Category Archives: Half marathons

Great North Run 2018

The Great North Run is one of the few iconic yearly running events that brings together 1000’s (about 43,000 actually) of runners from the length and breadth of the country. After the London marathon it is the most publicised and popular run in the country, indeed as of this time it is the largest Half Marathon in the world. Even the BBC with Steve Cram & Paula Radcliffe dedicate an entire morning of live broadcasting to it one Sunday every September, relegating Match of the Day and Andrew Marr to BBC2 so it must be something special.

They even manage to get some blokes called the Red Arrows to fly around until they get dizzy. In short, The Great North Run is big; very big. If the biggest race you’ve done is a Parkrun in Shroggs Park on a cold Saturday morning in the middle of winter, nothing is going to prepare you for this.

With such a large family of Pumas, it’s odds on that there’s going to be a few doing it every year and this year was no exception. In order to get a place in the run, each hopeful must either enter a ballot or try to get one of the many charity places available. There are over 40 charities to run for and each one is allocated a set number of spaces so if the initial ballot is unsuccessful, the lucky few might just be able to get a place supporting their favourite.

This year 28 lucky Pumas managed to blag a place, some just running for themselves but a lot for running for dedicated charities that were dear to their hearts. With everyone running for different reasons, there were numerous groups travelling up at different times. Some had booked rooms for the night before and the night after the race to enjoy the delights of Newcastle’s excellent drinking holes (guess who.!) whilst others had decided to get up before the crack of dawn and travel up on the day. Regardless, as the start of the race grew ever closer, the various little groups migrated to a single point and a mass gaggle of Pumapeople were ready for the photo opportunities and a spot of celebrity spotting.




You bump into the weirdest people

Whilst Lara Croft (or some woman called Nell McAndrew) was more than happy to be mugged by a group of our intrepid runners, unfortunately Mo Farah had photo-fatigue by that point. As Britain’s most highly decorated & most famous long-distance runner it seems that everyone wants a selfie so I don’t think anyone could blame him for finally decided enough was enough on the morning (albeit with a smile)


Celebrity Spotting with Nell McAndrew

Just getting to the start point at the Great North Run is a feat in itself. Despite the Newcastle Metro running at full load and sending trains every 5 mins, each one is packed with runners and spectators from at least 7:30 in the morning and once at the final station, there is still at least a 30 minute walk through a vast sea of bodies to reach even the closest starting pens. This walk will inevitably lead past one of the traditions of the Great North Run, the casting off of jumpers which are then rounded up and distributed to local charities.

Old Jumpers, a GNR tradition continues

The pens are laid out in traditional style with the fastest runners at the front and the slowest at the back although I suspect the guy dressed as a fridge who was near the front might have been pushing it a bit.

But the scene was now set and thankfully the sun was shining and as the start got ever closer, the irritatingly jolly compere introduces an even more irritatingly jolly fitness guru to lead the 43000 sea of competitors through a series of warm up exercises.

Wave your arms in the air

As with the London Marathon, the starting times for each pen is staggered so that the 1000s don’t all fall over themselves at the same time. First off are the Elite Wheelchair racers then each zone behind at set intervals until the very final zone gets underway. Such are the numbers that the last runners start nearly an hour after the Elite guys leave the start line so by that time, just about the entire 13.1 mile route is nothing but a sea of runners and wheelchair athletes.

I wasn’t running this year so joined the equally vast crowds who decided to cheat and take the Metro from the starting point in Newcastle to the finishing point in South Shields. I did think that there would be lot more wriggle room on those trains than there had been in the efforts to get to the starting point; how wrong I was. By the end of the line we were hot and highly intimate but the thought that our lot was so much easier than it was for the competitors kept us going through the hardship. Leaving the train was another long walk to the finishing line with thousands of people looking remarkably like a North-Eastern zombie apocalypse.

But anyway, enough of my whinging and back the really important people who were doing the trip the hard way. Starting from the central motorway in Newcastle city-centre the race runs slightly downhill for the first mile before reaching one of the most famous view of the race, the Tyne Bridge. If you’re lucky you might just get there in time for the Red Arrows first appearance of the day. If you’re even more lucky, you might even get you picture taken.

Where’s Wally (Simon – he’s there, honestly)

By this time the runners around you should have spaced out a little bit and you should no longer be blocked by people who are walking, having optimistically suggested to the organisers that they could do the course in 1:30 and started in a zone way ahead of you.

Slight uphill into Gateshead on the other side of the Tyne the route turns right to follow the river down to the coast. En-route and towards the quarter point of the race, the Gateshead stadium with music stands lining the route and joining the crowds in urging the runners on. No doubt along the way you’ll be shocked that some random stranger knows you before realising your name is written on your bib.

Mile 4 heads upwards on a gentle drag to the highest point of the race at Black Bull. The next 3 miles head relatively downhill till eventually the large crowds on the Tyne Tunnel come into view.

Heading through miles nine to eleven, along the John Reid road are usually described as the hardest of the race and a chance to take one of the many cold shower stations to cool down (that’s apart from the hundreds of kids squirting water from the crowds).

Past the Nook shopping complex and getting close to the Coast with a stand on the side of the road offering free pints of beer run by the local Hash House Harriers. If you’re planning a run/walk, that’s the time to walk..

By the end of mile 11 the course is right by the coast with the fresh sea breeze in the air and one final climb up to Marsden Inn before a sharp drop down to Coastal Road Bank.

