Skirrid Fell Race Saturday 19th December 2020 by David Mackie

Summary: A splendid, short’n’sharp, muddy up, down, around, and back up and down the shapely outlier of the Black Mountains, Skirrid.

A Big Thumbs-Up for the Skirrid Fell Race, Ace Weather and the View.

Both Annika Davidson and Andrew Wood had sung the praises of last year’s Skirrid Fell Race so I duly entered the 2020 edition.

As has become the new normal, Covid-19 meant no mass start or pre and post race bantering; rather just a case of parking the car, picking up a race number and joining a small, socially distanced queue to start at 30 secs intervals. However, the wonderful Welsh countryside and a cracking route up, over, down, round and back up Skirrid before a swooping descent remained unchanged. It also offered incentive to turn my legs quicker than I had in a while.

Before getting to grips with the climb up Skirrid, a short lap of the start field provided a warm-up. Following a week of heavy rain, conditions underfoot were somewhat squidgy and my daps of choice, Mudclaws, were immediately put to good use; staying upright on the downhill sections was going to be a challenge.

Leaving the start/finish field, the way ahead was obvious with the shapely peak of Skirrid dominating the view. The gradient and effort level gradually increased as the route squelched its way across sodden fields to get to the open access slopes of Skirrid proper. Trying to catch up runners who had started in front, and stay ahead of those who started behind, provided further onward impetus.

After the Long Up from the Start, the First Down…

The ascent to Skirrid’s whaleback summit ridge was runnable for some but had me resorting to a “brisk as I could make it” walk for most of the way. The walking pace provided opportunity to take-in and relish the ever-expanding views as elevation was gained. Having reached the summit ridge, it was immediately left by a short descent and a technical, rocky traverse under Skirrid’s summit to reach its very steep North ridge.

The Sporty Hands and Feet Ascent of Skirrid’s North Ridge

‘Skirrid’ is derived from the Welsh ‘Ysgyryd’, which means to shake or tremble. The short, sharp hands and feet ascent of its North ridge to the summit trig point certainly had that effect on my legs. There was no respite though; the way on was an immediate, and equally steep, quad testing descent. Initially heather clad, the slope, whilst precipitous, was reasonably secure underfoot; in its lower reaches loose soil and bracken replaced the heather however, providing less stability and more entertainment. Thankfully the braken contained no bramble snagging hazards. From there, it was a simply splendid splish-splash, gravity assisted dash to the finish line.

The Equally Sporty Descent from Skirrid’s Summit

There was of course no post-race hydration and sustenance at the Skirrid Inn; fingers crossed for a return to the full race experience in 2021…

Huge thanks go Andy Creber of Rogue Runs , and his team of merry helpers, for providing the opportunity to “race” amidst these uncertain times. Andy always provides memorable and entertaining race routes and Skirrid is no exception. Being a marked and relatively short course, it is also a great introduction to the pleasures (and pain) of South Wales fell racing; if you want to find out more, provides all you need to know about the entertainment on offer in
the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons…

Skirrid, Event Organiser Andy Creber (far right) and the Finish Line Team

All pictures courtesy of various ace marshalls out on the course.

A Review of Mad March (?) Mile 2020 by Charlie Berry

As the year draws to a close it is always a time to reflect and think about what we have achieved. This year has been one that none of us could have predicted and we have all faced some difficult times.

There have been lots of things cancelled and everything seems to have changed. Many of us have still however been able to run, sometimes together in small groups and sometimes alone.

Just before March several of us signed up for the Mad March Mile and committed to doing a mile a day for each day in March. I thought this was a tall order at the time but as Biggsy is very persuasive I signed up! We got a lovely pottery mug if we completed it so that was the clincher!!

Little did we know that as March went by we would go into a lockdown – something we had never experienced before. As March drew to a close many of us decided to continue MMM as we had a little more free time and were enjoying the exercise.

Well it is now almost Christmas and we are still going. Several of us have exercised everyday since the start of March – the longest March ever!! (I have to be honest and admit I missed one day when I was injured but only one!) It has meant that I have cycled over 2020 miles and ran over 2020 km this year. Who would have predicted that I could do that when I started running (well it wasn’t really running then!!) and cycling a couple of years ago? I might even be a real runner one day!

