Author Archive: Mark Bower

Snowdonia Half Marathon, July 2019 – Jonathan Jones

Waking up at 6am on a Sunday isn’t usually on everyone’s to do list, but when the view greeting you outside the window is as breathtaking as the Snowdonia mountain range it’s a little easier, it’s a shame the same can’t be said for what was awaiting an excited crowd waiting for the start of the On Snowdonia Trail Half Marathon.

Breakfasts of porridge, yoghurt and muesli, toast and two soft boiled eggs consumed and Adi and I are ready to hit the mountain, it can’t be that hard right? It’s only a half marathon with a bit of an uphill! Never have either of us been so wrong about a race.

The crowds are gathering after some inventive parking in the already packed car parks as the 26.2 runners are set off, each of the distances starting at staggered times. It’s 45 minutes until we’re off, so several toilet stops (nerves, too much coffee, both?) and a wander around the stalls of the excellent athletes village later and we’re called to the start for the safety briefing. It’s a decent sized field, with runners from all over the world, including a few recognisable vests from Sheffield and Beverley amongst others. Preamble over, and the countdown begins to start the race, and after 3,2,1, we’re away through the streets of the beautiful town of Llanberis before sweeping left and beginning a 3000ft,  6.5 mile ascent of Wales national mountain. The first 3 miles are OK, a steady climb up farm tracks and loose stone trails, easily runnable, albeit a challenge on the calves, but it’s fine, this can’t be that bad, can it?

At about 4 miles the paths sweep downhill, as Snowdon comes into sight and looms large over the landscape. It’s at this point the long snaking line of runners can be seen starting their climb. It’s a long, slow stream, and in about half a mile we’re about to discover why. The climb is brutal, loose rocks, uneven footing and steep slopes that wind endlessly. With each few hundred feet ascended the mountain disappears behind its own sheer face, and as each corner is rounded another few hundred feet come into view. It’s relentless, and runners can be heard all around cursing, complaining and almost sobbing each time they discover the summit is still some way off. Some 20 minutes or so after beginning the climb and about 2500ft up the mountain the clouds obscure the sunshine that’s been warming our shoulders and the peak is shrouded in a thick mist that sends the temperature plummeting, making us shiver. It’s at this point I have the urge to check for a ring tied around my neck, this no longer feels like a run and more like a journey into Mordor. It’s exhausting, cold and the voice inside my head keeps telling me to turn back, but the path levels off and the descent is in sight. After a ridiculously slow mile (over 25 minutes from mile 6 to mile 7) we can eventually start running again, but it’s not running as we know it, the craggy rocks are like shards and the footing is treacherous, so although it’s finally downhill, it’s not a downhill we can enjoy as we keep our gazes fixed at the ground immediately in front of our feet. There’s a faller in front of me, and the gravel sprays up around him as he tables, but with the help of a fellow runner he’s up in a flash and moving again.

As we drop below the clouds again the sun comes back into view and it’s with a welcome sense of relief that a drinks station appears from under a small tunnel beneath the train tracks, which we’ve looked at with envy on more than one occasion today. A quick swig of the sponsors energy drink and it’s onwards to the finish. It’s all downhill now right? Somebody mentions “The Quarry”, but no further thought is made of that particular aspect of the race, how bad can it be? We’ve only got a few miles to go. As we reach the bottom of Snowdon, the sound of the PA can be heard from the start/finish line, but a quick glance at the watch suggests theres still a couple of miles to go, ah yes, The Quarry.

11.22 miles, that’s the exact point at which my enjoyment of this race was most tested. As I saw the hard slate steps that greeted me my heart sank, legs that were on fire, lungs that had little or no breath left and steps that were taller than my knees. How on earth was I going to get through this? I wanted to quit, I had nothing left. Passing a young runner about half way up this bonus 650ft climb that must have been a sick joke devised by the organisers over a pint, I ask if he’s OK. He just looks me in the eyes and says, I just want to cry. I know exactly how he feels, the climb just goes on, and on… and on.