By the last 2 miles the crowds at the huge cheering points are three or four deep right to the finish line the end of the world’s biggest half-marathon. This is the time to feel a huge sense of pride, not just at finishing but also at managing to catch and overtake someone dressed as a banana (even though you did get overtaken by at least three Pandas and a Honey Monster along the way). Once again if you’re lucky, the Red Arrows will be doing their thing just for you as you cross the finishing line.

Pete manages the best selfie of the day

Such is the size of the race, trying to find everyone at the end of the race really was almost impossible, even with well-made plans. As already suggested though, each little group of Pumas had their own plans for the rest of the day and the evening so it didn’t really matter. What mattered was that once again, people had come together to represent themselves and the club and the Facebook feed for the Pumas group was full of pride & congratulations. Fast, slow or in-between doesn’t matter in this group, none of that ‘we only want to be represented by our elite runners’ rubbish here, which is just as it should be.

Mo Farah warms up before a 00:59:27 finish


Pumas Great North Run Times 2018

Deke Banks                          01:36:13

Kirsty Edwards                     01:46:45

Andy Haslam                        01:47:38

Julie Bowman                       01:49:05

Simon Wilkinson                  01:53:03

Andrew Tudor                       01:53:06

Sarah Haigh                         01:59:02

Christopher Ellis                  02:00:29

Victoria Owen                       02:00:29

Dawn Higgins                       02:11:17

Paul Bottomley                     02:11:37

Jodie Knowles                      02:11:55

Andrew Barnes                    02:14:25

Peter Reason                       02:16:25

Tiffany Lewis                        02:17:56

Sarah Firth                            02:20:48

Melissa Hall                          02:22:32

Alison Shooter                      02:28:44

Brett Swiffen                         02:41:33

Gillian Holmes                      02:49:59

Emma John-Baptiste          03:04:58

Dean James                          03:07:47

Rachel Calvert                      03:16:42

Fiona Averill                          03:21:54

Katharine Barnett                 03:56:05

Cathy Farley                         03:56:06

Canal Canter 2018

Canal Canter,

Kirkstall, Leeds, Saturday, 24 March, 2018.

On Saturday, Pumas Tiffany Lewis and Karen Matos took part in the Canal Canter at Kirkstall, Leeds. There were four distances from which to choose, ranging from the shortest at 10k, to the longest at 32 miles, but Tiffany and Karen opted for the half marathon, mindful of the fact that this would still give them a decent enough recovery time in the pub.

Tiffany’s raring to go, but Karen doesn’t look too sure.

Described by the It’s Grim Up North organisers thus; “A scenic, fast and flat, out-and-back route along the beautiful Canal tow path, great for achieving PBs.”


All the four distances started and finished at Kirkstall, but where Tiffany and Karen were concerned, their route initially headed out west, beyond Bramley Fall Park and to the outskirts of Farsley before turning back, hitting the four-mile mark and heading towards Kirkstall, then running beyond the start in the opposite direction, completing ten miles, then turning back just short of the Royal Armouries Museum and making the last three miles to the finish line.

Tiffany picking off fellow competitors.

As expected running along the canal, the route was as flat as any course you’re likely to find, though that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Said Tiff, “I was really surprised how hard it is to keep running on the flat. I am the first to complain about hills but at least there is the relief once you’ve reached the top of running downhill and getting your pace up. I finished but with my slowest Half Marathon time to date.”

The route was a straight out and back along the canal, so I’m not sure why Karen’s looking lost.

It was a pleasant day for it, and they both enjoyed the scenery on the run out towards Shipley but Tiffany later admitted that she was losing the will to live on the return stretch from Leeds to Kirkstall as it was such a long, dull stretch of canal.


Tiffany finished 213th in 2:16:59, whilst Karen was four places behind in 2:19:52. There were 243  runners.

Karen and Tiffany have completed the Half Marathon, and have the medals to prove it.


Photos courtesy of Theresa Tate and Mark Kirkby.

Harewood House Half Marathon 2018

Harewood House Half Marathon,

Sunday, 25 February, 2018.

With the London Marathon looming on the horizon (less than two months away) Brett Swiffen and Rachel Calvert decided that they’d better get some miles in. Which is why, while many Pumas were trundling through the woods around West Vale and Copley in the Winter League, these two were to be found at Harewood House. But though Brett and Rachel may have a passing interest in Chippendale furniture and the magnificent Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown landscaped gardens and other delights housed within, that’s not why there were there. They were on a serious mission that involved dragging themselves around the Harewood House Half Marathon.

Brett and Rachel pose for the ultimate pre-race selfie – Harewood House in the background looks about three miles away!

I use the word ‘dragging’, but not in detrimental terms, for it’s fair to say Brett and Rachel’s run wasn’t without incident. It’s not as if the course wasn’t hazardous enough but when both runners suffered mishaps en route, that they got around at all is testimony to their determination. This should stand them in good stead for the streets of London.

The organisers of the event – they also staged a 10k run, but that wasn’t far enough for Brett or Rachel – advertised the event thus; “This extremely hilly route offers a challenging trail run with miles of muddy tracks, steep forest inclines and tree-lined fields, all set within the stunning grounds of Yorkshire’s historic Harewood House.” So the warning signs were clearly there long before they’d set off.

When you’re running having pulled a calf muscle six days prior to the race, as Rachel did, then there are added worries, and any runner who has set off with injuries on their mind will know what she was going through. Sadly, Rachel’s injury flared up within minutes of setting off, but she soldiered on, determined to get through. Then, around the eight-mile mark, Brett took a tumble that, in his own words ‘Ronaldo would have been proud of.’ He picked himself up and together, he and Rachel completed the last five miles or so. Officially, Rachel pipped Brett by one second and one place, finishing 815th in 3 hours 28:12.

