Sunday, 24 October 2010

October means ...pumpkins

I'm not a great fan of Halloween, but have become more interested in it once I found a good recipe for pumpkin curd. 'PUMPKIN CURD?' I hear you say. I agree it does sound a bit strange, but it's largely like lemon curd but with a slight pumpkin taste.

The good thing about pumpkin curd is that you can scrape out the pumpkin you're going to make your children's lanterns out of. Because of this, I've almost convinced myself it's free. Although I have got three pumpkins this year and not just one as normal.

The recipe goes something like: scrape out a medium/large pumpkin (which gives about 4lb of pumpkin flesh). Cook this in a pan with about 25ml of water until it's soft. Then handblend it. Add about 3.5lb of sugar, the rind and juice of 6 lemons, and 300g of butter or marg. Cook it on a low heat so it only just boils (apparently it can curdle, but I've never seen this). After about 15 minutes, turn off the heat and add 3 beaten eggs. Unless you strain your eggs (which is a hassle) you'll get stringy white bits in it, no matter how well you stir it. So... hand blend it again until it's nice and smooth. Jar it and eat it before the end of the year.

So far I've only tried it on toast and in sandwiches, but I've had the idea of making halloween pumkin curd tarts. I'll report back on this if I do.

For those of you who read this blog due to an interest in fell running. I'm afraid this is my 3 month off-season. Luckily, Mrs Noel will continue racing through the winter. She's been doing some short hill reps this week to build up her leg strength. No races to report for a few weeks.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Windgather - trophy wife

Occasionally, Mrs Noel does a race where all her Christmases come at once. Windgather was one of these. It was the final race in the Gritstone Series, the final race in the Goyt Valley Series, and had category prizes for the race as well.
Mrs Noel was pretty apprehensive about doing a long race, as she's never done one before. She's also been put off the idea by my abject performances in most of the long races I've ever done. This has made her think that she too will not be able to do long races unless she trains up to that distance.

Fortunately, the reality was nothing like her fears, as she romped through the field to finish second lady, some way behind the clearly very talented lady who finished 3rd overall (!!)

Among Mrs Noel's various prizes, the most notable was the excellent Goyt Valley Series first lady trophy (pictured here). Races and race series somehow seem to have more gravitas when the organisers go the extra mile with the trophies.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Ian Hodgson Relay - Victory for Pennine

After Stanage Struggle two weeks ago I was considering winding down my running for the year. I had no more target races and there were four better runners than me who made up the men's half of the 8-person mixed team for the Ian Hodgson relays. But then disaster struck the Pennine mixed relay team camp, as one of our runners came down with a respiratory infection and they had to turn to first male reserve - me.

This was great news for me, as I really like the idea of competing as a team. It also meant that Mrs Noel and I would be part of the same team. We thought we were in with a fair chance of doing well, as our lady's half of the team is strong, and despite also having a Vet40 team, and a late-entry open (men's) team, we put a lot of our better men in the mixed team.

For those who don't know it, the Ian Hodgson Mountain relay is a 4-leg fell relay race where pairs of runners do each leg and then hand over to the next pair. Overall, it takes about 4-6 hours for the whole race. The rules state that you have to run together. This means if you're with a runner who's faster than you, you have to do your best not to slow them down.

I was given the first leg, along with my teammate Muir, who is faster than I am, but not embarrassingly so. Our leg was about 4.5 miles and had about 2800 feet of ascent in it. This is really very steep compared with most of the fell races I do around the Peak. However, I've done races such as Scafell Pike in the past which are similarly steep.

The good thing, for me, was that it finished in a higher place than the start, so there was more climbing than descending on the route. Luckily, we managed to find ourselves behind a few pairs of runners who obviously knew the route very well, so we could pick the best lines and follow a good pace. After a terrifying descent down some screes, we finished our leg 9th out of about 60 teams. I guess I would have kept up with Muir a bit better on the final descent if I hadn't stopped to take a photo on the way down. Only joking - this was taken on my reccie the day before. Note how much it resembles an 'aerial' photo.