Doing this has helped me to stay somewhat sane through this weird year and I would like to thank everyone that has ran with me, cycled with me or encouraged me. Most of all I would like to thank members and committee of CRC. You have done so much to help us keep running during this pandemic. You have been forward thinking and very proactive. The booking system is brilliant, the range and number of run sessions fantastic and the friendship continues throughout everything we do.

I am proud to be part of such a great club and would like to wish everyone a good (if different) Christmas and all the best for 2021. Here’s to more running next year, maybe some competitions , but who knows, and let’s see how long March 2020 continues on for!

Westonbirt 10K Report by Michael Luff

This was only the 2nd actual race I’d done this year so anticipation was running high!
It was an excellently organised race and the marshals were awesome! Seems likely that, due to the wave starts, they were standing out in the torrential rain for even longer than for a ‘normal’ race. The chap standing by the entrance to the garden was amazing – you could hear him shouting encouragement for ages before and after you passed him. I’ve not done this race before but the course was apparently different as it was 3 laps rather than 2 and all on the Westonbirt grounds.

The wave starts are a novel addition to races to stop large groups of people congregating (you’re only supposed to arrive at the start a few minutes before your allocated time) and, naturally, have their pros and cons:
• On the upside, as there are runners of different paces starting at different times, you get to pass (and be passed by!) lots of different people so you get to greet runners you wouldn’t normally see.
• On the downside, there were a number of people I knew running the race but I only got to meet a couple who had similar start and/or finish times. It’s also slightly odd not knowing who you’re actually racing against, is that person in front on their 1st, 2nd or 3rd lap? Am I ahead of them or not? That person that just passed me, can I get them on the final lap or are they just finishing?

Did I mention the rain? That also meant a significant amount of mud too, the course was all traffic free (apart from a random car near the drinks station – not sure what that was about), undulating and mainly off-track as well around the playing fields so the new Mud Claws were an essential aid to staying upright and moving forwards; I saw several runners heading off on interesting tangents, hope they made it home safely!
In summary – It was wet, it was muddy, we had fun 😊

Postponement of Corsham 10K and 2K

The Corsham 10K scheduled for 26 April 20 was deferred to October 20 due to the pandemic and once again was deferred to 25 April 21 for the same reason. We are now in the position where Covid restrictions have been extended and there is no knowing whether they will be relaxed by April 21. The likelihood is that the restrictions on mass gatherings will still be in place and even if they have been relaxed many people may still be uncomfortable attending mass gatherings.

Accordingly the decision has now been made to defer once again the Event to 26 September 21 when it is hoped things may be normalised. We considered other options, but felt that it’s the other competitors and the supporters which make the Corsham 10K special.

Of course we realise that this may not be desirable or possible for some entrants and a refund of 70% of the entry fee will be provided upon request for those that wish to withdraw. We are sorry for the shortfall but hope entrants who choose this option will understand that we have incurred costs already and the process of refunding also encounters costs. Another option if you are unable to take part is to cancel your entry and donate the balance to our chosen charity, Wiltshire Air Ambulance.

We regret having to take this course of action and believe postponement is the best way forward as it preserves the prospect of a truly competitive event.
Likewise, the 2K has been postponed twice and the situation is similarly uncertain for April 2021. So, because of this and because it occurs hand in hand with the 10K, it has also been decided to plan to hold this event on 26 September 21.

However, the rescheduling will happen in a slightly different way. Because of the age of the entrants, and because 18 months is a comparatively long time over which many things may have changed or will change, the current entrant list will be cancelled and a date for new registrations will be announced in due course. Many children will have changed age group, some will have passed the upper age limit, others will have become eligible and individual interests and preferences may have changed.

Of course, some expense has already been incurred, and so we hope you understand why we say that the refund will be 70% (i.e. £3.50), made automatically. You also have the option to donate your fee to our chosen charity, Wiltshire Air Ambulance.

We do, of course, regret that we must take this course of action, but look forward to the prospect of a safe and exciting race next September.

Ebb and Flow Round A Run With No Witty Name (ARWNWN) – Saturday 10th October

In a year of turmoil ARWNWN provided a constant; now in its third year, Crooked Tracks’s event provides a delightful, circular, rural, 50km route starting and finishing at Tisbury.

The postponement of a long-planned-for event in the Lake District meant Sue and I were able to take advantage of a couple of last minute places in ARWNWN. It offered a slightly shorter and less hilly alternative but having completed it before we both knew it would provide a fab’ autumnal day out in the rolling hills of South Wiltshire.