That’s it, they did it. And it was well worth it in the end.

Having recovered, Rachel admitted that the race had been ‘the hardest mental and physical challenge yet’, whilst Brett added that the ‘muddy course was a killer’. But, they are now one step closer to London, and with a few 10ks and a twenty-mile run to complete next month, they are well on track.

Well done!

Positions and chip times;

815 Rachel Calvert 3:28.12

816 Brett Swiffen chip 3:28:13

827 runners.

Great North West Half Marathon 2018

Great North West Half Marathon,

Blackpool, Sunday, 18 February, 2018.

A big shout out today for the three Pumas who took on the 29th Great North West Half Marathon at Blackpool this morning. Laura Fairbank, Alison Shooter and relative newcomer Dave Collett were among the 1,200 or so runners who crammed the Middle Walkway for the start.

Laura and Alison pre-race, with a sea view that’s behind them.

Described by the race organisers Fylde Coast Runners as a “fast and flat course around the coastal front of Blackpool, it’s a great race for a PB.” The route was two-lapped, initially heading southwards along the front to the North Pier, then swinging around and following the promenade all the way down past Little Bispham, turning around just before Anchorsholme Park and heading back towards the start line, to start the second lap. After two full laps the runners headed back down the front to finish by the Middle Walkway.

With an 11.00am start, the runners set off in what were fairly warm temperatures considering it was mid-February. Along they went on their merry way, lucky that they had what everyone craves when they stop at the coast; a sea view. For thirteen miles. Well, it helps take your mind off things.

This shot gives you a rough idea of where everyone was running. That’s the Irish Sea on the left.

Dave had the honour of being #FPH, finishing 449th in just over 1 hour and 51 minutes. That’s a decent time, considering it was his first-ever attempt at this distance. When asked how he found the course, he replied, “Flat, not really used to that!”

All smiles from Dave Collett after completing his first half marathon. With no hills to tackle like he does around Northowram, the course must have been a bit of a (sea) breeze.

Alison kept Laura company, offering her words of comfort and motivation as Laura, by her own admission, struggled to get round. “I’ve been ill and not run for two weeks, so hardly the best preparation,” she said.

Ill maybe, but that didn’t stop Laura and Alison tucking into a chocolate fondant upon finishing. Oh, and word has it that they had a win on the slot machines, too. To help pay for the aforementioned chocolate fondant, no doubt. A good day all round, then.

The only thing that will revive Laura is a chocolate fondant (with ice cream, please).

Pumas’ positions and chip times;

449 Dave Collett 1:51:11.18

1157 Alison Shooter 2:41:23.51

1158 Laura Fairbank 2:41:23.81

1,221 runners


Conwy Half Marathon 2017

Conwy Half Marathon,

Sunday, 19 November, 2017. 

There were 2,564 runners taking part in Sunday’s Conwy Half Marathon, among them Pumas’ own Brett Swiffen and Rachel Calvert, who, perhaps, had been attracted to the event after it had been voted in the top five most scenic half marathons in the land by readers of ‘Runners’ World’, writes a special correspondent.

Brett and Rachel are all set and ready to smash that three hour barrier.

Now in its ninth year, the Conwy Half Marathon has already been described as a “classic”, with the start and finish on the quayside in front of Conwy Castle which was built for King Edward 1 at the end of the thirteenth century. The route runs along the road adjacent to the Conwy River as it proceeds towards Deganwy beach and the West Shore Llandudno, and from there it goes along Church Walks towards Llandudno Pier, then around the Great Orme, taking in views of the Isle of Anglesey, Puffin Island and the surrounding North Wales coastline. The route then heads back towards Conwy and the finish line.

Two months earlier, both Brett and Rachel participated in the Great North Run, completing the 13.1 miles in 3h hours 21 minutes. Here, at Conwy, they had a great time and were both beaming at the end. Rachel said, “Best run of my life by far!” And Brett agreed, adding, “Today was honestly one of the happiest days of my life, the run was so amazing.”

All smiles as Brett and Rachel approaching the finish line.

And why were they feeling so good? Well, they’d not only taken over twenty minutes off their time from the Great North Run, but they’d also smashed the three-hour barrier as well.  Fantastic achievement, I think we all agree. Rachel, feeling proud, later admitted that her body “aches from top to toe,” – and then the pair of them hopped into the hot tub.

Reflecting on how far they’ve come since joining the Pumas, Rachel said, “Massive thanks to the Pumas for your support and encouragement these past few months,” and gave special praise to Lauras Fairbank and Hattersley, Ian Marshall and Neil Coupe.

Brett also added that the Conwy Half Marathon was the most scenic race he’d even taken part in, and then suggested the Pumas put it on their calendar for next year. Any takers? Matt Newton?

Feeling proud. Brett and Rachel show off their medals before heading off to the nearest hot tub.

Finishing positions and times;

2512 Brett Swiffen 2:56:22

2513 Rachel Calvert 2:56: 28


Worksop Hallowe’en Half Marathon 2017

Worksop Hallowe’en Half Marathon,

Sunday, 29 October, 2017.

Sunday saw the 36th staging of the Worksop Hallowe’en Half Marathon, an event which attracted a handful of Pumas. Running under the Northowram umbrella were Alison Shooter and Sharon Wilson, whilst Paul and Jenny Hopkinson ran wearing the colours of Halifax Harriers. Registered to run but having to opt out was Laura Fairbank; seemingly she had succumbed to Halifax’s own version of Montezuma’s Revenge, but we’ll spare you the details.