We then handed over to Mrs Noel and her partner Lucy, who proceeded to run the 3rd fastest lady's time on their leg. After some great runs from the other 4 team members, we won by about 10 minutes. I think this is the first time Pennine have won anything at this event, and it's definitely the first time I've won anything. We should probably have taken a team photo, but we were too busy being grinning and patting each other on the back.

I can now wind down for the season on a high.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

A trip down memory lane

Up until this year I have belonged to the Fat Boys running club. This has meant I've not been allowed to run the Stanage Struggle (which the Fat Boys organise), as it's a club unwritten rule that club members help out with marshalling, registration, etc instead of running the race. This is a very good idea, as it makes the Stanage Struggle one of the best organised fell races in the Peak District.

Now that I'm a member of Pennine, I'm allowed to run it again. Mrs Noel is in the same boat (former Fat Boy, now Pennine) so we agreed that one of us would marsall, out of good will towards the Fat Boys, and one of us would run it.

Mrs Noel ran yesterday at Lantern Pike, and took 1 minute of last year's time to finish 3rd lady. I've just finished a slice of the lovely date and walnut loaf that she won. This all meant I got to run the Stanage Struggle today.

Last time I ran the Struggle, in 2003, I was just getting into fell running and felt good enough to end with a sprint finish. This ended in tears, however, as I then collapsed after the finishing line and was sick. I was hoping to pace myself a bit better today.

In the end I managed to overtake a few people on the long and fast descent to finish in 8th place (20 places better than 2003) and about 3 minutes faster. It's nice to know my seven years of fell running have helped. If I'm another 3 minutes faster than today in 2017, I'll buy you all a pint.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Motorcycle plum mayhem

We've done two races in the last week. Longnor races and Padfield Plum Fair Scamper.

Longnor races mainly involves motorcycles and horses, but they also have a fell race at the end of the day. I've not done this race before and I was eyeing up a possible victory when I was told there were only 13 runners.

The race goes twice round the track so it was very good of Dark Peak's Mick Stenton to warn me to avoid the motorcycle ruts as they can be very muddy. After the lap of the track, we were directed off through fields onto a small course that we were to do two laps of. Just as we were leaving the track, I was thinking about when I should time my challenge on the lead of the race.

It was then that Jason Burgess of Staffordshire Moorlands went past us all like a speeding train, and went on to take first place by a street. I managed to edge into second, and was very pleased to win a nice lead crystal vase.

Padfield Plum Fair Scamper is one that we've both done on previous occasions, but it was Mrs Noel's turn this year. She was as quietly competitive as always while checking out whether any of the elite ladies were there. In the end she improved on her time from last year and won first place and a nice bottle of fizzy. There was a good Pennine turnout, but unfortunately our men's team were pipped to the team prize by Helsby.

I should mention our Pennine team-mate Steve, who completed his first top-3 finish (of many - I feel sure).

Monday, 6 September 2010

Grasmere and Shelf Moor - fame and fortune

I'm studiously avoiding turning this blog into the Mrs Noel blog, but there are times when I have to blow her trumpet. We were in the Lakes a few weeks ago and it allowed us to attend the Grasmere Guides race. This is steeped in history from the days when it was run by local shepherds (who set fantastic times).

Neither of us had done this race before, but we were aware of how special a race it is. I was slightly ill on the day, so agreed to look after the kids while Mrs Noel gave it her all. We watched the field of runners storm off and slowly plod up the very steep hillside opposite the showground. The good thing about some of these short races is that you can see nearly all the race from the showground (the race is about a mile a half long). There is also a commentator, who tells you where the lead runners are relative to the records of yesteryear.

In the end, Rob Hope won it in a sprint finish after chasing Rob Jebb all the way down the hill. Then Mrs Noel and another lady were involved in a similar sprint finish to see who would be 2nd lady. Mrs Noel managed to hold off the other lass, to claim 2nd spot in this very prestigious race. The prestigiousness (if that's a word) was underlined by the fact that they had a podium and a proper photographer.