An 8:30am start time from Tisbury meant a crack of dawn departure from Corsham. The compensation was the delight of an incredible sunrise over Salisbury Plain. Also on the plus side it indicated that the forecast decent weather was fact rather than fiction, with running conditions nigh on perfect. (Disappointing though for Race Director par excellence, Neil Turnbull, who much prefers to provide his punters with attritional rain-lashed muddy affairs.)

Super Sunrise over Salisbury Plain

Covid-19 required some tinkering with the format of the race in terms of admin and phased start times. The only change in the business part of the day was reversing the ARWNWN route of the previous two years. There were a few familiar AVR faces in our start wave and the race crew; it was great to catch-up with folk we had not seen for many months in the absence of racing.

As is the way with Crooked Tracks our wave of runners were away without faff or fanfare. The gentle incline from the start quickly spread out the runners and I fell in step with Andrew Jeffries from AVR. We enjoyed a bit of banter and followed the faster runners in front, which was a mistake. Within ten minutes of the start it transpired we had missed a turn and were off track. The correct marked trail was thankfully recovered without too much extra distance or loss of time; a good early reminder to pay attention to navigation.

The reversing of the route provided some entertainment outside of the opportunity for navigational blunders. Uphills that were long and emotional at the end of the route in the previous two years’ became brief downhill canters this year. Of course it also meant the reverse would be true later in the day…

Andrew J was keen to make progress so I let him go and stuck to my own pacing strategy, which was intended to get me round in under six hours. The phased starts meant a fair bit of solo running although with ace holloways (A holloway is a sunken path characteristic of the rounded hills of southern England; a route that centuries of footfall, hoof-hit, wheel-roll and rain-rush have harrowed down into the bedrock) and beautiful autumnal colours to enjoy the miles romped by. In what felt like no time at all the first picnic station arrived along with some morale boosting CRC support from Andrew Wood. As with previous years Crooked Tracks did not disappoint on the food front and there were a fine array of tasty treats available. Unusually nothing really appealed so I took a couple of jam and peanut butter wraps to force down on the hoof and bid farewell to Andrew W.

Picnic Time!

The route onto the next picnic spot at Old Wardour Castle provided undulatling running alternating between woods and fields. The terrain was very much runnable, particularly at this relatively early juncture. I was therefore able to maintain target pace. The effort to do it though felt worryingly hard with well over half the distance to go. So following the ultra adage of “if in doubt eat something” I guzzled a gel, told myself to buck-up and pressed on.

ARWNWN On Route B&B Option

Scenery and paying attention to the route marking to stay on track provided distraction. Morale was also improved by a lucky find. In the best tradition of the Wombles I bent down to pick up a bit of litter, which on closer inspection turned out to be a twenty pound note. The temptation to divert off route at the next village and spend it at the pub was resisted; cola, jam/peanut butter wraps and Jaffa cakes were just around the corner beneath the towering ruins of Old Wardour Castle. The brief swoop down to, and the view of, the castle was one of the highlights of the day; I do like a bit of downhill.

Old Wardour Castle

Andrew Wood’s appearance also provided an additional boost at the picnic stop. Again I had no appetite for the fine fare on offer so I just grabbed some bits’n’pieces and pressed on for the second half. Distracted by my picnic on the go, I immediately took a wrong turn and had to back track a little. By this stage the start waves were beginning to overlap with slower runners in first wave being overtaken and the faster runners from the wave behind in turn overtaking me. Both provided opportunity for brief banter and mutual encouragement as is the way with ultras where the slower pace allows for conversation.

Plenty of this on the ARWNWN Route

Having struggled to put fuel in the tank, energy levels juddered a bit over the next few miles. My pace dropped accordingly as the undulations became a bit more pronounced and longer. A stiff, head-on breeze also helped to check momentum. The six hour target drifted out of reach despite my best effort to prevent it. Andrew Wood thankfully caught me up and provided much needed encouragement at a point where I could have easily stalled. With some nudges from him to eat and drink I ground on albeit more slowly than I had been aiming for. Also on the credit side, it was still a cracking day out in the countryside; the lake and parkland splendour of New Wardour Castle provided feast for the eyes and the route finding was relatively straight-forward and well marked.

