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.
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.
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!”
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 fourth race in the Winter League was hosted by Skipton Harriers on Sunday, and, as last year, they’d set out a simple three-lapped course around Aireville Park and adjacent golf course. I use the word ‘simple’ loosely. I can testify that when the Pumas sampled the delights just over a year ago, it was challenging enough. It seems this time around, conditions were worse. Those runners living on high ground had woken up to a covering of snow and there was the ever-so-slight possibility that this race may have had to be put on the back-burner on Health & Safety grounds. Sadly – if that’s the right word – there was no such luck.
The Pumas were represented by 27 runners, a number that could possibly have been doubled had Neil Coupe not enticed a ferry load to what he termed a ‘sight-seeing weekend’ of Amsterdam to help celebrate his birthday (by all accounts, he didn’t have to try too hard to get his numbers up). Among his party were several runners who more than likely would have scored points at Skipton, so it could be argued that, despite managing a great set of results regardless, the team could have done even better. This augurs well.
Aireville Park is probably picturesque in summer; perhaps not so much at the beginning of February, and the course, around 4½ miles long, was always going to be prove a stern test even before one considered the elements. The main obstacle, indeed, a recurring theme, seems to have been the mud of the thick variety type. The course was changed slightly from the previous year, with the mud section at the entrance to the golf course encountered only on the way in, therefore the runners waded through it just the three rimes as opposed to the six the year before. Having run the perimeter of the golf course and climbed up through the woods, the runners re-entered the park higher up. This meant the route was slightly shorter but it was no less easy because of it. In fact, the general consensus was that the course was harder than last year because of the sapping mud, which was just about everywhere, and worsened with each lap as over 270 runners pounded, slipped and slid their way around.
The race was won by Adrian Holliday of Crossgate Harriers, who crossed the line just before Jon Ding was about to start his last lap. But Jon, who finished 133rd, had a great run himself and scored yet again to help the Pumas’ Supervets team attain their highest ever points tally. First home for the team in this category was Robert Shirlaw, who was 86th, and the Supervets, bolstered by the first appearance this season of Jenny Hopkinson (spurred along the way by husband Paul), scored 676 points to finish seventh on the day, their highest placing of the season.
First Puma home was Veteran Tim Brook, going one better than in his last two outings by finishing tenth. He was followed home by Luke Cranfield (18th), and the Pumas’ Male team scoring was completed by Deke Banks, Andy Haslam, Robert Shirlaw and Vets Rick Ralph and Andy Barnes. They totalled 1,800 points and finished sixth, equalling their position on home soil two weeks earlier.
Taking the honour for the first time as first female Puma home was Jane Cole, who ran a superb race to finish 123rd. Classed as the Veteran scorer, Jane was backed up by Ally Canning, Jenny Hopkinson and, scoring for the first time, Sarah Haigh. They totalled 1,103 points and finished fifth.
The Veterans’ scorers were thus Tim Brook, Rick Ralph and Jane Cole; they totalled 856 points, a score which gave them a sensational second position on the day. They were, in fact, just twenty points behind leaders Baildon. Not only was this the highest position the Vets had achieved – and don’t forget, they were placed only seventh after the first race at Dewsbury – it was also the highest place any of the Pumas’ teams had attained throughout the season (and last season, for that matter).
All-in-all, it had been quite a day and once everyone had recovered, experiences were shared, with the main topic of conversation being, of course, the conditions, and in particular, the mud. When Andy Haslam takes to social media to give his account, you know it’s serious stuff. “The course was much more difficult today when compared to last year, purely due to the mud,” The said. “The hill out of the woods, especially on lap three, was horrendous.” Andrew Tudor concurred: “There was mud everywhere,” he said, “The hill up to the top of the golf course was worse [than last year] and even the faster runners were struggling to run up it, and when you fell it was very difficult to get back up and get going.” When asked for his initial reaction, Paul Hopkinson said the course had been “very, very, very muddy”, whilst Dawn Higgins admitted, “It was like having lead boots on,” and when pressed further, had this to say: “Mud? From the initial ascent, then down to the gate, it soon became ankle deep, which was nice; wet feet to start with! The uphill beyond that was muddy, downhill was treacherous due to the mud. The sections through the trees were muddy. Uphill was ridiculously difficult due to the mud (have I mentioned that yet?) but on the plus side, coming down through the trees was so muddy no one was overtaking anyone as it was, you guessed it, muddy!” I think we get her drift. And debutant Lynsay Riding had this to say of her first experience of the Winter League: “I’m glad I did it but I don’t think it’s really for me! I’m not sure whether it was just a bad course because of the muddy conditions but it was really hard to get a proper momentum and pace because of slipping everywhere and it felt a lot more than four miles. It was really tiring and hard work.”