Mrs Noel was then amazed to find that, partly due to the historical fact that Grasmere guides used to be a professional race, she won £100. Fantastic eh! The first £15 was shamelessly wasted by me on a bottle of fizzy that we drank in the campsite.

So, back to Shelf Moor and my moment of fame. I was aiming for top 50 in this English champs race, as that would mean I'd get points in the English fell running championship. In the end, I was very pleased to finish 49th. This means I'll get 2 points (I think). It's not quite a podium or £100, but it meant a lot to me. Here's me saying hello to the photographer (Fell Donkey).

Friday, 3 September 2010

Burnsall - not a classic for me!

I lost this race in the days leading up to it. Not that I would have beaten Rob Hope, Ian Holmes or the other good runners who turned up. But I was 15 seconds slower than last year and 3 places lower down the field. I even got sprint finished on the road section, which is not something that normally happens.

The problem was that I had convinced myself that it's so hard to overtake down the bit just after the summit, that I'd be better getting a good place at the summit and then trying to stay there. I'm a better climber than a descender so I figured that this race strategy played to my strengths.

So like an idiot, I went off like a train and was then too knackered to run downhill quickly. It was a schoolboy error really, and one that I'll try not to make again. Hopefully, publishing this will remind me in future races (and the days before them) that if I'm going to race well, I need to be running quickly at the end of the race.

Mrs Noel continued her steady improvement to finish 2nd lady and 1st LV40. She was also about 30 seconds faster than last year.

After Burnsall we went to the Lakes for a week which ended in Mrs Noel doing well at the Grasmere guides race. Unfortunately I was ill, so will have to wait another year to do this one - it looks fantastic. I won't write a report yet as I'm waiting for the times to be published. I'm also hopeful of finding some photos so I can make it a bit more interesting.

Meanwhile, it's a big race weekend for us. Mrs Noel has another race in the Gritstone series tomorrow, and I'm doing Shelf Moor on Sunday. This is an English championship counter, so it'll be a chance for me to marvel at how many minutes per miles I am behind the elite of the sport.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Eccles Pike and jam

I've mainly been training this week. Mrs Noel did well at Ecces Pike on Wednesday night, but was initially disappointed to be 4th lady. Fortunately, she was only one place behind British Championship LV40 hopeful Judith Jepson, so this put it into context somewhat.

We've both been gearing up our training to Burnsall Classic which is tomorrow. It will probably be quite wet and slippy so I'm not sure whether to aim to beat last year's time or last year's placing (I was 10th). I'll let you what once I've completed the race.

In jam news, the summer stockpiling is going well. So far I've made about 8 jars (each)of :
raspberry and bilberry
raspberry, pear and blackcurrant
blackberry, apple and pineapple (I've called this 'Hawaiian bramble')

I also notice it's nearly pear and plum season, so that should allow me to add another 20 jars to this. I plan to hand jars out as part of the prizes in a fell race I'm planning to organise next year. For those fans of jam - watch this space. For those who don't like jam - don't worry, I'm planning on giving out other prizes too.

Friday, 13 August 2010

An eventful race - Ricky's race

I've not done this one before but the usual suspects were talking me through the route before the event. It's fast and pretty short with no let-up.

I got a good start and was hoping to finish in the top 5. Stuart Bond set off like a steam train as always and behind him there were two runners who were well ahead of me. I also knew my old teammate Jonny was behind me and he always beats me on the final descent. So I was hoping for a top 5 finish.

The first 'event' was when I nipped through a narrow stile and managed to tear my quite new shorts down one side. They are bit baggier than my other shorts but I didn't think it would be an issue. Then in the final stages of the race, I jumped through another stile only to rip my shorts on the other side. They are obviously a poor design!!

I was pleased to stay ahead of Jonny until the final field when he nipped past me and beat me in a sprint finish to the line. I was very happy to finish 5th, but then was told that I'd actually finished 3rd. Apparently the two who were ahead of me had gone the wrong way.