Also known as ‘the scenic one’, the Worksop Half Marathon takes place on the last Sunday in October every year, hence the Hallowe’en theme. It attracts a large number of entrants, and, indeed, there were 2,482 willing participants lined up at the start this year. Some really entered into the spirit (geddit?) of things and donned ghoulish outfits and scary masks.

Foil blankets are usually given out to runners once they’ve finished the race. But it was cold enough at Worksop for Alison to feel the need to wrap one around her before she set off. Still, this counts as a pre-race selfie.

The route touches the edge of Worksop but also takes in Clumber Park, so the scenery is a sight to behold – if you’ve time or the energy to take it in. Setting off from Outwood Portland Academy, the course rises to 310 feet over the first mile and a half, heading southwards along Ollerton Road for several miles, turning left into Lime Tree Avenue before taking a scenic detour through the trees around Clumber Park itself, with the glorious lake in view. The route then continues northwards then veers off onto country lanes, taking in Clumber Lane, swinging right at Truman’s Lodge into Clumber Road before making a sharp left turn into Old Coach Road, a route that is shadowed by trees. There then follows a loop around Worksop College before the course picks up Ollerton Road, and a devilish climb as it heads back towards the finish at Outwood Portland Academy. Photographs of the route would make a nice postcard scene, but they disguise the inclines. The total elevation was 667 feet and Alison Shooter’s described the course as “undulating”.

Mind, the prizes on offer were not to be sniffed at. The overall winner walked away with £80 plus a pair of local retailer Hoka One One running shoes, whilst second and third place also received a pair of trainers and £60 and £40 respectively. Fourth place got you £40 and a Trespass Cancan Running Belt. There were also cash prizes for each age group winner, male and female.

The race was scheduled for a 10.00am start but mounting problems in areas such as lack of parking meant there was a delay. Which was something of an inconvenience for those who’d got there on time. It wasn’t exactly a warm morning. So cold, in fact, that Alison felt compelled to don a foil blanket before they set off! Still, the Worksop Salvation Army kept everyone entertained as it played continuously for an hour and a half, though in light of what lay ahead of the runners, this drew comparisons with the band that ‘played on’ while the Titanic sank.

Alison’s already digging in as the runners tackle the first of several inclines (hills).

Eventually, the runners were sent on their way, meaning for Sharon Wilson a second half marathon in the space of a fortnight, having taken part in the event at Manchester fourteen days earlier. She completed that in 2:08:26; here, on a tougher course, she bettered that time, finishing in an impressive 2:04:16. Of the race, Sharon said, “I quite enjoyed it as it was testing in places with a few inclines. Scenery was nice too and the support was great.”

I’m not sure if Alison enjoyed the run quite as much, if her post-race comments are anything to go by. Looking at her medal, she reckoned it matched her race experience – ugly! She finished in 2:18:05, then immediately turned her attentions to this Sunday’s Abbey Dash.

Paul and Jenny Hopkinson love each other’s company so much that they ran the full thirteen and a bit miles together. Paul finished two seconds in front of Jenny, clocking 1:41:39. Walking away with eighty quid in his pocket and a spanking brand new pair of running shoes was race winner Stuart Spencer of Notts Athletic Club. Hope they fit him.

Two half marathons in fourteen days. Make no wonder Sharon Wilson looks pleased with herself.

Pumas’ positions and chip times;

518 Paul Hopkinson 1:41:39

519 Jenny Hopkinson 1:41:41

1,524 Sharon Wilson 2:04:16

2,020 Alison Shooter 2:18:05

“That’s what you get for all your troubles.”

Bradford City Runs 2017

Bradford City Runs,

Sunday, 29 October, 2017.

On Sunday, Bradford MDC hosted the sixth Bradford City Runs, a unique event which includes three races on one course. Here, one loop of 5k gives the runners the chance to view the city in all its glory as the course skirts the centre. But for those who couldn’t take it in first time around, then two laps, therefore 10k, might do for you. Here, Pumas’ very own Simon Wilkinson, Mark Brook and Bryonie King decided that this was the option that suited them. Tiffany Lewis, on the other hand, is someone who works in Bradford and therefore perhaps felt duty-bound to pay the city of her workplace full homage. She elected to run four laps (and a little bit more) to thus complete the half marathon event. Watching frustratingly from the side-lines was Wendy Hewitt. She’d registered to run the 10k but had to pull out due to illness.

Mark Brook, Tiffany Lewis and Simon Wilkinson pose pre-race. One of these runners will run more than twice as far as each of the other two. Can you work out who?

All three races started off simultaneously at 9.30am from Centenary Square, the route taking the runners up Thornton Road, left down Longside Lane, left into Shearbridge Road before picking up Great Horton Road and heading back towards the city centre, having circumnavigated the University of Bradford. Dropping down Morley Street, the route passes the Alhambra Theatre on the left and continues around the Magistrates Court along Princes Way, along Norfolk Gardens with City Hall on the left, then picking up Broadway, looping around the shopping centre and heading towards Little Germany and a slight climb via Well Street, Vicar Lane and Peckover Street. The route then heads back down towards the city centre, passing Bradford Cathedral on Church Bank, then continuing down Lower Kirkgate, into Hustlergate and Market Street and into Centenary Square to complete one circuit. Each route finishes with a three-quarter loop of City Park Mirror Pool and Fountain to finish beneath the Magistrates Court.

Mark and Simon capture the atmosphere on the start line with this all-important selfie.