Everyone had something to say, and it seems they were all glad when it was over. But the final word must be reserved for the aforementioned Andrew Tudor, Ian Evans and Lisa Aspinall. All suffered injuries and, using horse-racing parlance, were pulled up. Andrew retired at the end of the second lap having struggled around on his one good leg, whilst Ian felt his knees giving way on the hills, something that was particularly galling for him as he’d travelled all the way from Manchester especially for the event. Lisa, making her long awaited Winter League debut after capturing so much of it on film, jarred her knee coming down a slope on the second lap and on partner Tim Brook’s medical advice, decided it best not to carry on. Thankfully, upon inspection, none were deemed ready for the knacker’s yard and will hopefully be fit for the next Winter League race hosted by Stainland Lions on 25 February, although Lisa’s involvement is more likely of capturing the action rather than being part of it.
Pumas’ finishing positions;
10 Tim Brook (MV)
18 Luke Cranfield (M)
24 Rick Ralph (MV)
46 Deke Banks (M)
65 Andy Barnes (MV)
77 Andy Haslam (MV)
86 Robert Shirlaw (MSV)
120 Shaun Casey (MV)
123 Jane Cole (FV)
133 Jon Ding (MSV)
141 Ally Canning (F)
174 Paul Hopkinson (MSV)
175 Jenny Hopkinson (FSV)
177 Tom O’Reilly (MV)
203 Sarah Haigh (FV)
212 Lynsay Riding (FV)*
215 Dawn Higgins (FV)
219 Helen Jackson (FV)
220 Jodie Knowles (F)
224 Anna Ralph (FV)
227 Katrina Wood (FSV)
231 Paula Snee (FV)
236 Kathryn Cleaver (FV)
250 Gabriella Kenny (FV)
Lisa Aspinall, Andrew Tudor and Ian Evans all retired.
Photos courtesy of Dave Butler and Robert Samuels.
Records were tumbling left, right and centre amongst the Northowram Pumas when they took on the Dewsbury 10k on Sunday. This flat out-and-back course is recommended for those looking for a personal best, but by the look of some of the times here, they actually took the term ‘smashed it’ to another level.
The Pumas’ On Tour Express was called upon once more, with resident mad-cap driver Neil Coupe making sure the entourage arrived safely. All-told, there were eighteen Pumas taking part; the unfortunate Debbie Fox, who ran this event last year and subsequently introduced us to the charms of Big T’s Enchanted Café for breakfast, was a last minute withdrawal, whilst others who pulled out earlier included Glenn Ackroyd, Gill Holmes and cruel flu-victim Shana Emmerson, but their places were filled by others. Claire Ramsbottom hadn’t intended running but when her friend Sonia Hobman found herself unable to make it, our Claire happily stepped in.
There were over one thousand two hundred runners who lined up for the 9.00am start, but they set off on time in near perfect running conditions, heading out on the A652 Bradford Road for three miles, before turning around and heading back to the Dewsbury town centre and the finish line. Almost exactly the same as in previous years, if we overlook the over-zealous officials who had us run an extra two hundred metres last year.
As with the Abbey Dash, this was all about the time, and the Pumas truly excelled themselves. Taking the honours of #FPH was Luke Cranfield, finishing 76th in an incredible time of 36:24, a performance made all the more remarkable given that up until zero hour he was undecided whether or not to bother running, not to mention that fact that he’d never run below forty minutes before either! Tim Brook may have been disappointed to have followed him home, some twelve places behind, but his time of 36:43 was a personal best for him, too, and by some way. Back in November he ran the Abbey Dash in what was then his fastest time of 37:57. So he could be satisfied, himself, really.
