On Sunday, 25 March, mother and daughter Gill and Zoe Holmes travelled to Liverpool to take part in different events. Zoe took part in the Half Marathon, completing the 13.1-mile course in 2hr 17:23 to finish 1035th out of 2,563 runners. Gill completed her first-ever Ten Mile event, finishing 305th out of 358 runners in 1hr 53:06.
On the same day, Alison Shooter took on the beastly Canalathon Ultra 50k race, a run along the Rochdale Canal stretching from Manchester to Sowerby Bridge. By her own admission, she hadn’t prepared as thoroughly as she might have done, so was mightily pleased to have the company over the last stages of Simon Wilkinson, Peter Reason and Tamara Gibson (on her bike) whilst greeting them all in was Laura Fairbank, who plied them with beer and cake. Alison completed the 31 mile route in 7hr 53:32, and finished 128th out of a field of 141 runners.
It was a monumental task, and the effort required pushed them to the limit. There must have been times when they never thought they’d make it. But with sheer grit, determination, patience, and plenty of will-power, they persevered. It took an age, of course, but finally, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Amid huge sighs of relief, they’d done it.
And then, having cleared away all the snow, they got in the cars and set off to Lancaster.
Yes, the Trimpell Twenty asked much of three intrepid Pumas, not solely of the course itself, for with snow lying several inches deep in and around Halifax, there were serious questions as to whether they’d manage to get up to Lancaster at all, such were the conditions. But yes, they got there safely, only then to deal with the next obstacle, that of sauntering (in freezing conditions) around the city of Lancaster.
I have it on good authority that Lancaster and the west coast of Lancashire in general was bereft of white fluffy stuff, and the locals may have thought that Brett Swiffen and Rachel Calvert, and Laura Fairbank who, with her good friends Becky Allatt and Karen Hood, made up Team RLF, were making things up when they regaled the them with tales of drifting snow that had left many roads impassable. The aforementioned were all using the race as training for their London Marathon, which, as if they need reminding, is but five weeks away. It was cold, granted, but all-in-all, it was like a different world.
The runners gathered in front of the entrance to Lancaster Castle, a tourist attraction on a good day and perhaps a better option than having to run twenty miles on this, and at 11.00am they were heading off on their way, travelling along Castle Park, picking up Long Marsh Lane and meandering along the tracks through the trees before crossing the River Lune and following the path that initially runs parallel to Morecambe Road for a good two miles. The route, through a line of trees, then veered off left for a triangular clockwise circuit around Trimpell Sports and Social Club via Out Moss Lane then heading back towards the city centre, having accomplished five miles before they crossed the River Lune on the return. The runners then headed out north, across parks and woodland with the Lune on their left, then crossed the river on the A863, a dual carriageway that headed out for what seemed an eternity. The general consensus hinted that this was the hardest part of the course, the Bay Gateway, but they had to tackle it, almost two miles out before doubling back and making the return trip, passing the sixteen-mile mark along the way. The route crossed the river once more, then took the runners on a loop section before picking up the track that took them back to the centre, the Lune now on their right hand side. Everything by now was in reverse (possibly even the legs) and in time, having run through the familiar woodland and tracks, they re-entered Long Marsh Lane and headed for the finish back at Castle Park.
Facing at times a gale force wind, and having to tackle a hideous hill just before the finish, you could say that the race was far from easy, and it was won by Martin Green of North Wales Road Runners in a time of 1:55:47. For Laura, the twenty-mile course was torture, particularly as, only two miles in, she was struggling with her knee. Fortunately, she had, in the form of Gayle Forster, a nifty runner by all accounts, but one that has been encouraging Laura via social media and a saviour on the day, running with her for the most part to help her through the ordeal. They met for the first time at Lancaster but her support for Laura was unequivocal. “Gayle has been so supportive to me and my running. She came to run at my pace in the freezing cold and she was absolutely amazing,” said Laura, who felt sure that she would have given up the ghost without Gayle being there. Laura dug in deep and finished the course in 4:26:50.
