his vest. When he wasn’t telling everyone in the crowd he loved them he was singing at the top of his voice; mostly a selection of Beach Boys numbers but also a surprisingly poignant version of the theme song to the 70’s TV series White Horses. Thankfully at around 7 miles he spontaneously combusted and things went quiet for a while.
I kept trying to lift my pace and my pace was consistently refusing to be lifted. As we slogged east into a stiff wind along the seafront things got a little tactical. Unfortunately for the Harlem Globetrotter look-a-like who was surging away into the wind the tactics involved forming a beautiful echelon in his slipstream. He took the wind and sand in the face while behind him we lined up obediently like geese flying in formation.
Around the 12 mile mark I began to get worried. I was well down on my planned pace. And I felt rubbish. I did have a bit of a sniffle the night before. Chest infection or something. Probably full-blown flu in fact. Yes, that’s what it’d be. I was alarmed that before even reaching half-way I was feeling sluggish and tired. I was drinking my potions and eating my gels, but there was no magic surge of energy. That’d probably come when I turned around and had the wind on my back.
After an eternity the psychologically crucial turn was reached, and it was a straight home run with the wind behind me. I was still hopeful that I’d be overcome by some magical visitation of energy and I’d power back to the finish and be on my target time. The wind started prodding me in the back, telling me to get a move on. The advice I’d read was to start unwinding in the last few miles back to the finish. Unwind or unravel? I wasn’t sure. I really was beginning to feel quite wretched. Pain reports were coming in from all decks, shields were down, and a hull breach looked imminent. I was going to have to walk.
So walk I did. At the next water stop I walked for a bit, and it wasn’t so bad. I could get used to this. It was the starting to run again after walking that I found to be quite complicated. I foolishly assumed that it would just be a matter of speeding up until I was no longer walking, but that didn’t seem to work. Eventually I managed to hop, skip and jump and I was running again. Well, when I say running, I mean moving faster than the people around me who were walking. Most of them anyway.
This was my first marathon and I found it a rawer, more emotional affair than anything I’ve done so far. I felt quite tearful at the end. I thought I was ready for it, but perhaps I wasn’t. A few more months basic stamina training wouldn’t have gone amiss. The lady at the finish had a hard time putting the medal around my neck as I was gripping her shoulders, staring wildly at her, and repeating over and over again, That was SO hard!.
The weather was warmer and calmer than I was expecting and I turned
up in good time despite a mad dash back home to discover that the timing
chip I thought I’d left behind had mysteriously velcroed itself to my
running vest. Everything was well organised and I was soon parked and at
the start. Bumped into Alan Purvis who was wearing the coolest faded
running vest I’ve ever seen. It looked like denim. I want one of those.
They should be manufactured to a specification so that they look like
they’ve done a few marathons rather than just walked out of a sports
Amazed I used to run with a cotton t-shirt as a base layer. I soon discovered that I burned up pretty quickly
As I stood amongst the gently dripping wild garlic wondering what all
this liquid fertilizer was doing to the delicate ecological balance of
the woodland, I felt pretty good. Dennis, my perfectly pixellated
virtual enemy was going for the elusive sub 1:50. That would be a new PB
by 10 minutes, but I was feeling confident.
I started fast but the course wasn’t quite as flat as I expected. I
began to have doubts about things on the long, straight hill that seemed
to go on for ever into the wind from mile 5 to 7, and Dennis, who I
thought I’d left way behind, edged past me as we reached the top. It was
around here that I was passed by the mandatory Man pushing a Pram with
Small Child Inside that no race is complete without, and I began to
think I’d pushed too hard too early.
The stretch along the coast was fine, and my pace picked up. It’s not
everyone’s cup of tea but I love the surreal petrochemical skyline of
Teesside. Dennis gradually lost his 300 feet advantage and I counted 12
oil tankers queued up across the bay. This didn’t help my pace so I
chased the Man with the Pram instead. I caught Dennis, the smug git, at
mile 11, and was already wondering how much I was going to smash the
1:50 barrier by.
The thing about cracking of course is there’s no point doing it
half-heartedly. If you’re going to crack, do it properly. Much to my
astonishment, and within 2 miles of the finish, I crumpled. I groaned
and whimpered and may even have called faintly for my mummy. My pace
time started bobbing enthusiastically into double figures. Dennis showed
me a pixel perfect two-fingered salute and surged ahead, the digits
showing his increasing lead spinning over like a cartoon speedometer. I
was conscious of pitying heads shaking in the crowd and at one point I
was convinced I was going to throw-up at the feet of a St John’s
Ambulance crew. People who I’d coasted past earlier now passed me like I
was standing still, with their smug, smug, backs. I had no idea backs
could look smug, but there you go.
I still got in with a respectable 1:51:16 that’s a new PB for me by a lot. However I definitely ran too fast too early and perhaps if I’d run my own race, rather than Dennis’s, I might have done a bit better. It was good to see Greta and Mike at the finish and I spotted Alan again. Don’t know if there were any more Striders there though.