Rick Ralph was third Puma home, knocking a sizeable chunk off his previous best, whilst behind him was Jude Roberts, feeling totally giddy after going sub-forty minutes for the first time. Also raising – or lowering – his own bar was Matt Newton, coming home in 41:27, while Kirsty Edwards was the first female Puma home, clocking 44:42, an astonishing time, over 2 ½ minutes faster than she ran at the Abbey Dash. Peter Reason was happy with his time of 46:26, whilst Simon Wilkinson used up every last fibre of energy to pip Neil Coupe on the line, although he may not have done had Neil not been running on a self-diagnosed ‘half-a-lung’, nor had an earlier shoe lace malfunction.
Ian Evans continued his rapidly improving form. At the Abbey Dash he completed the 10k course in just over an hour; at Dewsbury he showed just what can be done with sheer hard work and dedication by finishing in 47:21, some thirteen minutes faster. There was also a personal best for Sarah Haigh, whilst Claire Ramsbottom was beside herself after running her first-ever sub fifty. As, too, was Jodie Knowles, who knocked over three minutes off her previous best, whilst young Charlotte Reason was also delighted with her fastest-ever time. And a special word must be reserved for Dawn Higgins, who took part despite a niggling knee injury. She still managed to set her fastest time over 10k despite running on one leg. I must try it myself sometime.
Completing Pumas’ set were Helen Jackson, happily getting back into the swing of things after her own injury problems and satisfied with a time of 54:49, and Anna Ralph, for though she may have been the last team member home, her time of 55:15 represented her own personal best, being a minute and half faster than at the Jane Tomlinson Run For All event last July.
When all had been safely gathered in, and times had been digested, scrutinised and then compared like-for-like, almost in the manner of children with their school reports, attention was then diverted to the race’s biggest talking point. The finishers’ T-shirt. I know much hard work goes into all the planning of these events, and it wouldn’t be right for me to belittle the organisers, but it does seem that whoever designed the logo that emblazoned the front of the shirts was either in a very churlish mood, or was just plain naive. Either way, it grabbed all the headlines for the wrong reasons, but who knows, maybe record entries next year?
Over the course of the weekend, the group which is affectionately known as It’s Grim Up North, staged their latest extravaganza. Termed ‘The Bolton Abbey Trail Running Festival’ it was held over two days, with the shorter distances reserved for the Saturday, and the longer events – half-marathon, marathon and Ultra (32 miles) races – set for Sunday.
The event caught the eye of two of our Pumas, Andrew Mellor and his good friend Rachael Hawkins, the pair perhaps being drawn to the phrase ‘festival’. This normally lends itself to the thought of lights, singing and dancing, and while Rachael has been known to skip a light fandango and Andrew has recently been seen doing cartwheels across the floor, I’m not sure this is the sort of thing the organisers were looking for.
Nevertheless, Andrew and Rachael were so mad keen for this that they set off on Saturday at the crack of dawn, either to make a full day of it, or perhaps just to make sure they got a car parking spot. Either way, they arrived at Bolton Abbey before the bread man and duly soaked up everything while the atmosphere gradually built to a crescendo as they were called to order.
There were two main events on the Saturday, the 5k and the obviously longer 10k, which is what Andrew and Rachael had put themselves down for. As the organisers had pre-warned, it wasn’t one for the faint-hearted (which trail races are these days?), offering, among other delights, tough hills, mud, steep descents, and if that wasn’t enough, then there were always the freakish fiends lurking in the woods, if folklore is to be believed that is. Apparently, an apparition of an Augustan monk in a brown robe has been witnessed on many occasions walking through the rectory towards the ruined abbey, whilst along the Bolton Strid, one of the most fearsome stretches of water in the British Isles, there’s the legendary tale of the lovers who tried to leap across the waters, only to be drowned. Passers-by – and Festival runners, perhaps – may hear to this day the girl’s desperate cries as she went under. And finally, there’s the Barguest of Troller’s Gill, a gigantic long haired hound from hell, whose eyes are like red saucers and razor sharp teeth which drip with blood.
None of the 128 runners seemed put off at all by any or all of the above, and despite the nasty cold weather which saw rain turn to sleet, they set off on their merry way. It was a two-lapped course beginning on the other side of the bridge from the café and, unsurprisingly, Andrew and Rachael were never too far from each other. The trail took them up through the woods following the path, down the steps across the river bridge, out into muddy fields towards Bolton Abbey itself, around the abbey, following the road round before descending steps into more mud, through the car park and back to the café, to start the second lap.