This is the only time I've won a prize in a race that didn't relate to me being a local, (or there only being 12 in the race). So I'm very proud, even though it was due to someone getting lost.

Mrs Noel was first lady, again. And Daz from Pennine was first Vet40.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Sheep - Teggs Nose fell race

We got there early to this race so the kids could have some lunch at the sheepdog trials and we could take in some of the stalls. I've always been pretty impressed by rounding up sheep with sheepdogs, and this year my respect for these guys (and dogs) has been increased further.

Local lad and former One man and his dog TV star, James Gilman (pictured), was doing the two dogs round where he had to collect his sheep, take them through a few gates, then split the pack into two lots of three sheep. This looked like the hard bit and none of the other competitors managed it. He then had to pen three in a three-sided pen and leave one dog guarding the sheep. Then he had to also pen the other three using the remaining dog. All this while the stopwatch is going. Apparently, he had also won the championship trials the day before.

Next to all that, my race sounds pretty tame.

We had the usual race round the fields before being on the course proper. As usual, most people seemed to be running too quickly towards the start of the race, and for once I wasn't with them. I was wondering whether Cracken Edge was still in my legs, so I took it steady, hoping to make up places as the race went on.

In the end I steadily worked up to 7th, which is where I finished up. I normally aim for the lady's record, as it's a good indicator for me. Olivia's course record (of last year) was 59.23, and I managed to run it in 59.20. I was very pleased with this until Mrs Noel told me she had been talking to one of the organisers, who said the course was 100 metres shorter this year.

We also introduced Mrs Noel's sister, Sam, to fell racing. She has been nursing an injured back for a while, so well done to her on giving this one a go and still having a smile on her face at the end (or maybe a bit after the end). Well done Sam.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

I know how the fox feels - Cracken Edge

Generally in fell races I aim to overtake the person in front. This is very good for my mental state during the race as I feel more like the 'predator'.

Last night at Cracken Edge, I was definitely the prey.

The night started well. I turned up early so sat in my car for a while and listened to the radio about a man who had won a £1000 bet from his local bookies about whether he could lose 5 stone in 6 months. Here's the story:

I was then chatting to fellow Pennine runner, Joe, who continued this theme by explaining to me how he's lost 8 stone by only eating on Thursdays and how this should make him faster. To be fair to Joe, I might have forgotten the actual details, but it was something like this.

Joe's slimming plan is partly driven by a competitive desire to beat me in fell races, and partly by the desire to stay ahead of Steve (another Pennine runner). Steve is going well and is getting better over the season. One of Steve's aims is to beat Joe in fell races.

Once the race started, it became apparent that there was no-one for me to chase down, as the gap was too big between me and the guy in front (Jonny, my old Fat Boy team-mate). However, whenever I glanced behind me, I saw the pack of panting, salivating beasts that included Joe and Steve.

With no obvious holes to hide in, I decided the only sensible option was to stay ahead of them. Thankfully, Joe swapped places with me with about a mile to go, so I could enjoy the feeling of biding my time before striking and regaining the lead. In the end I finished 1 second ahead of Joe, who was 10 seconds ahead of Steve.

With this fierce level of competition, I'll have to start putting more training in. Joe and Steve, if you're reading this, I'd like to recommend the new super training food: bacon, ham, mushroom, tomato and mashed potato pancakes, covered in cheese.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Shining Tor - hurray for short races

After the long slow torture that was Holme Moss, it was great to get back to some fast runnable stuff. Shining Tor is another one of those "this is one of my favourite races" races. It's got loads of hills but it's never too steep.

It was good to be back in the top 10% of the race field, and to yet again beat my time from the last time I ran this race (2 years ago).

I was also very pleased to have the new experience of being in a winning team. I guess this is more likely now I'm part of a proper club, and one that has good runners like Simon Coldrick in it. Simon was 3rd, and because us Pennine boys were also 14th, 18th and 19th, we had a higher average over our top 4 than anyone else. I'm currently sipping from a bottle of Stella that was my share of the multipack prize.

Mrs Noel was also first, ahead of her Pennine teammate, Lucy. They also won the lady's team prize along with Mary.