New Wardour Castle

Andrew’s company helped overcome a couple of long, gradual climbs and we enjoyed trading places and chat with a few runners as we all headed toward the third picnic stop of the day. Andrew departed having seen me over the third quarter slump/hump. I briefly called in to the third and final checkpoint of the day to re-fill on water. The food unfortunately continued to hold no appeal. An ace gentle downhill in a joyous tunnel of autumnal hued and goldfinch crowned hedges did however. The busy hum of the A303 at its end added to the ebb and flow of the day; marking / marring the turn back south towards Tisbury and the finish.

Sue enjoying the downhill finish

Another recurring theme of the day was faster runners unfamiliar with route reovertaking having lost their way. It provided a regular reminder to keep focused on route finding and meant I shared the concluding miles with a runner who had already passed me three times. They had run a couple of extra miles in what was their first ultra and off-road event; they were keen to not add to that total and having established that I had experience of the route adjusted to my more sedate pacing to try and achieve that. Of course I immediately dented that misplaced confidence in my navigation skills by going the wrong way. Thankfully I quickly realised the error of ways and we were soon cantering down the finishing slope to rest weary legs, receive our super-duper “dog tag” finishing mementoes, enjoy a brew, and feast on ARWNWN’s traditional beanie stew with cheese topping and lush fresh buttered bread.

Crooked Tracks – Event organisers so good they even provide a rainbow finish?

The day’s entertainment was not quite over though. With a table booked at the Quarrymans Inn for post-event feasting and rehydration, Sue and I were keen to be on our way home. Unfortunately I had left the lights on in the car when parking up in the morning. The ensuing flat battery provided one final hurdle to overcome. Thankfully that was eventually achieved; with the help of motorhome hero and their jump leads we just made our booking at the QMs; where the pie (not a lie) and beer provided a champion end to a day that ebbed and flowed as the best ones do.

With great thanks to: Andrew Wood for support on route; the jump lead hero; and, most of all, Neil Turnbull and all the Crooked Tracks team for a tremendous trio of ARWNWN outings.

Dave Mackie

A Trio of ARWNWN 2018, 2019 and 2020

Monthly Review – October 2020

Hello and welcome to the monthly review for October. It’s been another odd month with lots going on virtually and actually.

We’ll start with the virtual London Marathon. The actual race was moved from it’s traditional end of April date to avoid a clash with the Corsham 10K and possibly because of that pesky Coronavirus. The date was rearranged for the beginning of October but as the date got nearer, it was looking less likely that the new date was possible and sadly it did get called off (for all but the elites), however London encouraged their runners to do a virtual version while the elites ran 19 laps of St. James’s Park.

The virtual version was to be run on the same raceday but on whatever course you fancied, unfortunately that raceday was wet, wet, wet. Stuart Henderson and Brian Atkins both did the same route near Chippenham and supported by many other club members they completed in 3:07 and 3:38 respectively.

Wendy Byrne (raising money for Prostate Cancer) ran her own course, with family for support, and despite the constant rain and a knee injury which flared up just 3 weeks before she finished in a little under 5 and a half hours.

On the same date as virtual London, Devizes half actually took place. With lots of different measures in place to protect runners and volunteers. Gary Young, Chris Hunt, Michael Luff and Max Luff all took part with Max getting a sub-2 half marathon for the first time in many years. Also taking part was Laura Midwinter, who of course scooped another prize for the trophy cabinet.

Of course, some people got carried away like Richard Biggs. He did the Devizes half and then did another 13.1 miles along the canal towpath to complete virtual London.

Also going sub-2 for a half marathon was Caroline Cozier as she did the Hullavington half. Another actual race with precautions in place and another actual half marathon for Chris Hunt too.

Taking slightly longer for their race were Susan Mackie, and David Mackie as they did A Run With No Witty Name (or ARWNWN for short). Roughly 50K around southern Wiltshire. Lots of mud, lots of fun. Look out for a full report from Dave, which will be posted 6th November.

Well done to everyone who has done a race recently – virtual or actual. It’s been a tough year for racing so great to see people out.

The Mackies also led some of our runners for a Halloween special Full Moon run in the Bybrook/Slaughterford valley between Colerne and Box. A great time had by all, nothing too spooky happened but everyone came back smiling and covered in mud, which sounds perfect.

Sadly, following the government announcement at the weekend, we’ve had to cancel our training sessions for the next 4 weeks as well as the Anniversary Waltz. The training sessions have been a great addition to the calendar since we were allowed to reconvene, many people mixing groups and meeting new friends and being able to run on different days allowed more people to attend at least one session a week.