Andrew was destined to finish some twenty-six seconds ahead of Rachael, coming home 53rd in 1:01:32. Of the event, he said, “It was a nice change of scenery, very cold and wet, but I would do it again.” Meanwhile, Rachael, who finished two places behind him, had a dramatic tale to tell of her own from the closing stages of the race. Rachael, pray tell us what happened? “Ok, so today whilst wearing my Pumas vest, I was on the home stretch, running for my life, when I heard someone running behind me. I thought ‘Not a chance you’re beating me, mate!’ I shouted to some people watching, ‘Is he on my tail?’ to which they replied ‘Yes!’, so I upped my game and ran quicker, got to a gate and opened it, then shut it behind me really quickly so he had to stop and open it himself.” Skulduggery at its best. You could almost imagine Pumas’ chairman Andy Haslam looking out from his broadsheet and beaming, “That’s ma girl.” With adrenalin flowing, Rachael would not be caught and finished in 1:01:58.
Upon finishing, the runners received their goodie bag which included a bottle of King Goblin, a Mars Bar (which Rachael ever so kindly gave to a frozen crying little boy stood with his dad taking photos) and a bright orange T-shirt, though Andrew and Rachael left the Bolton Abbey estate medal-less, with the words from the organisers that “they’ll be in the post” ringing in their ears.
Meanwhile, no one’s really sure who Rachael’s would-be pursuer was – apparently he’s keen to join the Pumas – though word has it (and whisper this quietly to Rachael) that it may just have been the Barguest of Troller’s Gill.
Ploughing a lone furrow at the Meltham Tough 10k on Sunday was Pumas’ very own Jude Roberts. He was a brave man, indeed, for Meltham Harriers, who stage the race, pride themselves in calling it “the toughest 10k in town”. It’s one not for the faint-hearted, as it incorporates quite a few challenging hills, and situated out in the sticks, is susceptible to the elements. In 2014 they had two cases of hypothermia!
Indeed, high winds and pelting rain were a feature of this race and if that wasn’t enough to contend with, there’s always the odd injury that might get you. True; one female runner was reliant on the Colne Valley Mountain Rescue team to get her back to base after her calf muscle gave out shortly into the race.
Happily for Jude, he had no such problems and ran a strong race, no doubt spurred on by his two girls who’d made him feel extra special by making their own banner just for dad. How could he not run well when they’d gone to so much trouble?!
The rain and sleet arrived just in time for the 9.30am start, but Jude was soon amongst the front runners as the field left the Meltham Community Sports Centre for the initial downhill stretch which helped break the runners in. In essence, the route circumnavigates the Blackmoorfoot Reservoir, starting by heading up Broadlands Road to Helm Road, then taking up in Harrison Lane, Arborary Lane and Nopper Lane before taking a sharp left turn into Blackmoorfoot Road. This runs into Holt Head Road then the route swings around into Varley Road, then onto B6107 Slaithwaite Road for a long stretch that climbs to the highest point at 951 feet before the steep drop of about a mile towards the roundabout close to Morrisons supermarket. Here, you could see the runners – Jude amongst them – going hell for leather as they charged downhill, but then there’s one final climb to make, up the appropriately named Mean Lane which heads back towards the finish line at the Community Centre.
The race was won by Scott Hinchcliffe of the Penistone Footpath Runners in 35:16, although Jude wasn’t too far behind, coming home in 42:52 to finish 28th out of 327 finishers. “Got to be happy with that,” he beamed afterwards, and the general feeling amongst others was that so he should be!
It’s fair to say that Northowram Pumas delivered what it said on the tin; a league race set in winter. What would you expect? Hosting one of these unique events for the first time, if the feedback is anything to go by, they pulled it off in style. One visiting runner remarked, “Absolutely a credit to you guys for putting on the show. Doesn’t get any more XC than that!” But that wouldn’t even be telling half the tale!
The planning into what was the third race in the Winter League schedule, the course, the marshals, car-parking, you name it, was meticulous, and the visiting clubs were full of praise for everyone who worked behind the scenes. But as at South Leeds in the preceding race, the overnight frost caused some problems and necessitated a slight re-route, although the course itself was no less challenging for it.