As for Brett and Rachel. They’d had two sessions of hypnotherapy in the build up to the Trimpell 20, and the sessions clearly paid off. Said Rachel, “I can’t tell you how amazing today felt! It was easier than the three half marathons I’ve run even though my body was battered and crying out in pain. My mind won over!” Brett’s had his own battles over the years, but as Rachel added, “He is my inspiration! We’ve had the toughest nine months and faced challenges no one knows about, but we are so strong together, there is nothing we can’t face now!” What did it matter that the pair brought up the rear of the 516-strong field? Their aim was to get around, and though it took them nearly five hours, they did it! And anyway, sometimes it pays. By the time they returned to Blighty late Sunday afternoon, the worst of the snow had gone!
Pumas’ positions and times;
506 Laura Fairbank 4:26:50
515 Rachel Calvert 4:57:55
516 Brett Swiffen 4:57:55
Photos supplied by Sprint Finish Photography and Andy Forrest.
Sunday heralded the start of the West Yorkshire Winter League, with Dewsbury Road Runners, as they did last year, hosting the first race. But while generally there is usually an air of excitement for the start of any new season, I’m not sure that this applies here, if the comments of some of our Pumas are anything to go by. Having staggered round, the terms ‘brutal’ and ‘beast’ were used in certain quarters to describe the Mirfield-based course; Matt Newton also used a word beginning with ‘B’ but as this is a family-site, we won’t repeat it here, though he really should have known better, anyway. After all, he ran it last year so knew what to expect! In total, thirty-one Pumas – many with faces painted in the colours of the team to show they meant business – turned out on a chilly morning; doubtless the number would have been even greater but for those who were either injured, having a weekend away (no names mentioned, although this in turn meant that the tour bus was rendered inactive), or just not fancying it! The race was set for a 10.00am start, so there wasn’t too much hanging about trying to look over-excited.
The 5.7-mile course had been slightly tweaked from the previous year but it was no less challenging, containing as it did all the usual elements we all love so much; steep hills, troublesome woods, fields and thick mud in abundance. The race started with a loop of adjacent fields behind Hopton Mills, Hagg Lane, to help thin out the pack and thus avoiding much congestion further down the line, and then it was straight into the first major climb up into Hagg Wood, taking in what is affectionately known as the ‘Golf Course Climb’, closely followed by Scopsley Lane Climb, with Dewsbury Golf Course off to the runners’ left. Fixy Lane Dash Down offered some relief, but only in readiness for the toughest of the three climbs, that of Back Lane Climb, along the edge of Liley Clough, reaching the summit at 182 metres as they crossed the fields around halfway.
The downhill section of over 1k which followed was most welcome but legs would be getting weary as they crossed the fields and headed back towards Lily Clough Woods. Coming out of the north side, the course then ran along the edge of some fields before entering Whitley Wood and the arduous climb of 160 meters before picking up Back Lane and the return journey, giving the runners a nice downhill, if not tricky, stretch before finishing in the fields off Hagg Lane where they’d begun their assault.
So how did the Pumas fare? Well, given that several key runners were missing, they had a pretty productive day, and things certainly auger well for future races, particularly in the Ladies’ field. As expected, it was Tim Brook and Luke Cranfield who led the Pumas’ charge, Tim finishing fifteenth, just two places and, by my reckoning, nine seconds in front of Luke. These two were our first scorers, and they were ably backed up by Rick Ralph, Jude Roberts, Andy Barnes, Adam Standeven and Shaun Casey, with Tim, Rick and Jude picking up the points in the Veterans’ category.
Matt Newton (140th) followed Richard Ogden home, but only six places further back, and having the run the race of her life, was Ally Canning, who was the first female Puma home. Diane Cooper (a veteran, but not in the strictest sense), Jane Cole and Kirsty Edwards also scored points and by the end of the day’s play the Ladies team were sitting proudly in third place.
In the Supervets category, Jon Ding was the first to bring home the points, finishing 162nd, whilst the unsuspecting Mark Kirkby also managed to score. Needing a female to complete the set, this honour fell to Katrina Wood, who was first over-50 female Puma.
Elsewhere, there was a personal battle going on between Sarah Haigh, Dawn Higgins and Jo Clay, all three appearing in the finishing straight together, but Sarah winning the sprint for the line. One place behind, but oblivious to the mad-dash which had just preceded her, was Rachael Hawkins, whose run to the line was slightly more refined. But she must have had some concern for her new best friend, Andrew Mellor, who marked his Winter League debut by suffering a nasty gash to the knee following a fall (graphic photos of which later appeared on social media and are definitely not for the squeamish).