Hopefully, we’ll see you all again at the start of December. When we do return, please note the booking priorities published below. Please let the committee know if you have any feedback on the booking system or sessions offered.

  • 1 session can be booked on release of the training sessions a week before
  • A 2nd session can be booked within 24 hours of the session closing in spaces remain
  • A 3rd session can be booked within 12 hours of the session closing in spaces remain

Lockdown can be tough for some people and we want everyone to feel supported during this time. Jan Forsyth is setting up a WhatsApp group for anyone who is looking for a running buddy. If you’d like to be included in the group then please contact Jan.

As with the first Lockdown, Andrew Wood is hosting Strength and Conditioning sessions (you’ve already missed the first one) through Facebook. These were hugely popular last time and hopefully will help keep people connected this time. Please contact the committee if you’re not on Facebook and we can put you in contact with Andrew to get a non-Facebook link.

The CRC AGM is also going to be taking place online. The date will be Friday 29th January 2021 (time tbc) and the committee are currently working out the details of how this will happen. The members will be informed as soon as possible, but hold the date if you can.

That’s enough of lockdowns and meeting on computers, lets have some good news. After one of his recent sessions, the progress of Chris Cooke was highlighted. He joined us a few years ago on one of our beginner sessions, taking 10 weeks to go from coach to 5K. On completion of that, he joined group C, shortly moving to group B. However, this recent session was a group A session. It’s been great to watch Chris’ progress over time and congratulations to him.

Although please don’t think we expect everyone to run in group A, run in whatever group you’re happy to run in, just keep on running.

It can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that the temperatures have started to drop and this seems like a good opportunity to promote some kit. We have Hoodies, Jackets, long sleeved kit and buffs (which can also be used as a face covering). If you require anything, please speak to Vicky Henderson or email

And finally – There seems to be a trend recently of our members getting dog and especially dogs which can join us on runs. This has meant seeing some gorgeous pups on our Facebook page recently and they do make great company for runs, even if they do silently judge you for running too slowly

Monthly Review – September 2020

Welcome to the first monthly review for CRC. Hopefully we can get back to weekly reviews shortly but until then, we’ll have a bumper monthly review on the last Monday of each month.

If anyone was going to be doing any races at the moment then you can trust David Mackie and Andrew Wood to find something and they both did the East Devon 8 Trigs. A 34ish mile run taking in 8 trig points in East Devon near Exmouth, so it included a good chunk of the South West Coast Path, which is less than flat. There was also an option to do just 5 trigs but David and Andrew don’t like to take the ‘Easy’ option.

David also managed to do a run nearer the start of September – The Fan Brycheiniog Fell Race. This one, was in the West Brecon Beacons and at a mere 9 miles, but did include 2,247 feet of climb, quite the leg burner.

Also in actual racing news John Wilmott did the Hullavington 5K, where 3 runners were set off at a time in 1 minute intervals. Despite posting a hugely impressive time of 18:47, that was still only good enough for 31st of 81 runners. The field was incredibly stacked with a winning time of 15:10.

We’ve also had a couple of virtual racers. Gary Young completed the virtual Weymouth Half Marathon and the Virtual Great North Run. Managing to dip  under 2 hours for Weymouth. Richard Biggs and Charlie Berry also did the Virtual Weymouth Half Marathon, although it looks like they did the actual race route. They definitely ran around Weymouth at least.

While the virtual Hilly Helmet Challenge was in August, September was when the prizes were announced and it was a victory for Mike Fisher who was voted as having the best male helmet. Congratulations Mike.

Also in Virtual racing, Carl Zalek spent a beautiful sunny Sunday running around the Mendips with a friend in the Virtual Butcombe Ultra 56 miles. Fantastic views all day and still able to run up the short flat inclines at the end of the race. The only bad point was the pub being shut at the finish. Must run quicker next time.

Susan Mackie also took on a long run in September. Not even a virtual race, just for fun (and training), Susan completed a 35 mile run which I believe is her longest ever. 10 hours, starting in Corsham, looping Bath and back to Corsham. Very sensibly, she stopped for coffee and crisps at 13 miles and ice cream and sausage roll at 26. Need to keep fed!

September has also managed to include a couple of away runs with the super routes around Lacock and Castle Combe both taking place on sunny evenings. David always picks sunny evenings.