The 10k event attracted the most interest – 416 runners as opposed to 287 running the 5k race – with Simon Wilkinson determined to achieve one of his targets for the year, that of completing this distance in under fifty minutes. Incredibly, he ran the first half of the race in 23:56 to give him a great chance, and though he slowed somewhat over the second circuit, he managed to finish in a personal best of 49 minutes 13. He was, of course, #FPH. A fantastic achievement, and clearly the sky’s the limit for this Puma. If he carries on like this, he’ll probably go beyond that, too!

Tiffany Lewis wades through the hoards of runners shortly into her race. At this point, there’s just about another thirteen miles to go.

Several weeks ago, Mark Brook completed the Cannonball Brighouse 10k in 54:52 on a course that was as flat as anyone could have expected. So it was always interesting to see how he’d fare on this Bradford circuit where there were slight climbs, a pull up to Little Germany but nifty downhill sections. Mark’s been coming on leaps and bounds, so it surprised no one who’s been following his progress to see him complete this course in an even quicker time of 54:15. Obviously he’s getting fitter and faster, though just what was behind this time we’re not quite sure. It could be that he was still on a high after attending a Little Mix concert two nights earlier – or perhaps it’s the benefit of all that looping paying off. Asked how he felt after completing the two laps, Mark, a man of few words, replied, “Great.” He said the same when describing the Little Mix concert.

Simon passes the watering station and is ready to start his second circuit. He’s just run an impressive sub 24-minute first lap and will smash that fifty-minute barrier.

Bryonie King was not only representing the Pumas for the first time, or running her first 10k race. She was, so she tells me, running her first race EVER! Her time, therefore, of 1:01:59 is encouraging. Bryonie will have a good crack at lowering this next time out – which is this weekend when she, like scores of other Pumas, tackle the Abbey Dash.

Bryonie King returns to the finish line to proudly show off her medal having completed her first ever race.

There were 195 runners taking part in the Half Marathon, among them Tiffany Lewis, who’s willing to try any event over any type of terrain. Field and fountain, moor and mountain, she doesn’t care. Always with a smile, she was well acquainted with the sights and sounds of Bradford as she trooped around, coming home in what was, for her, a personal best of 2:09:36. She finished 151st and was also seventh in her age category. She felt the course was “hillier than expected” but at least her Strava showed an impressive increase in her elevation gain (996 feet!) – because she had to do the same circuit four times!

Tiffany heads towards the finish line, her smile telling you all you need to know; a half marathon personal best.

Pumas’ finishing positions and chip times;

10k race –

80 Simon Wilkinson 49:13

169 Mark Brook 54:15

283 Bryonie King 1:01:59

Half Marathon –

151 Tiffany Lewis 2:09:36

Manchester Half Marathon 2017

Manchester Half Marathon,

Sunday, 15 October, 2017.

The Pumas ready to roar in Manchester.

“If you only enter one half marathon this year, make it the Manchester Half Marathon. One of the flattest and fastest around. Only 41m of elevation gain and a two- mile finishing straight, we expect to see some very fast times here.” So said the event organisers, and whilst all this may be true, many Pumas were backwards at coming forwards. Perhaps some were put off by the unearthly o’clock rising time to be ready for the 6.45 bus. Others maybe by the thought of running thirteen-and-a-half miles. Or it could have been a bit of both. Whatever, there were twenty-eight Pumas running the inaugural Manchester Half Marathon last year; this time around, there were just less than half that number, with only five reappearing. And that despite this event being the latest in the club championship – the last until February. They were all aboard on time, save for Paul Pickering, who, having slept in (by all accounts) and missed the bus, made his own way there, and Philippa Denham, who had elected to stay over in Manchester the night before. “One less thing to worry about,” she said.

Last year, the race got under way in a downpour; there was little chance of that happening this time, and on one of the warmest mid-October mornings we’ve seen in a long time, over eight-and-a-half thousand runners lined up for the 9.00am start. Ahead of them lay 13.1 miles, the route familiar to a few Pumas, not so to most.

Ah, a pre-race selfie. Here, we’ve got Jodie Knowles, Helen Jackson, the shy Carine Baker, Paul Bottomley, Sarah Haigh, Sharon Wilson and Matt Newton.

The course took the runners around the Salford area, up the A56 Bridgewater Way and looping all around Stretford via East Union Street, Henrietta Street, St John’s Road, King’s Road, Seymour Grove and Talbot Road. It then rejoined Chester Road for the long run due south west all the way to the Crossford Bridge and into Cross Street and Washway Road. The runners then negotiated several back streets to join Hope Road, Broad Road, Dane Road, before the run for home back down Chester Road. The course veered off into Talbot Road to the finish line just outside Lancashire County Cricket Club.

As expected, Tim Brook was #FPH, clocking 1:29:59 but thereby managing to finish, as he had done at Fleetwood, inside an hour and a half – if just by one second. Mind, had it not been for an unscheduled pit-stop (and no one actually timed how long it took him) he perhaps could have set a new PB. Next in was Tom Moran, who, having taken his lucky Calderdale Way Relay Leg Six map with him once more, found his way around the course without any problem. But hailing from the area, perhaps it had more to do with the fact that he was running on home turf.

All’s well with Jodie Knowles.

One of the happiest Pumas was Sarah Haigh. Upon finishing in a time of 1:49:27 she admitted to being “pretty chuffed” but was quick to give praise to Matt Newton, who paced her all the way. As the pair hit the ten-mile mark, they consoled themselves with the thought that “it was just a parkrun now” but they were having to deal with increasing temperatures. Matt would describe the conditions as “hot, hot, hot”, but despite this, his time this year was a vast improvement on last year’s – almost four minutes quicker. “Sweet, I’m well impressed,” he gleamed when notified.