All-in-all, a pretty successful morning, and one that augers well for future races. Commander-in-chief Andrew Tudor described it as “a great team effort,” whilst Shaun Casey was heard to say that the Pumas roared loudest. To which we all concur.
The latest event in the Northowram Pumas’ club championship calendar was held at Leeds Road Sports Complex, Huddersfield, the annual Kirkwood Hospice 10k, now in its tenth year. Last year, only four Pumas took part; this year the number had increased to ten, with Matt Newton being the only survivor. The Pumas’ team was split fifty-fifty, though not by design, with Tim Brook, Peter Reason, Simon Wilkinson and Johnny Meynell joining Matt making up the men’s team, while the women were represented by Helen Jackson, Shana Emmerson, Jodie Knowles, Charlotte Reason and Tracey March.
They all gathered in the car park a good hour before set-off time; with race numbers being collected by those who had pre-booked their places on-line in the club HQ, the others registered themselves, whilst Shana Emmerson went to swap the name of the unfortunate Jane Cole (injured) to her own, and almost completely managed it (they spelt it wrong).
By 10.10am, all the runners were out on the field trying to look as if they were actually enjoying a mass-group warm-up routine. Then they were directed to the starting line, all 269 runners, and at half past ten they were on their merry way.
The course, as in previous years, began with two laps of the playing fields (taking in about half a mile) before venturing out onto the A62 Leeds Road and after several hundred yards being directed left onto the canal. Heading back down from the direction in which they’d just come, with the playing fields on the left, the route carried for around a quarter of a mile before turning right, crossing the canal bridge then heading under the railway and veering left to take up the tarmacked path, the only ‘serious’ bit of climbing the route asked of the runners. The path continued for half a mile or so before (sub)merging into Aquamarine Drive. A left turn onto the more earthily named Red Doles Road, back under the railway line, the runners then swung a left to take up the return journey back towards the playing fields along the canal.
With the industrial estate on the runners’ right, and just prior to reaching the fields, the runners took a ninety-degree turn onto a tarmacked road that brought them back onto Leeds Road – the first lap completed. Required to negotiate the course twice, upon reaching this point the second time around, the runners then headed back into the sports complex, finishing by running three-quarters of the adjacent athletics track. Simple.
Right from the off, Tim Brook made a bolt for it, and was among the leaders throughout the race. By the time he’d done the two laps of the field he was lying sixth; passed by two, he overtook one and eventually finished seventh, a position which, in anyone’s book, was brilliant. Not only that, he went sub forty minutes for the first time over this distance; make no wonder this Puma was grinning for the rest of the day.
The positions of the Puma men went, in fact, to form, with Matt Newton, fuelled by Kopparberg and Sambuca shots from Demelza Bottomley’s fortieth party the night before, clocked an incredible 42:43 to finish nineteenth. His reaction of “I don’t know where that came from,” wasn’t entirely original, as he was saying the exact same thing just over twenty-four hours earlier when he ran a personal best 20:59 at Brighouse parkrun. Peter Reason was third home with a time which showed steadying improvement, whilst Simon Wilkinson, who overtook Johnny Meynell just around halfway, ran a consistent race to grab his own personal best over 10k.
The Puma ladies were led home by Tracey March, and how good it was to see her back on the circuit. Jodie Knowles showed how far she’s come; her time of 57:13 was a marked improvement on her last 10k at the Helen Windsor event in July. In fact, she was nearly a minute and a half faster. Helen Jackson was relieved to keep her glute in one piece whilst Shana Emmerson managed to keep smiling all the way around, as she always does. Last for the Pumas, but certainly not least, was Charlotte Reason, who ensured all ten runners managed to finish inside the hour. She reckoned to have set her own personal best by one second, then bemoaned that her Strava – a gadget that is considered by those who use it to be as reliable as night follows day – had clocked the course longer than it should have been! A shout out, too, for the Hopkinsons, once again wearing the colours of Halifax Harriers. Paul Hopkinson finished 33rd in 45:18, while wife Jenny was just one place behind in 45:42.