There was also a group which ran around Cherhill and someone (possibly Carl) stood on a Wasp nest and the next half mile was very quick as we raced to get away. With sting numbers ranging from 1 to 17, we do not recommend it and luckily nobody was allergic (make sure you have your medicine on you if you are!).

Sam Stacey was with us that evening for a trial run and somehow decided we were the right club and has joined us. And Stuart Henderson went back to take the wasps on the morning afterwards as he lost his car key on the run. Luckily he was able to find it. What an eventful run.

Finally a few notes from committee. Firstly, it’s almost certain now that the AGM in January is going to need to be virtual. It will be discussed further at the October committee meeting and hopefully we can start to let members know about the details for the AGM.

We are looking for feedback on the session booking system, so if you have any comments please send them to If you can’t get onto a session, then please let us know as soon as you can so it can be sorted.

Due to limited numbers per group, only one session per week can be booked in advance. If there are spaces still available, 24 hours before a session is due to take place then you can book one extra session on that basis.

And if you do have to cancel a session, it’s great if you can post on our Facebook group that a slot is available so it can be filled, bearing in mind the paragraph above.

I’ll see you in a month for the October review.

Unlocked Ultra Attempt 2 Race Report by Stewart Unsworth

I cannot remember exactly what it was that made me think that I could run 100 miles; it was certainly not before my first ultra (Escape from Meriden in November 2017) and it was not after the ill-fated Cotswold Way Century attempt in September 2018 that remains (hopefully forever) my most embarrassing race attempt at any distance to date. Therefore at some time in between those dates I have got it into my head that my chisel and grind style would be suitable for running extreme distances.

The 80 miles racked up (albeit as a timed-out DNF) in the Grim Reaper ultra in Lincolnshire last year gave that perception more credence and this year I had entered the Ring O Fire multi-day 135 mile race round Anglesey. Sadly the covid pandemic has put that back a year so I am eternally grateful to Mark Cockbain for putting up his ‘Unlocked Ultra’ challenge that enabled me to attempt 100 miles for some tangible reward (a bronze medal if I broke 28 hours).

The 50 mile attempt six weeks earlier turned out to be a good sighter for the 100 mile challenge. I had decided that Cherhill away run route should still be used but with the lane added, primarily to chop out a twelfth lap of the dreaded Calstone Climb but also in my mind was the desire to make the distance something akin to but still marginally harder than the Ring O Fire coastal course. Roughly speaking the days are split into 35, 65 and 33 miles so a 35 / 65 mile split would be noted.

I was slightly more organised this time, arriving at Cherhill 30 minutes earlier than I did for the 50 mile run. At around 9:20am on the August Bank Holiday Saturday I was on the startline and away. The weather was kind; sunny but unlike the July attempt not too hot.

The main issue on my mind in the early miles was how to avoid suffering the severe cramp that kyboshed the previous attempt going over 50 miles. In all honesty, I did not have a clue other than telling myself not to run any mile quicker than 10 minutes and using the lane to cut down the constant ascending and descending that I felt contributed to my downfall. Hence it was a pleasant surprise that the confidently predicted hip flexor, groin and hamstring tweaks failed to materialise in the first half of the race. 35 miles came and went in 8 hours 23 and 50 miles in 12 hours 41. Both were in my target time area so as I moved into the darkness laps things were going as well as I could reasonably expect.

Cherhill was reasonably busy during the day but it was back to its lovely remoteness during the evening and overnight. To that end I had enlisted the help of Carl; Dan; Julia and the Mackies as a messenger contact in case I ran into difficulties. I knew that one or two of them had it in mind to meet me at some stage for heckling purposes; what I did not expect was that they would all come over at some point and run all or part of a lap with me. I was conscious that the ‘Unlocked Ultra’ rules required me to be self supported and that they should not pace me; however I was extremely thankful for the company, particularly in the later laps when I was fading like butter on hot toast.

I have always been reasonably proficient with fuel in a race, never before citing it as a contributor to any deficiency in performance. However, I had never run entirely self-supported over such a long distance before. In hindsight running in a remote location proved to be a major disadvantage in that respect: I could not gain any access to hot food or drink when I needed it in the final quarter of the challenge and required the Mackies to bail me out in that regard.