Carine Baker obliges for the paparazzi.

Simon Wilkinson continues to defy logic. As his parkrun times have begun to dip under the 24-minute mark, similarly his half marathon times have continued to impress. Last year at Manchester: 1:57:32. Such a time is but a distant memory as he managed to run nearly SIX minutes faster. His reaction? “Pretty damn chuffed,” and like other Pumas, acknowledged the help and encouragement he’s been given at the club. He’s certainly reaping the benefits. Simon was out running on Friday and found the pull up through Shibden Park and Kirk Lane something of a breeze. We all knew he’d smash Manchester!

Matt Newton paces Sarah Haigh,but she will beat him by a second.

Julie Bowman was also out running Friday, grimacing at times, and when put on the spot, admitted she was hoping to get under 1:50. We all know she has it in her to do this, but feeling slightly under the weather, she came home in 1:52:01. But she was still pleased with her time, as was Peter Reason, who also completed the course in under two hours, setting his own personal best. Paul Bottomley was keen to snap up a spare place and in the event he did himself justice. Running ten miles at York seven days earlier, he found the extra three miles no real problem, despite the heat. Also ducking under the two-hour mark was Jodie Knowles, a work in progress, but improving with every stride. Two years ago she ran her first half marathon at Leeds, completing the course in 2:20:57. Acknowledging the help the Pumas have played in her development, particular with the long Sunday morning run sessions with Ian Marshall, this time Jodie ran over twenty minutes faster, admitting, “To say there has been a big improvement in my time is an understatement! Goes to show how much my first year as a Puma has helped me with my running!”

Helen Jackson completed the course in 2 hours 7 minutes exactly but despite running slower than twelve months previously, was still upbeat. “I’ll take that, as race prep hasn’t gone quite to plan. Thanks to Pumas as ever for the amazing support,” she said, then praised Andrew Mellor for helping her over the last couple of miles. Andrew’s another runner who’s come on leaps and bounds; he ran his first half marathon at Leeds in May, clocking 2 hours 19 minutes, so you can imagine that having gone around in 2:05:49 here he was very satisfied. Upon finishing, both Andrew and Helen made a pledge that next time they’ll both crack two hours. And who’d bet against it?

Tim Brook approaching the finish line. #FPH

This run at Manchester was the first of two half marathons Sharon Wilson is running in the space of two weeks; her next on 29 October is at Worksop. She’s raising money on behalf of the Yorkshire Cancer Centre. She didn’t set any records here, but maybe will do in a fortnight’s time. Meantime, Carine Baker admitted to being out over the weekend – not running, just out – and seemed happy with the fact that she managed to complete the course at all! While Rachael Hawkins gave it her all in an effort to beat her target of two hours and fifteen minutes. She wasn’t far off, but her initial disappointment was soon set aside when she realised just how far she’s come, and we’re not talking of the coach trip over the Pennines. And then there were the memories of the day which made it all so special. “I thoroughly enjoyed every step of the way,” Rachael said – and that was before she took to the wine.

Peter Reason’s almost there. This image will go down in Pumas’ folklore.

Having arrived unnoticed, Paul Pickering slipped into the pack, then ran steady away to finish in just over two hours and eighteen minutes. No one knows if he was happy with his time or not – it was a reasonable one when all’s said and done – as he left in the manner in which he’d arrived; unnoticed!

Philippa Denham, achieving things beyond her wildest dreams.

But the runner who surprised herself more than she surprised her friends who know her best, was Philippa Denham. This was her first half marathon, and running one was something that she wouldn’t have even contemplated several months ago. But urged on by Ian Marshall, she geared herself up for the challenge and on the starting line she was nothing but positive. In the end, Philippa managed to complete the thirteen and a half miles – without stopping I might add – in 2:33:54, and on crossing the finish line, was ecstatic. “I feel amazing,” she cried, and claimed completing this run had been the biggest achievement of her life! And if anyone was going to inspire others, then surely it was Philippa. She added, “One thing I’ve learnt today is; believe and you will achieve.” This could be a slogan which may take off.

What about a post-race selfie? Happy to oblige are Simon Wilkinson with Julie Bowman and Tom Moran.
Andrew Mellor is happy to pose with his new best friend Rachael Hawkins, showing off their newly claimed bling and T-shirt.

Once everyone had crossed the line and the latest T-Shirt and medal neatly adorned, the Pumas made their way back to the bus and relaxed on the journey home. Where, waiting for them at the clubhouse, were drinks and FREE food, kindly organised by the new Mrs Coupe. These Pumas are a pampered lot – but they’ll happily tell you that they deserve to be!

Back at base, the Pumas receive a tumultuous reception. Those smiles disguise the desperate need to get to the bar.

Pumas’ finishing positions and times;

404 Tim Brook 1:29:59

1,196 Tom Moran 1:41:35

2,085 Sarah Haigh 1:49:27

2,088 Matt Newton 1:49:28

2,392 Simon Wilkinson 1:51:45

2,434 Julie Bowman 1:52:01

3,167 Peter Reason 1:57:15

3,262 Paul Bottomley 1:57:57

3,461 Jodie Knowles 1:59:04

4,239 Andrew Mellor 2:05:49

4,382 Helen Jackson 2:07:00

4,568 Sharon Wilson 2:08:26

4,887 Carine Baker 2:11:06

5,490 Rachael Hawkins 2:16:48

5,632 Paul Pickering 2:18:21

6,679 Philippa Denham 2:33:54

If anyone sees this man, please stop and say hello. Goes by the name of Paul Pickering.