To say the weather was cold would be – pardon the ironic pun – putting it mildly. It could have been described in one or two words, but let’s just say it was fit for brass monkeys. And that was just for the runners. The marshals, too, had to brave the elements, some for almost two hours, and the thought must have crossed their minds that there could have been better ways to spend a Sunday morning. So hats off to all of them.
The mass of runners gathered at Shelf Park, a venue that probably hasn’t had as many visitors at this time of year since – ever. Set for a 10.00am start, the race got under way just as the first flurry of snow landed on the heads. The course took the runners around the football pitch then had them descend into the woods, many treading gingerly in the manner of the secret lemonade drinker. Those at the front had a clear run, the main body of runners forced to form an orderly queue as they negotiated the steps. Once they’d hit the bottom there was the arduous climb up the other side before they entered the tarmacked Green Lane and heading right to the top corner. The long stretch down the track which was a continuation of Green Lane was welcome enough as it headed down towards Norwood Green, and once Village Street had been reached the runners followed the track that took them to the fun that is known as Judy Woods. Climbing up the infamous steps, the runners followed the path, emerging at a farm track, swinging around to the right, crossing fields and tracks before re-entering the woods and heading back up towards the top of Green Lane. By the time the runners reached this point, they were contending with a mini-blizzard, but at least they had a downhill canter towards Brow Lane before they entered the woods at the kissing gate. They were now on the homeward stretch, but Shelf Woods still has the knack of asking questions of each and every competitor. Slushy mud, steps, water, a brook, and if the sharp descent wasn’t hazardous enough, the climb up the other side and back into Shelf Park pushed the runners to almost breaking point. Many had already had the energy sapped out of their legs, but once they’d climbed out of the trees the finishing line was in sight, with many, if not most, reaching it in the manner of someone who had found the crock of gold at the foot of the rainbow.
The race was won by Crossgate Harriers’ Adrian Holliday – his wife Lindsay was second female home in 38th – whilst for the Pumas, Tim Brook was not only first home, but as at South Leeds two weeks earlier, he finished eleventh overall. Luke Cranfield was next, finishing eight places behind, though it must be added here that he and Tim between them had clocked up more than twenty miles, having checked the course early in the morning to make sure it hadn’t fallen foul of would-be saboteurs. The Pumas’ male team’s scoring was completed by Rick Ralph (34th), Jude Roberts (37th), Deke Banks (64th|), Andy Barnes (74th) and Shaun Casey (95th. They finished the day in sixth place of the fourteen competing clubs.
Tim Brook and Rick Ralph also scored for the Veterans’ team, and they were joined by Diane Cooper, now running back to her best, who was first female Puma home in 121st. They amassed 844 points. And the Super Vets, once again, managed a full quota of finishers, with Jon Ding (179th), Mark Kirkby (265th) and Katrina Wood (282nd) all scoring. But the real talking point, especially among the girls, was of the girls, who exceeded all expectations – or perhaps that’s doing them a disservice – by finishing an amazing third, as Diane was followed home by Ally Canning (135th), Kirsty Edwards (143rd) and Jane Cole, who came home in 173rd to give the team 1,127 points.
There had been Winter League debuts for Lindsay Grix, Karen Matos, William Bonfield and Carla Sharp, who elected to act as a tail-runner with Shana Emmerson, just to make sure nobody got lost. And despite the elements, there’s no doubting that the Pumas had pulled off a great event, well organised, cheery marshals, and the snow was, when all’s said and done, a fantastic bonus! The plaudits were led by Dewsbury’s Laura Pearmain, who said, “Thanks for a great run today, especially the marshals for standing out in those conditions. Think Northowram gets the prize for muddiest course so far this season!” But she was more grateful than most, in fact – her car needed to be given a shove by several runners to get her out of the car park!