Pre-race, I had surmised that the last darkness lap would be the most challenging and as long as I made it to sunrise the worst would be over. This was a critical error of judgement. The ninth lap began with sunrise at the opposite side to the course and, as at the Grim Reaper event the previous year, the dawn light prompted hallucination. At the far end of the stony track a massive flag of Northern Ireland (the Ulster Banner) that is used in Olympic events was draped across the course. I have no idea how my subconscious dredges this sort of stuff up but as I got nearer I realised the flag was in fact the same configuration of large puddles that were there for the previous eight laps.

I recollect hallucinations with wry amusement when reporting on them after the event but the reality here was that it was effectively the end of the road in terms of breaking the 28 hours. My strategy in the race was to walk the three large inclines (Morgan’s Hill; Poacher’s Croft and Calstone Climb) and to run or trot at sub-15 minute miles the rest of the loop. 74 miles in, at the top of Poacher’s Croft on the swing round to the Landsdowne monument I instructed my legs to run and the response was minimal. My speed had dropped from 18 minute miles – enough to squeak under the 28 hours – to 25 minutes. I had hit the dreaded wall. My mind became a sea of negativity and as I dropped down onto the lane I decided to extend the trudge on it so when I got back to the car I would be on 81 miles and could give up at my longest ever distance. I relayed a message to the gang saying I had stopped to nothing.

A mile later I had reached Calstone Climb and was marginally more positive in that I had decided I would rest in the car for a time and see if things improved. While I was pondering this strategy over, the Mackies came from the other direction. The fact that they had traipsed back to Cherhill must have pricked my conscience and as we met I had already decided to continue. Dave’s, let us say, choice words of encouragement further embellished that view and after a stoppage for food I was left with two and a bit laps to complete.

Three of the next seven miles were sub-20 minutes but they were ticking ever so slowly. I looked at my watch an inordinate amount of times but that served to frustrate further. For some reason Stuart Henderson’s comment in the previous week that the furthest he had run was 86 miles lodged in my mind and as I crept past that total I was slightly uplifted. At this point any semblance of positivity was gold dust as I had decided some time earlier that everything was falling to pieces. The truth of the matter was that my mind had fallen to pieces but save for a number of blisters on my feet the body was standing up to the task remarkably well, something I observed with frustration in the days immediately after the event.

Sue waiting for Stewart to finish.

I do not remember anything of the final lap at all other than it was dreadfully slow and painful. The Mackies had stuck with me throughout the final 20 miles but they kindly offered to let me run the final couple of miles – a shuttle along the path that did not take in any hills – myself. I recognised a couple from one of the houses on my post round going the other way and shouted hello to them; little did they know I was on my ninety-ninth mile! There were plenty of people on that path, all seemingly there to get in the way but I eventually neared the final stretch where the Mackies were there shouting ‘Sprint Finish!’ I said ‘OK’ and did! Legs not so tired after all! The last 25 miles had taken nearly 10 hours to complete and I crossed the line (right next to the car) in just under 30 hours and 37 minutes; thus the final 65 miles had taken over 22 hours. Not ideal given I have only 18 hours to complete the second day of the Ring O Fire but at least I can rest overnight in that event.

Stewart on his final trek down the path to the start/finish car park.

A couple of weeks later I marshalled one of Mark’s events (the White Horse 100) and was lucky enough to meet and thank him. I confessed (much to his amusement) that I was operating a ‘me versus him’ strategy and for each mile that I noticed was under 16 minutes I was saying to myself ‘one to me there Cockbain…’ but unfortunately although I was just ahead on points at mile 75 he then landed the knockout blow.

There is a lot of room for improvement, not least in the fueling and mindset over the last 20 miles but I can now say that I have managed to run (walk/ shuffle / stagger) 100 miles. After all, it apparently counts so long as it is on Strava.

Unlocked Ultra Attempt 1 Race Report by Stewart Unsworth

Event: Unlocked Ultra (Target of 50 miles in 12 hours or less)
Date: 20th July 2020
Result: DNF – Missed Cut-Off

It is fair to say that the last 15 months have not been my finest running period. Back injury, plantar fasciitis and hip flexor issues had me on the treatment table more often than out on the trails or road but thanks to Jane Clarke for firstly sorting the back and then (along with Andrew Wood) for putting up strength and conditioning exercises on the club Facebook page I began to string together some weeks without being injured. Indeed, after a 22 mile practice run I felt confident enough to have a go at the ‘Unlocked Ultra’.