Pumas’ finishing positions and chip times;
7 Tim Brook 39:52
19 Matt Newton 42:43
42 Peter Reason 46:56
71 Simon Wilkinson 50:21
85 Johnny Meynell 51:36
132 Tracey March 56:41
139 Jodie Knowles 57:13
146 Helen Jackson 57:30
166 Shana Emmerson 58:49
172 Charlotte Reason 59:26
As a promise to myself to cover any event that a Northowram Puma may take part in, and for consistency purposes, you understand, do I run the risk of appearing self-indulgent. Not that I’ve much to be self-indulgent about, although I did happen to be the only Puma who took part in Tuesday evening’s Littleborough 5k Road Race, organised by the Littleborough Lions.
Back in June, I ran a similar course over the same distance with Alan Sykes, finishing in 24:14 in what was the last of the Littleborough 5k Road Race Series. This time the route differed somewhat as we headed down Peel Street (instead of up it), turned right at the bottom into Winton Street, then picked up the main road A58 Church Street up to the junction with Smithy Bridge Road. There was then the arduous climb up through Smithy Bridge itself, crossing the railway line and pulling ourselves up to Hollingworth Lake. We then had something of decent flattish – even downhill – run over the last mile or so, finishing by passing under the subway near the railway station.
The starter set us all off at 7pm prompt, a relatively small number of 66 runners which included a couple of Sowerby Bridge Snails in Jonathan Moon and Kieran Heaton. The field had thinned out by the time we reached Church Street, but this busy main road proved deceptive, a gentle climb of nearly a mile up to the traffic lights. By the time we’d reached this point we’d covered about a third of the race, but my legs were already feeling tired. We got brief respite on a nice downhill stretch towards the railway line, only to find the level crossing gates closed and a marshal directing us down the steps under the subway, and therefore the climb of the steps up the other side. This was a first, and though it was the same for everyone, for me it did break my stride somewhat. Then there was the climb up Smithy Bridge Road, never too steep but enough to sap even more energy from your legs. With the junction reached and the left turn along Lake Bank, there was just a mile to go. Hollingworth Lake cut a scenic picture on my right but I had too many other things on my mind to enjoy it.
I drove myself along Lake Bank with the sound of footsteps behind me; someone was closing me down. We veered off left down Hollingworth Road, a pleasant descent, the footsteps behind me still a bit too close for comfort. I pushed on, got into my stride and soon enough I could see the entrance to the subway by the station ahead. A quick glance over my shoulder reassured me that I’d pulled away from the runner chasing me, and having turned under the subway, the finish line was but yards ahead, but only reached after we’d had to negotiate a cycle barrier. A quick body swerve and I was through, and in the blinking of an eye, I was careering across the finish line, almost in a state of near exhaustion, but home all the same.
My finishing time was 24:22, eight seconds slower than my previous outing to Littleborough, but as I said, on a slightly harder course. The next runner home (Andy O’Sullivan of Rochdale Harriers) was eleven seconds behind and I finished 24th, no great achievement there, but happy to have taken part. The Snails’ Jonathan Moon came an impressive fourth, but later, over a drink back at HQ, the Littleborough Conservative Club, he was rewarded with a bottle of lambrini for his efforts! The race winner was Darren Shackleton of Todmorden Harriers and he received a cup on which the European Champions’ League Trophy looks to have been modelled.
All the runners were presented with participation certificates (another first) and I clutched mine with pride. Something to show the grandchildren in future years, eh? “Have I told you about the time I ran in the Littleborough 5k Road Race….?”
The club championship races come thick and fast. Only seven days on from the Fleetwood Half Marathon, the next event was the Tour of Norland Trail Race, hosted by Halifax Harriers, an event in stark contrast to the flat roads that were pounded on the Lancashire coast. However, despite the talk of panoramic views over Sowerby Bridge, many Pumas were doubtless put off by the thought of raking it over the 7.4-mile route, though as at Fleetwood, a handful showed up to claim their appearance points, although here it was a different cast. This time around, four were enticed by the mouth-watering thought of ascending the 800-feet climb up onto the Norland Moors; Kirsty Edwards, Matt Newton and myself had already verbally committed (to each other) to tackling it; Andrew Tudor arrived after an eleventh hour fitness test to which he gave himself a big thumbs up.