Pumas finishing positions;
11 Tim Brook MV
19 Luke Cranfield M
34 Rick Ralph MV
37 Jude Roberts MV
64 Deke Banks M
74 Andy Barnes MV
95 Shaun Casey MV
115 Chris Crabtree M
121 Diane Cooper FV
128 Andrew Tudor MV
135 Ally Canning F
143 Kirsty Edwards FV
173 Jane Cole FV
179 Jon Ding MSV
185 Tom O’Reilly MV
188 Peter Reason MV
209 Victoria Owen F
210 Julie Bowman FV
218 Simon Wilkinson M
222 Ian Evans M
236 Paula Snee FV
237 Sarah Haigh FV
238 Matt Newton M
251 Andrew Mellor MV
253 Claire Ramsbottom F
255 Kathryn Cleaver FV
257 Dawn Higgins FV
265 Mark Kirkby MSV
268 William Bonfield M*
272 Lindsay Grix F*
282 Katrina Wood FSV
287 Anna Ralph FV
288 Jodie Knowles F
303 Tiffany Lewis FV
306 Neil Coupe MV
309 Gabriella Kenny FV
318 Charlotte Reason F
322 Jo Coupe FV
335 Karen Matos FV*
348 Carla Sharp F*
349 Shana Emmerson FV
With thanks for the use of photographs to Lisa Aspinall, Smith Photography and Steve Boyer.
Penistone Hill Country Park, Sunday, 14 January, 2018.
Northowram Puma Robert Shirlaw enjoys fell running, and so once again he made the trip to Penistone Hill Country Park, near Haworth, for the thirty-fifth staging of the Stanbury Splash. This event in the past, I believe, has been hosted by the recently retired Woodheads, so it was Wharfedale Harriers who staged the event for the first time.
The race starts in the quarry at the bottom of Penistone Hill and circuits the upper reaches of Ponden Clough and Stanbury Moor. The Wharfedale Harriers website describes the route as follows: ‘Starting from the quarry bottom on Penistone, turn right onto the road and then left onto the Bronte Way track. Just past the ruins of Middle Intake Farm it turns right through a gate and down through the fields to cross Sladen Beck, the first of many times for wet feet. It’s then an inevitably muddy climb, back up the other side to reach the track continuing from Back Lane. Turn left, uphill, on a good track, to Upper Heights Farm where the route branches right on a narrow footpath to circuit Ponden Clough and passing by Ponden Kirk. On a clear day there are magnificent views down the Clough, but on a misty day it can be quite bleak. After circuiting the Clough, with several more beck crossings and even more wet feet, you will meet back with the outgoing course, when you will retake the route back towards the start. Careful as you descend back to cross Sladen Beck as it can be hard to stay upright, then climb back through the fields. Just after you pass Middle Intake farm, bear right off the track and onto the path to take the shortest way back to the finish line on the cricket pitch.’
Set for an 11.30am start, the morning wasn’t a particularly warm one, but at least the runners didn’t have to contend with snow as they did two years. The challenging course of seven and a half miles, rising 400 metres, didn’t faze Robert, as he loves this kind of thing, and he finished in 108th in 62:22. The winner was Jack Wood of Ilkley in 45:44. 309 runners et off, though four failed to finish the course.
They say there’s no rest for the wicked. Why else would Pumas Andrew Mellor and Peter Reason find themselves tackling this relatively new event, the Temple Newsam Ten? Hosted by St Theresa’s Athletic Club, this race, now in its third year, has already become an established part of the running calendar. Last year, all one thousand entries were snapped up; Andrew and Peter took no chances and booked well in advance.
So what was on offer? Well, the official site describes the event; “Staged in the beautiful grounds of the Temple Newsam Estate, discover 500 years of history with the magnificent country mansion set within 1500 acres of beautiful parkland. The course is mainly bridle and country paths (it could be muddy) covering areas of the estate that you wouldn’t normally see. There are stunning views of the 17th Century House and gardens designed and re-landscaped by Capability Brown. The course also takes in the nearby nature reserve, lakes and canals that form part of the Woodlesford navigation.” Why, it almost makes you think you’d want to set off with a picnic hamper. But this is January, of course, so the runners may have been drawn to the bit that states (almost as if it was an afterthought) that the course could be “muddy”. The runners had been warned.
With the Tudor/Jacobean Temple Newsam Stately Home providing a scenic backdrop, the course, in a nutshell, took the runners out through fields, tracks, paths and trees, running anti-clockwise around the Temple Newsam golf course, under the M1, then again anti clockwise around the lake of Skelton Country Park, back under the M1, then following the route through trees, along Bullerthorpe Lane before heading back to the finish line in the field where they’d started some time earlier.