The Unlocked Ultra is the brainchild of Mark Cockbain, a race director that thrives on setting exceptionally challenging ultra events. The Tunnel Ultra (yes the 200 mile one in Bath, forward and backward, forward and backward) would be his best known one in this area. I was casually flicking through his Facebook events page (memo to self – think twice before doing this again) where I noticed he had set two challenges during the lockdown period.

One was the ‘Accumulator’ where you simply start from the 1st of the month running one mile, two on the second and so on up to 30 or 31 miles on the 30th or 31st depending on the month you choose to run in. I was not keen on the challenge the back end of a month would pose so chose the Unlocked Ultra. The format is similar to the Escape from Meriden race that Dan and I attempted in 2017, the further you run, the higher the reward; you get a ‘wood’ medal for running 50 miles in 12 hours; ‘bronze’ for 100 in 28; ‘silver’ for 150 in 48; ‘gold’ for 200 in 60 and ‘legend’ for 300 in 120. Silver upwards are for the Damian Halls of this world but despite my weekly mileage being relatively low I fancied the 50 in 12 hours with an option to up it to 100 if I was feeling strong enough.

The rules were simple: you picked your own route and had to be self-supported. Many competitors chose their house as a base; I decided that the temptation would be too great after 30 or 40 miles to turn on the TV or find something else more relaxing. A dull flat route around the lanes was feasible but in the end I plumped for Cherhill, my favourite local route. Yes it has three stiff climbs per lap but I knew it like the back of my hand and I could organise laps where I could reach the checkpoint (my car parked in the Smallgrain Plantation car park) relatively frequently.

The days leading up to the attempt I was feeling a little nervous; I treated that positively as it indicated I cared about the outcome and would not give up at the first hint of trouble. Come the day, I took a little long getting all the gear and food loaded up and was only ready to start at 9:50am. This meant I had no wiggle room with darkness for the first part of the challenge.

I ran the first lap with no pack, reasoning it was an unnecessary burden for what would be an 8.25 mile loop. I decided to use the lane at Calstone Wellington for the early loops, calculating that the horrible Calstone climb only needed to be done six times for the 50 miles. Other than unnecessary dithering at the car the first few laps were uneventful; I noted with satisfaction that my time through 22 miles was identical to my practice run and I was set fair.

Bitter experience taught me that the first marathon or so is basically a warm up where you can get the miles on the board and things could quickly unravel at any stage thereafter. The first issue was that after the fourth lap, I realised that I did not bring enough water to fuel me for 100 miles. Therefore the 50 miles in 12 hours would now have to be the main goal and any miles achieved after that would be a bonus.

A bit like cricket, I use a ‘run rate’ method to continuously calculate what my speed is and what I need to do to meet the cut-off / target. When the required rate creeps up above 4 miles an hour (15 min/miles) it is a concern; above 5 (12 min/miles) and it is a serious issue. By running the downhill / flat sections as best I could I was keeping in touch – but eventually the equation was 7 miles left in an hour and 20 minutes. At this point I was in the first field leading down to the church and realised that the only hope I had was to ditch the Calstone Climb and accept a fate of doing a shuttle run along the lane for the best part of 6 miles. My tired mind was just coming to terms with the forthcoming tedium when my legs cut a swathe through the plan by completely seizing up, presumably with severe cramp. Reduced to a 2.5 mile an hour walk, the task was hopeless. Dan had promised to run the last part with me but unfortunately for him he had turned up at just the wrong time.

Stewart navigates a stile!

I decided to shelf the lane running and do a last short lap so the 50 miles would be completed just as I was back at my car so I need not run any further. Foolishly I did not bother collecting my headtorch for the short lap and although Dan was trying his best to keep my spirits up I was tired, frustrated, tottering round in darkness and just wanted to be back home. I did eventually complete the 50 miles in a shade over 13 hours.

So what next? The answer to me seems obvious; I am not quite fit enough to complete 50 miles in 12 hours round Cherhill so 100 miles in 28 hours is the revised aim. Or more realistically 100 miles in however long it takes. The lap has been revised so the lane is fully utilised and is now an 8.75 mile loop. I will be (hopefully!) six weeks fitter. The weather might be slightly cooler. I will bring enough water. I have now had a sighter and on August 29th (Bank Holiday Saturday) barring injury, the 100 mile attempt will be made.

Editor: To find out how Stewart got on for his second attempt, the report for that will be released at Midday on Thursday.