Great North Run 2017


Sunday, 10 September 2017.

The Great North Run is one of the major events in the athletics calendar, certainly the biggest in Britain, and one that was inspired by the former Gateshead Olympic medallist Brendan Foster. First staged in June 1981, the race evolved out Britain’s first-ever Fun Run which was held on 29 October 1977, an event, incidentally, which I was privy to as I was there that day running for Halifax Harriers as a thirteen-year-old in the Gateshead Road Races.

The first Great North Run was competed for by 12,000 runners. The event has grown considerably in stature since then and over the years has attracted many top athletes and famous names, such as Mo Farah, Haile Gebrselassie, Kevin Keegan, Paul Gascoigne (who pushed wheelchair-bound Maureen Martin around in 1986), Nell McAndrew, Ricky Wilson, Jon Culshaw, Davina McCall and Andy Haslam.

The iconic 13.1-mile half marathon route starts just outside the centre of Newcastle on the central motorway. Continuing down the A167 the course takes the runners past Jesmond, Haymarket, Monument and Central Station before arriving at the Newcastle side of the Tyne Bridge. Here, as the runners cross the bridge they approach the two-mile mark. At this point, as usual, there is the fly over of the Red Arrows. Having entered Gateshead and being welcomed by the shimming sight of The Sage, runners are directed on the A184 to make their way towards Heworth. On route, they pass the renowned Gateshead Stadium as they approach the three-mile mark. Having entered Gateshead, the route continues on the A184 for the beginning of a six-mile stretch before being taken onto the A194. This takes the runners into South Tyneside, and they pass the eight-mile mark at the A19 interchange. Taking the A1300, participants pass Whiteleas and Centenary Avenue before they change onto the A183 just past Marsden Lane at the twelve-mile mark. Now on the home stretch in South Shields, runners are welcomed by the view of the sea in one of the most scenic and enjoyable parts of the whole course. With just over a mile to go on Prince Edward road, runners are cheered profusely as they make their way to the finishing line.

Claire Ramsbottom supplies the start-line selfie – and gets photobombed.

Yesterday, the 43,127-strong field included sixteen Northowram Pumas, most taking part for the first time. Each had their own reasons for being there, some raising money for charity, others doing it, in the words of George Mallory on why he set out to conquer Everest, “Because it’s there”. Sadly, Mallory never returned from his quest in 1923; happily, all Pumas made it to the finish line, all proud as punch for achieving what they’d set out do. There would have been others there, too, but for a variety of reasons (injury, other commitments) they had to miss out.

One person who’d missed out on seeing the start live over the previous 36 years was instigator Brendan Foster, but now retired from the BBC commentary box, he was there to start off all the runners at Spital Tongues, the elite wheelchair race getting under way first at 10.10am. Five minutes later, the gun sounded for the start of the elite women’s race, and at 10.40 the elite men and mass ranks of thousands behind set off, though for the likes of Mo Farah and his compatriots, he had no problem at all in getting into his stride. Some of the competitors would take over an hour to reach the starting point!

It wasn’t a particularly warm day; there was a definite cold snap in the air, something which gave Katrina Wood a bit of a dilemma; what or what not to wear. In the end, she went with bright pink T-shirt under her Pumas’ top, with neat Karrimor black peaked cap. A pair who had decided weeks in advance of exactly how they were going to dress up for the event were Cathy Farley and Katharine Barnett. Raising money for a Bradford cat rescue centre, they’d already left all those at the Brighouse parkrun open-mouthed eight days earlier when they arrived sitting inside their unicorn – or Pumacorn – outfits; now they were going to show all of Tyneside, too. And didn’t they just? Not only catching the eye of the thousands of spectators, but also those of a roadside BBC reporter who pulled them aside for a quick chat – live on TV in front of a few million viewers.

Carla Roxann watches on while Cathy Farley and Katharine Barnett give a live roadside interview to the BBC and become overnight sensations in their Pumacorn outfits. Their panto fees may rise, however.

Those who lined the route or watched on television from the comfort of their front rooms doubtless had an interest in Olympic champion Mo Farah, to see if he could pull off a record fourth successive Great North Run victory. He successfully managed it by pulling away from New Zealand’s Jake Robertson in the final 200 metres, but while Mo basked in his personal glory (lying prostrate on the tarmac), Robertson duly got down on his knees to propose to partner Magdalyne Masai (who’d finished fourth in the ladies’ race) seconds after he crossed the line.

But what more of our local interest? Well, the honour of being #FPH fell to relative newcomer Andrew Barnes, who finished in a time of 1hour 35:19, some two minutes faster than second Puma Rick Ralph. Rick was back in good time to cheer home wife Anna, who completed the course in 2 hours 14:05.

There were no smiles from Mo Farah as he approached the finish line, but you can always guarantee one from Julie Bowman and Vicky Owen

Paul and Jenny Hopkinson were representing Halifax Harriers once again, and as at Fleetwood three weeks earlier, Paul took the domestic honours (with a personal best to boot). And Vicky Owen would be the first to acknowledge the invaluable help given to her by Julie Bowman (who had selflessly helped Matt Newton prepare for the London Marathon earlier this year). Both Julie and Vicky comfortably managed sub-two hours and seemingly had more trouble finding their way back to the car. Agonisingly, though, Katrina Wood missed beating the two-hour mark by just 29 seconds. Yet she should still feel proud of her achievements; several weeks earlier injury looked to have threatened her participation at all.