At the top, there is finally a top, the marshal greets us with a cheery “well done, only 2.5km to go” and I want to hurt him, the way my legs are hurting me, but I smile politely and say thank you. The surface turns to tarmac again as we enter the town, the train is pulling into the station as we round the final bend as if to taunt us just one last time. There’s nothing left in the legs and the downhill feels as painful as the uphills, but the end is in sight. Across the tracks, and the flags are finally in sight and it’s through the finish of what has been a race that is probably the most underestimated we have ever run. The winning time was 1 hour 58 minutes, utterly mind boggling, we Harriers managing 2 hours 50 and 3 hours 15 respectively. Those times felt disappointing initially, but when looking at the full results the magnitude of the run came into perspective as at least half the field was still to finish after us.

This was a relentless and cruel race, but the views were spectacular and despite our brains constantly telling us to stop, our legs had other ideas. We did it, somehow!

Cleethorpes parkrun Tourist Trophy, July 2019 – Mark Bower

Cleethorpes parkrun

I was in two minds about whether to write a report for this event – lots of runners have done a parkrun (some go every week in fact), as they’re free, weekly runs (not races!) and so aren’t really anything new or different to most of us.  That being said, Cleethorpes was the July event in the club’s parkrun Tourist Trophy, so this particular course was new to all of us and therefore I thought it merited a mention.

I picked up Nathaniel and Ben around 7am, which was ridiculously early for a parkrun as they don’t start until 9am.  We did have 60 miles to cover though, although my journey planning was over-generous as we arrived at 8:15am and got to watch the marshals set up!  It also gave us time to walk the course, which was 3 laps around a smallish lake, with a short out and back on laps 2 & 3 to bring the total distance to the required 5km.

As we waited for the throng to arrive, we wondered which (if any) other Harriers would be attending, contemplating the idea that it might just be the 3 of us!  In due course though Amanda and Fran arrived, followed shortly after by Laura and her two young boys Lucas and Mav, so that meant a grand total of 8 of us had made the journey.  Not the biggest turn out, but considering the mileage involved it was perhaps to be expected.  We still attracted several people’s attention however, with the ubiquitous question of “where is DAN-um then?” (always to be followed by the standard response “it’s DAY-num actually, from Doncaster”).  One person recognised our kit as he had seen several Harriers at the recent “Sting in the Tail” Caistor 10k, and we even met one gent who knew one of our members (as she had left his club to move over to Doncaster).  It’s a small world after all.

As 9am approached we had the usual pre-run (again, it’s not a race!) briefing.  These vary from parkrun to parkrun, always dictated by the character of the Run Director on the day.  We had already attracted enough attention to get a shout out during the “do we have any visitors?” section, although we weren’t the furthest travellers – at least one person had come from Australia.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume their visit was not solely for the chance to run Cleethorpes parkrun!  I found the briefing quite moving at one point when the Director talked about how parkrun was the only time some people saw or spoke to another person on a Saturday.  I know that personally I see parkrun as a fun event, something not too serious that I can do if I get chance, and I’d never thought about those members of society that really benefit from the opportunity to get out, keep fit and make new friends.

Anyway, the run itself.  The start was somewhat chaotic, as the path was narrow and around 250 of us were all crammed into one tiny area.  Ben managed to get near the front, as did Amanda, however Nathaniel and I had to scoot around the very edge of the path and try to weave our way towards the front.  This we duly did, and by 1km I think we’d all settled into our rhythm.  After we’d done the first whole lap of the lake and were 300m or so into our second we hit the first of the out and back sections.  This was a good opportunity to see your fellow Harriers, as by this point I was behind Nathaniel and Ben so I got to see them coming back up the short straight and we could give each other a friendly thumbs-up or wave.  As I rounded the cone that marked the end of this section it struck me how good the training sessions we do as a club are – you slowed to round the cone and had to accelerate away again, and that’s surprisingly draining when you were into your rhythm of a steady run!  As I ran back up I then got to see Fran, Amanda, Lucas and Laura (carrying Mav!), with a chance for us all to encourage each other again.