Part of the appeal of the race was that you could enrol on the day of the event, therefore no need to commit in advance. The £5 entry fee was also pleasing on the purse strings, and in total, there was a field of 140 runners taking advantage of this cut-price deal. Registration was at Copley Cricket Club, as was the finish to the race itself, on the far side of the cricket pitch. To get there, the runners had to negotiate whatever the Norland Moors threw at them, and the competitors gathered just below the canal at the entrance of Hollas Lane for the 10.30am start.
The route took the runners along Hollas Lane, under the railway arch and up the fields, familiar to those who ran the final West Yorkshire Winter League race, hosted by Stainland Lions, back in February. Once North Dean Road had been reached, the runners were directed up the hill (obviously), then they veered a sharp left to continue the climb up Pickwood Lane before taking a bridle path, a gentle incline which ran for about half a mile and eventually came out at Turbury Lane. The route turned right along here until a marshal directed the runners left to begin the 2.9-mile clockwise loop of Norland Moor. Having circumnavigated this section, the runners exited Norland Moor at the same point as they’d entered it, and after a short run back up Turbury Lane, entered the fields and the welcome descent back to base. The route continued through the woods, eventually picking up Pickwood Lane and North Dean Road and returning along the route we’d started out on, continuing past the start, along the path through the woods before entering the final straight which was Copley Cricket Club and the finish line ahead. It was never intended to be easy, and the Tour of Norland Trail didn’t disappoint.
We were set on our merry way to the instruction of “On your marks,” and then there was no turning back. We followed Hollas Lane then began climbing the fields, the pack becoming bunched in the early stages as it negotiated the stiles. The last of these took us onto North Dean Road and there was the arduous pull up for what seemed an eternity. Needless to say, I soon found myself having to walk; it looked so disheartening, even at this early stage. Matt and Kirsty had started to pull away, and Andrew, taking his time, passed me shortly before we turned up the bridle path. He had once advised me to concentrate on my effort, and I chose to do this once I’d taken a quick glance up ahead as the track stretched way into the distance. It turned at right angles at one point; Matt, who had made an early bid to become #FPH had slowed down somewhat and Kirsty had soon caught him up; in turn, Andrew then took the pair of them and I wouldn’t see him again until I finished. The tour of the moor still maintained an incline for quite a way, and I found it really tough on my legs, particularly having sampled the Lancaster parkrun the day before (I dare you – have a go).
In time we descended towards Butterworth End Lane but just before reaching it, the trail took a swift right turn, and guess what? We were climbing once more. Though by this time I had the fillip of seeing Matt and Kirsty almost within reach, so clearly I had made up some ground. As the trail flattened out across the moor we were about to experience the domino effect, and I’m not talking about pizzas. I was perhaps fifteen yards adrift when I saw Matt suddenly take a tumble. Kirsty stopped to help him back on his feet, and suddenly the three of us were all together, and may I say, it was nice to be among friends! Less than two minutes later, Kirsty was the next casualty, missing her footing (it seemed) and like Matt, taking what seemed a nasty fall. But she saw the funny side, regained her composure, and we were on our way again. Until that is, I took my turn. My mother always went on about me dragging my feet, and I should have heeded her advice. Down I went, banging my left ankle in the process. Matt and Kirsty stopped while I recovered, got to my feet, then we carried along. But soon enough the pair of them were striding away, and I lost more ground whilst I had to retie one of my laces.