Claire Ramsbottom was quick to praise friend Rachael Hawkins (who’d she travelled up with) and fellow Pumas after completing the race in just over 2 hours 16 minutes. “Super proud of myself, what an amazing event and couldn’t have done it without my amazing friend Rachael Hawkins and the fab Pumas,” she exclaimed post-race. Rachael, to her credit, finished in 2 hours 33:08.

Rachael Hawkins and Claire Ramsbottom show off their medals while sporting their commemorative T-shirt (Rachael’s is under there somewhere). Oh, and a glass of Prosseco? It’d be rude not to.
Just outside the two-hour mark, but Katrina Wood has got her medal and that’s all that counts.

Hard on her Yorkshire Lass Sportive thirty-mile bike ride four weeks ago, Sarah Firth donned running shoes to complete the Great North Run in a respectable 2 hours 16|:28, whilst Brett Swiffen and partner Rachel Calvert continued their impressive road to fitness. The vagaries of the system meant that Brett finished two places in front of Rachel, though she managed the course eight seconds faster!

The backdrop suggests the Red Arrows were flying over especially for Brett Swiffen and Rachel Calvert. Perhaps they should have done.

Perhaps the final word should be left to Carla Roxann. After finishing her first half marathon, she paid tribute to the Pumas, and the run leaders in particular. “I just want to say a massive thank you to our run leaders! If it wasn’t for them, especially Ian Marshall, I wouldn’t have done as well as I did today at the Great North Run!” Carla only ran her first parkrun last April and joined the Pumas the following month. She’s put the work in and the long Sunday sessions have certainly paid off. Serving as an inspiration to others, Carla added, “For those who think you can’t do it, you can! I always told myself I couldn’t run, but I did!”

Carla Roxann – an inspiration to others. “If I can do it, so can you!”

Northowram Pumas’ finishing positions and times were;

1,696 Andrew Barnes 1hr 35:19

2,167 Rick Ralph 1hr 37:32

2,213 Paul Hopkinson 1hr 37:44

7,625 Jenny Hopkinson 1hr 52:08

9,460 Julie Bowman 1hr 55:18

10,553 Victoria Owen 1hr 57:08

12,812 Katrina Wood 2hr 00:29

22,026 Claire Ramsbottom 2hr 16:12

22,146 Sarah Firth 2hr 16:28

27,234 Carla Roxann 2hr 25:48

29,714 Anna Ralph 2hr 14:05

30,890 Rachael Hawkins 2hr 33:08

41,282 Brett Swiffen 3hr 21:08

41,284 Rachel Calvert 3hr 21:01

42,756 Katharine Barnett 3hr 56:04

42,757 Cathy Farley 3hr 56:05

Vale of York Half Marathon 2017


Sherburn-in-Elmet, York, Sunday 10 September.

Whilst the Great North Run may have been grabbing all the media attention on Sunday, in an event a little closer to home, and one a little less congested, Alison Shooter, Adam Standeven and Shaun Casey were representing the Northowram Pumas in the must-do, sell-out Vale of York Half Marathon.

Adam Standeven and Shaun Casey appear all cheery under York’s grey, cloudy skies.

This event starts on a race track and ends by a runway and takes in scenic closed roads on the way. Setting off in Sherburn-in-Elmet, the route heads south-west before doubling back, going past the start line then veering off left up Lennerton Lane before turning right and continuing along Bishopdyke Road for almost a mile. The route then swings right into Scalm Lane; this may be the longest section but it’s also the most picturesque, with fields and woodlands to your left and right at any given time. At the crossroads with Broad Lane, the route turns a left then completes a clockwise loop, taking in Broad Lane, Windgate Hill Lane (the halfway point) and Long Lane, which winds its way around to eventually reach the Broad Lane-Scalm Lane crossroads, with just over four miles to go. Then it’s a case of retracing the route back along Scalm Lane and Bishopdyke Road, before completing the last mile by turning left into New Lennerton Lane.

An event such as this wouldn’t be complete without a Pumas’ pre-race selfie, and here Alison Shooter doesn’t disappoint!

The BBC cameras may have been conspicuous by their absence, and conditions slightly overcast, but the field of 1,621 runners soon warmed up after they were set on their way at 9.30am.

The Vale of York Half Marathon is depicted as fast and flat, and therefore reckons to be the perfect course to lower a runner’s personal best. Here, as far as Adam and Shaun were concerned, it didn’t disappoint. A little over an hour and half after setting off, Adam was #FPH, completing the course in 1hr 33:53, his fastest time to date over this distance – just. Two years ago, he completed the Liverpool Rock and Roll Half Marathon six seconds slower! A little further down the field, Shaun Casey must have been satisfied with his new PB, finishing in 1hr 41:44 (at Liverpool in 2015, Shaun finished in 1hr 42:31). It’s hard to imagine that while they were finishing, many runners in the Great North Run in Newcastle wouldn’t even have reached the start line! Adam and Shaun only entered the race on Wednesday, wanting to be part of Strava’s attempt to create a world record (and helped in no small way by those using the app at the Great North Run) for the most half marathons run in a single day.

Adam Standeven finished in time to whip out his camera and capture Shaun Casey crossing the line.

As for Alison Shooter. Well, she didn’t quite manage her own personal best (achieved, incidentally, at the Humber Bridge Half Marathon in June), coming home in 2hr 20:39, but she was, nevertheless, still proud to be a Puma!

Northowram Pumas’ positions, finishing times and category positions;

286 Adam Standeven 1hr 33:53 (M40, 41/175)

482 Shaun Casey 1hr 41:44 (M45, 63/143)

1,490 Alison Shooter 2hr 20:39 (F50, 53/62).