The rest of the run was much the same, we all rattled off decent times with no personal bests, but certainly no personal worsts!  Lucas came flying in in just over 30 minutes, an amazing time for a 9 year old, but apparently he’s run much faster!  Laura arrived at the end of her second lap walking with Mav, who’d decided he’d had enough so she took off on a final flying lap by herself.  She finished just shy of 42 minutes and wanted it recorded for posterity that she had walked the first two laps and that she was capable of going much faster on her own!

In true Harrier style we then headed off for refreshments – not cakes, butties or beer this time, but ice creams, coffees and fish and chips!  If you ever have the time and fancy a change, I can recommend “doing the tourist thing” and visiting a parkrun you’ve never tried before.  Maybe even as part of the Tourist Trophy series!

Cleethorpes parkrun

Thursday 18th July – 5.5 Mile Run (M1R)

Thursday is bringing us an exciting new challenge – reversed routes!  This being the first, you would be correct if you guessed it would be M1, the 5.5 Mile route out from the Dome and past the Racecourse into Sandall Beat Wood.  As this is the reversed route it is now an anti-clockwise run, so we will head into Sandall Beat and over the railway bridge first, before looping back and over and then anti-clockwise around Sandall Beat “proper”.

You’re all (hopefully) aware that you can trace the route by hovering your mouse (or using your finger on mobile devices) over the altitude graph and it will show the relevant point on the route as you slide.  If you weren’t – well you are now!

Remember everyone – the route is reversed, so it’s anti-clockwise!!!

Total distance: 5.47 mi


Doncaster Town Centre 5k, July 2019 – Ben Hales

Doncaster 5k

A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more. —Steve PreFontaine, legendary 5000 metres runner

“20 minutes of pain”.

That’s how one Harrier described the five kilometre discipline last night.

Though it’s easy to take part in regular Parkrun 5Ks, there’s something a bit special about this one.

It’s a chance to race through the street of your home town with runners from as far as Salford, Stamford and Sutton-in-Ashfield. There’s prize money up for grabs, but more important than that, it’s a chance to get your PB on a fast road course.

And that’s exactly what most of the Harriers that took part at this year’s event did. In fact, the only member not to get a personal record didn’t do so because he stopped to help a fallen runner at the start – hats off to Richard Hoggard.

So popular has the Doncaster Town Centre 5K become that it’s split into two races: a veterans’ race followed by the open race. I decided to get the suffering over with in the earlier event.

The first lap hurt. My pulse was racing, my breathing fast and heavy, and my mouth was dry. On the second lap, turning past the crowd outside the Danum Hotel I felt a second wind. Then, buoyed on by encouragement from Chris Ramsay, Simon Elliot, Nathaniel Redcliffe and other Harriers, I increased my pace a little, concentrating on breaking my PB of 21:36.

Another lap of struggle then it was into the market for the final time, and I held off threats from behind, passing the finish line just as it turned 21 minutes – job done!

And it was lifetime bests all round – James Holloway romped home in 18:43, with David Langford a second behind. Andrew Finch made 21:49 and Amanda Lane 23:40.

We oldies headed straight to the Red Lion to earn some well deserved Heineken – or was it schadenfreude? Either way, we enjoyed watching Michael Plant (19:34), Tara Burkill (21:29) and Matt Millington (25:40) break the pain barrier, and set their fastest ever times.

Doncaster 5k

Great Hucklow Fell Race, July 2019 – Jose Dias/Simon Rayner

Jose Dias and Simon Rayner

No more than 150 runners on the start for my first race in Hucklow, a small and friendly village.