The tour of the moor seemed to take an age, but eventually we came out in the same place as we went in, joining Norland Road and turning immediately into Turbury Lane, then crossing the fields that took us into the woods. As we entered this part of the course, I was at the back of a four-man convoy, but feeling happier, safe in the knowledge that all the climbing had now been done. Of course, we ran down through the woods quicker than we’d come up them, and as we came out of the other side, there was a marshal directing us back down Pickwood Lane and North Dean Road. I made good my run for home, passing the other three runners, and as I entered the stile which took us into the fields we’d climbed at the start, I noticed Matt and Kirsty leaving it at the other end. I charged down the field with a Stainland Lion for company, and as we crossed the bottom veering left, we were closing with every step. Suddenly I had visions of the three of us – myself, Matt and Kirsty – finishing together, but there was a twist in the tale, or should I say, my ankle. The field took us down what we called as kids the ‘catsteps’, here muddied and uneven. Travelling at speed, tucked in behind the Stainland runner, my left foot hit the ditch and for a second time I was lying on my back. I suffered no life-threatening injuries, but the fall did knock the stuffing out of me, and any chance I had of catching up my fellow team mates all but disappeared. I rejoined the tarmacked road which led us back under the railway arch and the flat run over the last half mile or so. But by now I was gone; the runners who I’d overtaken coming out of the woods now passed me with ease, though as I reached the part where we started the race over an hour earlier, a quick glance over my shoulder told me there was no more imminent threat. Tired, battered and bruised, I pulled myself along through the woods with the River Calder to my right and the rugby pitches on my left and entered the cricket field with the fantastic sight that was the finish line. Andrew, Matt and Kirsty cheered me in, and the ordeal was over.
From being less than thirty seconds behind Matt and Kirsty with half a mile to go, they’d managed to put nearly two minutes between me; they ran in together and were given the same times. Andrew took the honour of being #FPH, though having managed to run unscathed for most of the race, suffered a calf strain after pushing himself too fast down the final fields and he saw out the final stages in a slow canter. The race itself had been won by Jonathan Melia of Rossendale Harriers in 51:11.
The race recovery included free tea and biscuits, and Kirsty, Matt and myself sat and watched other runners finish across the field. I admired how the Halifax Harriers had organised the event, and from where I was, there hadn’t appeared to have been any glitches. But that wasn’t necessarily the case. Stories unfolded of one lady who’d taken exception to part of the course going over ‘her’ dog-walking patch; she’d taken it upon herself to remove or change the direction of some of the flags on the moor, with some of these later found in a bin. It seems it was the leading runners who suffered; quick thinking by some of the marshals up there soon put most of the runners on the right track, but it does make you wonder what goes through people’s minds at times. The experience at Oakwell Hall in the West Yorkshire Winter League was obviously not a one-off incident.
It was only last April that relatively new Puma Cathy Heptinstall ran her first 10k race. To prove she’s making great strides, last Wednesday, she decided to do another, solo, in the Farsley Flyer Trail Race. And all hats off to her for giving it a go. But for those of you who know her well, they weren’t seriously worried whether Cathy would manage the multi-terrain six-and-a-half mile route, but more concerned as to whether she’d actually manage to find the venue. She seriously was concerned about that.
The Farsley Flyer Trail Race is a little known event that’s worked its way onto the running circuit for the first time; the organisers are trying to seek more publicity so that it gains popularity. Most of this is being done by word of mouth but on the evidence of the number of local clubs who were represented, the word is certainly getting out there.
The Farsley Flyers who organise this race have introduced a concept previously unknown to this scribe; no mass start meaning those who may be ‘running late’ can turn up anytime between 6.30pm and 7.30pm. As everyone is ‘chipped’ times and positions will later be ironed out. A further incentive to enter this race are the cakes and biscuits awaiting the finishers, as well as £2 off a drink in the local hostelry The Fleece, on Town Street.
The route consists of mainly country lanes, trails and fields. A few of the trail sections were slightly overgrown, and just for good measure, there was a section that was muddy due to the recent rain. Though on the evening, the weather was kind and the sun stayed out.
Having navigated her way to Farsley, Cathy found herself near the front at the start, crossing the start line at 18:30.15 once the runners had been given the green light to go. I hasten to add at this point that Cathy wasn’t being stalked; these ‘out’ and ‘in’ times are recorded on the results sheet.
The route, hitherto kept a secret from all competitors except those who had reccied the course during the week, had a climb of 200 metres, but Cathy negotiated it well and finished just after five past eight, 107th out of 153 runners in a time of 1hr 35:20. The winner of the event was Ben Coldwell in 53:36, whilst the honour of the first Farsley Flyer home fell to James Crabtree, who finished sixteenth.