Whilst the clock ticked its way down to 9.30, the eight-hundred or so runners huddled behind the start line, and before you knew it, the race was under way. Andrew and Peter positioned themselves near the rear of the field and adopting the attitude of ‘someone’s got to do it’ they set off. Ahead of them lay ten miles – you sure get your money’s worth at events like this – of wet grass, puddles and mud, and whatever else the course threw at them.
Though they set off together, Peter soon pulled away from Andrew, but both loved it, of course. Negotiating the obstacles in their own manner, Peter, painting pictures with words, described his attempt at tiptoeing around the edge of the mud as being “like a hippo trying to walk a tightrope,” whilst Andrew used all his Winter League experience to take the quickest route – directly through each and every puddle. With two miles to go, Peter began to feel the pain of a blister on his small toe (left foot), but undeterred, he soldiered on, climbing the last hill through gritted teeth before entering the finishing field. “My hero,” wife Sharon would later call him when he arrived home for Sunday dinner, whilst Andrew was beaming with pride as he showed off his first bling of 2018, a runner’s finish medal (not the T-shirt). It’s what it’s all about.
Finishing positions and times (age category and position);
Judging by the reactions of almost every runner who crossed the finish line at the end of the second West Yorkshire Winter League race on Sunday, that was some tough run. But South Leeds Lakers, who staged the race for the first time – and pulled it off in style – clearly needed to put everyone to the test, and the course they eventually mapped out certainly did that.
The Northowram Pumas were out in force again, with Cpt Coupe de-icing the tour bus in time to take a contingent of the team to Middleton Park. It was another great turn-out; all told, there were thirty-one Pumas on show. The cold snap wasn’t going to deter this lot, although it did play havoc with the original route that had been designed by the hosts. The race organisers were out by first sunlight on the Sunday morning to check that the course passed health and safety legislation, and ever the careful planners, when a section of the course was deemed too hazardous due to ice, they reverted to their cunning Plan B, and arrangements to put this in place meant there was a twenty-minute hold up for the start of the race.
Put simply, what the competitors now faced was a two-lapped course around Middleton Park, the first loop slightly longer than the second. But that’s not saying much, when the challenge before the near four hundred runners asked much of limbs and lungs. The start was straightforward enough, a single anti-clockwise loop of the field the runners started in, before the route took them out into the sticks, dropping down a steep hill, left up a long incline of rubble and old tarmac, up a muddy hill then up into the park. Lined by leave-less trees, this track is obviously more picturesque in summer, but most of the runners wouldn’t have had time to admire the scenery anyway as the route winded around the perimeter of the park, climbing to its zenith at 474 feet around the halfway mark on the first loop. A long stretch of downhill on the tarmac was most welcome, then there was a climb of a mud hill, followed by a left turn onto a grass path which eventually led the runners back to the field where they’d started. Only to do it all again! When the runners had reached this point a second time, there was the flat run to the finish line ahead, a total of, depending on whose Strava app you want to believe, of around 5.5 miles.
Inevitably, some runners found the going easier than others, though that’s not to say that anyone found it easy. In fact, the finish line videos showed most, if not all, on the point of exhaustion. But however hard Tim Brook pushed himself, and he was among the front runners from the start, he still summoned up enough energy for one last surge to pip Tom Langdon (Leeds & Bradford Triathlon Club) to finish eleventh, roaring like a real Puma as he crossed the line. Luke Cranfield was six places behind him, and making up the scoring in the Male team were Rick Ralph, Jude Roberts, Robert Shirlaw (the first Super Vet Puma home), Andy Barnes and Andy Haslam to give them a seventh place finish on the day from the thirteen competing clubs. The first female Puma home was Veteran Diane Cooper in 162nd pace, and she was backed up for the team points by Ally Canning, Kirsty Edwards and Paula Snee, and the Pumas’ Female team finished on the day in sixth place.
The Veterans’ scorers of Tim Brook, Rick Ralph and Diane Cooper helped the team to an impressive fifth place finish, whilst the Supervets’ scorers Robert Shirlaw, Jon Ding and Katrina Wood saw them finish on the day in ninth position. With a combined Male and Female total of 2,801 points, Pumas finished overall in sixth position.