Start with an unusual 1 mile down hill, a sharp left and crossing the river to a nice and steady up hill to the summit – legs burning, hot and mosquitos! No roads, no single tracks just farm fields, up and down hills until single track next to a river mud to your knees. Absolutely loved it.

More hill on site and a bit of a walk to save the legs to a final downhill for a deserved drink and flapjack (made by the locals!). Family at the end to cheer you up (very important to have family support).

Will definitely be back next year! (Jose)

Yes, I had to look it up too. Near Hathersage, not one of the usual Peak District leisure destinations and all the better for it. So after a journey made slightly more adventurous by road closures, I park in the village and walk up to register. Race HQ is in a field by the school.

There’s shelters for admin and catering, a finishing funnel and a portaloo. Somewhat alarmingly, there’s also a Cave Rescue vehicle. I’d seen the course profile, it looked challenging but it all seemed to be above ground. I’m reassured by a race marshal, in fact there’s no mandatory kit requirement today as the weather is set fair.

I chat to a few runners, most have run here before and are happy to give me advice, then return to the car to ‘kit up’ passing Jose and family on thier way to registration. Team Danum is assembled.

We are called to the start on a lane near the school, the clouds have parted and it’s now hot. The organiser stands on a rock and addresses us with understated humour (you don’t get hyperbole in fell running), and then a moment of levity as the funnel shoots out of the starter’s air horn into the front row, my last smile for about an hour. Now we’re off, and it’s a mad downhill start, through the village and still descending, onto a rough stony track. We  turn left and onto a rough pasture at the foot of Durham Edge, the most severe of the climbs. But first we need to negotiote what the organiser described as a puddle. It’s more of a pond, knee deep and unavoidable, so it’s full speed and straight through. The climb gets steeper, we are all walking, hands on knees to the top, we skirt the gliding club field and are now running again onto more undulating pasture and open moor.

Not many runners can smash a fell race. It’s always hard on the heart and lungs, and harder on the legs. On a good day though you can get into a rhythm, feeling light on your feet, almost flowing over the ground.

Today it’s not like that. The first hill has taken the wind from my sails and I’m rusty too, it’s my first race this year and I’m not reading the trail quickly enough, a toe caught on a grassy clump sends me tumbling, and I’m continually running into avoidable bogs that threaten to steal my shoes. One bog tries to take a leg.

A fast descent through a meadow leads us off Abney Moor, along a brief road section and into the Hidden Clough. We drop down to cross Bretton Brook, then turn and run along it’s steep banks, cross again, ascend, then drop down to a farm at the foot of the last hill. It’s a long ascent in full noonday sun and a cloud of flies is adding to my torment.

I try not to walk. I walk. I check the watch, less than a mile to go so I’m running again before the marshalling point at the top of the hill.

Despite the encouragement here (it has been very well marked and marshalled), my legs are heavy and I’m overheating, I want it to be over. But then a glorious parting gift. We drop down into the shade of Great Hucklow Woods and onto a long descent, the flies have gone and the air is cool, and just for a minute or two I’m picking a fast line over the rough ground, moving at a decent speed, running with not against the terrain. It’s a good feeling, it’s what keeps us coming back.

Straight out of the woods, and still moving at speed, there’s a hard left across some scree onto the finishing field. Jose, (long finished and shortly off for a picnic with his family) is there to cheer me home, and to warn me. Apparently some runners have already taken this last opportunity to fall, but I get to the line without incident. I find shelter and get a drink. Theres a hose pipe in the corner of the field so we take our turn to wash off the worst of the peat from legs and hands, and while we wait, swap stories and compare battle scars. We are weary, but enough baking has been done by the good folk of Great Hucklow to more than replace every calorie burned by the runners today.

So that was that, I spent a sunny morning in the beautiful Peak District, I didn’t run that well but still enjoyed the race, and I still don’t know why people pay a lot of money to enter races with mud and contrived obstacles when it’s all here for a fiver. I would have paid that just for the cakes. (Simon)

Jose Dias and Simon Rayner