Evidently, from the feedback from runners who took part, there is a good chance that we’ll see more competitors next year. “A great event – well organised, great route and delicious cakes. Would definitely run future races,” was one typical glowing review. Oliver Gregory of the Flyers responded by saying, “Farsley Flyers loved every minute of hosting their first race, hope you all enjoyed the challenging route.” Their first race, maybe, but I’d say definitely not their last. Next year, I expect Cathy to be accompanied by several of her Puma friends.
What to do when you’re far away from home on your holidays. Why not sign up for the local hill race at the Isle of Skye Highland Games? “Don’t mind if I do,” reckoned Tim McBrook, holidaying with the lovely Lisa and Mei-Lyn, and just short of donning a kilt, he lined up for the race which has been a feature of the Games since, well, forever.
The Games were inaugurated in 1877 by the Skye Gathering Committee, and except during the World Wars, have taken place annually in the natural amphitheatre at Portree, known locally as The Meall (translated as ‘the lump’). However, the tradition which they represent goes back hundreds of years before that, with clan celebrations that included fiercely-contested feats of strength and endurance, together with piping and other forms of entertainment similar to those that can be enjoyed at the games today.
Tim, therefore, had a nice array of events from which to choose in a programme which included piping, dancing, sailing and tossing the caber. Tempted or not by the thought of humping a nineteen-feet tapered pole, Tim decided to play safe and pitched himself – Pumas top and all – into the Hill Race, though by all accounts, this 2.7 mile event isn’t for the faint-hearted.
Here’s a course description just to set the scene: “Once you leave the games field you must choose which route to take to the foot of the hill. Longer and safer via the road, or an obstacle course via the foreshore. Most people take the shorter route. This goes over a low wall with an 8 foot drop into a cemetery, through a graveyard, over barbed wire fence, down grassy bank avoiding the nets drying, over a gate and onto the beach, then across seaweed, mud, stones, a couple of paddles through burn outlets, then back up to the road beside the petrol station. There are several ways up the hill, either following a narrow winding path or by cutting through the grounds of the Viewfield Hotel. Both end up on a narrow path to the right of a fence heading up to Suidh Fhinn. You do not go to the top of this hill. At about 170m you turn right and contour a couple of hundred metres to a prominent white flag, where the marshal hands you a token. At the road you again have the choice, longer and drier or shorter and wet.”
Fortunately, the event was held in warm sunshine, and Tim, being the natural athlete that he is and never one to shirk a challenge, chose….the longer and drier. Bearing in mind, if you hadn’t heard, he had sustained a nasty ankle injury the day before clambering over rocks and stones, so fair’s fair.
With cash prizes on offer to the first three competitors home (£100 for the winner is something not to be sniffed at) Tim had every incentive, particularly as, word has it, it was his round next. The runners began with a lap and a half of the field before making their way out through the town and towards the hill, with Tim at this early stage lying third and giving hope to his family that he really could bring home the readies. Out of sight they went and just went on out there is anyone’s guess. But Tim gave it his all, climbed the hill via the road, collected said token and made his descent. Alas, he found himself out of the money-placings as the runners re-entered the field, but over the final lap and a half, Tim showed a clean pair of heels to his nearest rival and made a dart for the line. Cheered on by literally thousands of spectators, Tim finished a more than creditable sixth out of a field of thirty-three runners, beating many of the locals, and he must have been happy with his time of 21:18, though having never run this race before, to what could he compare it?
The event itself was won by Chris Edis of Keswick, whilst the Ladies’ section was won, for the eleventh time, by Christina Rankin of Uig. And while Tim isn’t the first Yorkshireman to have run this race – indeed, last year, the event was won by Leeds’ Noah Hurton – I’m pretty confident in saying that he is the first Puma to have entered it, so how lucky was he that he happened to be on the Scottish island when he was, with the Games nicely coinciding with his holiday. It’s not as if he actually planned it.
Just twenty-four hours after the Dewsbury Flat Cap 5, Neil Coupe found himself on the starting line at Centre Vale Park, Todmorden, for the last in the four-race series. This was something of a minor miracle, really, for he was nursing a nasty ankle injury sustained at Dewsbury, but not something many of you might have known about. Joining him on the starting line was Johnny Meynell, ready to complete a full-set of the four races, though sadly, watching from the sidelines, was Alan Sykes, who, having run the first three, now forced to rule himself out having pulled a leg muscle at Dewsbury the night before. The curse of Flat Cap, eh? Also adding support to the two-man team was Matt Newton, and it’ll be a pleasure to see him up and racing in the not too distant future.