Elsewhere down the line there were stories to be told. Chris Crabtree completed his first-ever Winter League race, finishing 115th, whilst Simon Wilkinson, 242nd, felt the course was a tough one, but anyone who’d filled up over the Yuletide period on cheese and chocolate was Bounty. The aforementioned Paula Snee, who was initially listed as a second Neil Coupe, excelled herself to finish just three places behind Simon. There’s no real reason why she should have been confused with Neil, other than the fact that she dislikes this sort of event as much as he does (but doesn’t tell us). Neil, on the other hand, likens all this Winter League stuff to caveman-running, and we’re still awaiting the day when he runs with a club in one hand whilst beating his bare chest with the other as he darts through the forest.
Rachael Hawkins’ appearance as she crossed the finishing line also confused the organisers, probably because she didn’t have her friends with her. When she identified herself, she then asked if she’d won, almost as if she had been dreaming and suddenly awoken from her slumber by a South Leeds Laker. I wonder who had the heart to tell her she’d just missed out? Rachael was, in fact, 326th, one place ahead of Kathryn Cleaver, who was running her first Winter League race. Jo Coupe finished in time to cheer home Carolyn Brearley and deafen the video man in the process, whilst just beating Carolyn was Helen Jackson, now getting back into the swing of things after injury. Emma James, also making her Winter League debut, was the last – but certainly not the least – Puma home and by the look on her face, she clearly enjoyed the experience (not).
Northowram Pumas’ positions;
11 Tim Brook MV
17 Luke Cranfield M
46 Rick Ralph MV
63 Jude Roberts MV
92 Robert Shirlaw MSV
95 Andy Barnes MV
103 Andy Haslam MV
114 Shaun Casey MV
115 Chris Crabtree M*
121 Andrew Tudor MV
153 Richard Ogden MV
162 Diane Cooper FV
169 Matt Newton M
176 Ally Canning F
195 Kirsty Edwards FV
211 Jon Ding MSV
219 Tom O’Reilly MV
222 Neil Coupe MV
242 Simon Wilkinson M
245 Paula Snee FV
240 Julie Bowman FV
253 Sarah Haigh FV
261 Victoria Owen F
292 Ian Evans M
296 Andrew Mellor MV
304 Claire Ramsbottom F
308 Mark Kirkby MSV
326 Rachel Hawkins F
327 Kathryn Cleaver FV
328 Katrina Wood FSV
331 Jodie Knowles F
349 Gabriella Kenny FV
353 Tiffany Lewis FV
372 Jo Coupe FV
379 Helen Jackson FV
380 Carolyn Brearley FV
381 Emma John-Baptiste FV
With thanks to Smith Photography, Lisa Aspinall and Robert Samuels for use of photos.
Footballers often use that old adage about taking each game as it comes. Runners could almost say the same, especially when events come thick and fast like they do over the festive period. Why, the three amigos Brook, Canning and Cranfield (sounds like a shoe shop chain) had only just finished the Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve when they were planning their next run – the very next day. Actually, the Giant’s Tooth seems to be a nice way to start any new year, a non-too taxing jaunt around the moors and Ogden water, and with a handy noon start, what’s not to like?
Our three dedicated runners were joined here by several other Pumas, with husband and wife team Rick and Anna Ralph, Robert Shirlaw, who loves this kind of event, and Gina Farley, who was representing her parent club Bradford Airedale, all managing to recover from ‘the night before’ to make it to the start line.
The start of the race is on the pathway running parallel to the water, a little distance from the main car parks, and the route winds through the woods then ascends the moors, reaching the Giant’s Tooth monument (hence the name of the race) at 1,257 feet, then continues higher to the summit at 1,291 feet before dropping back down through the woods to join the reservoir. Following the path anti-clockwise around the water, the route then veers off right back up through the woods to retrace the path downhill back to the finish. A distance of roughly three miles.
It was Tim Brook, 23rd, who once again found himself #FPH, whilst second Puma home was Rick Ralph (almost a full five minutes quicker than his time of 2017), with Robert Shirlaw the third Puma back. Luke kept Ally company and helped her shave off 1 minute and forty seconds from her time from the previous year. Anna Ralph was the last of the Puma contingent home, but her time of 33:07 was a marked improvement on her 34:56 of last year.