The bigger than average field was swelled to 103 competitors, helped in no small by way by the large contingent of Halifax Harriers who were using the event as part of their own club championship, and as such there were a few familiar faces on show. Neither Neil or Johnny troubled the leaders, it has to be said, and the event was won by Michael Gaughan, who many will recognise at our local parkruns The course takes in five laps of the park, and with it being as flat as anywhere you’re likely to come across (perhaps only Wellholme Park at Brighouse beats it around here) it can be tough going at times, with no chance of a downhill stretch for a breather.
Those are the excuses out of the way. And while winner Gaughan floated around in 16 mins 41secs, Neil Coupe finished 37th in 21:27, way down on his previous time of 20:53 set in his first race (the second of the series). Johnny was hoping to crack 24 minutes, but having run the first three races in times of 24:09, 24:03 and 24:06, agonisingly just failed, coming home in 64th place in 24:01, still his fastest time over the series event and certainly showing consistency.
With Alan Sykes not running, there were no prize-winning Pumas in any age category, but there was some consolation as Neil treated us all to a round of chips, onion rings and cheesy garlic bread in the welcoming Hare and Hounds over the road. He certainly knows how to look after his Pumas.
Participants need to run a minimum three races of the four to qualify for the final standings league table (best three results counting), and here, Johnny Meynell finished 24th in a combined total of 1hr 12:21, with Alan Sykes 28th in 1hr 15:13 out of a total of forty-seven runners.
On Wednesday, the Pumas On Tour Express was on hire once more, cram-packed with ready runners, Dewsbury-bound for the annual Flat Cap 5 trail run. Other Pumas made their own way there, and all-told, there were twenty-seven club members who helped swell the throng at the starting line to 256 runners.
Hosted by Dewsbury Road Runners, their website described the course as “multi-terrain, slightly undulating, finishing at the picturesque Leggers Inn pub and canal boat yard close to Dewsbury town centre”, taking in “the Dewsbury-Ossett greenway, off road paths and the canal towpath.” Depending on who you spoke to after the event, the course was either “very hard” or “not too bad”, though nobody I conversed with described it as easy.
Perhaps the biggest problem facing the runners was that there were stretches where it became very difficult to overtake, and hence for long stages, runners were seen to be making their way in single file, almost like, back in the day, walking down the school corridor.
Adding some spice as far as Northowram Pumas were concerned was the fact that this event was the latest in the club championships. So,how relieved must Andy Haslam have been to be granted a last minute slot to further improve his standing in the league tables?
The race was won by Stadium Runners’ Simon Courtney in 27 mins 55 seconds, almost a full minute before second-placed Ed Hyland of Stainland Lions. But of more interest to Northowarm Pumas was the question of who would take the honour of being #FPH. It appeared to be an all-out dual between Luke Cranfield and Tim Brook, and in the end, it was Tim who edged out his rival, finishing an impressive sixth in 31 mins 12 secs, seven seconds faster than Luke who followed him in. Third home for the Pumas was the aforementioned Andy Haslam in twentieth position, Rick Ralph (30th) was fourth home, whilst the ever-improving Peter Reason was fifth Puma home, beating Chris Ellis by two places and three seconds.
Elsewhere, Andrew Tudor seemingly summoned up all his energies to catch Kirsty Edwards – she was the first female Puma home in 83rd position – right on the line, Simon Wilkinson enjoyed a sub-forty-one-minute run, as did Jane Cole, who evidently had deliberated over taking part. Veteran Alan Sykes had taken the place of Liz McDonnell, but was hampered by a pulled leg muscle for the last mile or so. Further down the list, it was great to see Demelza Bottomley pushing herself all the way, here a runner who a year ago might have scoffed at the thought of running a competitive five-miler, whilst bringing up the rear for the Pumas was Sharon Reason, someone who, like Demelza, continues to impress with her endeavour.
Full list of Pumas’ finishing positions and times;