Bring on more short races. I love 'em.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Holme Moss - it went to plan

In my last blog entry I was planning out how my Holme Moss race would go. Obviously, this was partly tongue-in-cheek. Let's revisit that plan and see how much of it came true.

1. Set off too quickly - No. I think I set off a bit too slowly.

2. Still feeling fresh after about 5 miles - Yes.

3. Get cocky and overdo it - Yes.

4. Lose the person in front - No. But there were a lot of them.

5. Head towards Scotland by mistake - No, but only because there were lots of flags showing me the way.

6. Finish in a crumpled heap - Yes, definitely.

I said I'd probably finish about 150th, but I was hoping for top 100 and I finished in 97th.

I was aiming for 3 hours 15 minutes and I beat that to finish in 3:11:34 (here are the results).

So on the face of it, I should be pleased with my performance. But I am not. I think it was the style of my race that leads me to not be pleased. Relative to previous years, when I've trained for long races, I have done:
- more long, slow runs
- a greater run-in period of long, slow runs
- more overall mileage.

But the last 3 miles of this race were like the last 45 minutes of every endurance event I've ever tried: my muscles saying "that's your lot" and me having to jog back while streams of people overtake me.

I don't like to turn my back on things that I haven't got the hang of, but I'm erring towards Mrs Noel's advice on the subject of long races - "what's the point?"

However, these pained musings are demonstrating to me what the point is. It's a challenge. And despite the fact that I would like to turn my back on long races, the more I do of them, the more I want to do them well.

So, whenever I pluck up the courage to enter another long race, here are the main points I've learnt from doing this race:

1. Train more, in terms of overall mileage per week and distance per outing.
2. Train up to the race distance. I need to know I can do the distance, and not mis-pace it because I'm used to running 2 miles shorter.
3. Do a few long races during the run-up to my target race.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Three days to my first ever championship race

It's Holme Moss this Sunday, and it's an English championship counter. That means all the proper athletes will be there. So instead of being 15th, like I sometimes am at the normal low-key races I do, I'll probably be 150th.

I was planning to have done lots of recces of the course so I would have been prepared, but I haven't got round to it. So instead, I'm hoping to follow people in front of me. I was also hoping to have done lots of stamina training, as the race is 17 miles. I've done a fair bit, but as always, not as much as I would have wanted.

My plan is to do a few more championship counters in the coming years, so this is like a warm up for next year. I only hope I don't end up as the stumbling mess I have been at the end of my previous long race attempts.

My target time is about 3 hours 15 minutes. Last year that would have put me 12th (because it wasn't a champs counter last year). I'm hoping that stating my target time to the world (or at least the 7 people who read my blog) will spur me on towards the end of the race. Watch this space...

In Mrs Noel news, she was looking forward to doing Black Rocks Fell Race, but I googlemapped [it's a verb now, honest] the wrong address so she didn't get to the race in time. Luckily she had a 45-minute drive home to calm down so didn't then hack me to death with a spoon. We spent a few minutes tonight seeing where we think she would have finished.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Glory at Hathersage

There have been two important races in the Noel household over the last few days. At the weekend it was Hathersage junior fun run. Mrs Noel competitively accompanied our eldest who was coached with advice about how to pace a race and when to attack, etc. I accompanied our youngest and we stopped at various points to look at ants and talk to the 'martians' (marshalls) who were showing us the way.

After then losing in the tug of war, we headed off home before the prize-giving to be in time for the kids' tea. However, we later found out that my eldest won the fantastically large Hathersage Gala Shield for first non-local. Here it is, dwarfing my first local's trophy from Shutlingsloe.

This trophy now has pride of place on our trophy cupboard-top, and Mrs Noel is already planning how to train up our eldest to improve on this year's time.

The second important race was of course Hathersage gala fell race on Monday night. I got lots of justified heckling from the Fat Boys for turning up in my Pennine vest. After being 8th at the summit, I finished in 10th. Although this was a place down on last year, this means I've done a better time each year for the last 4 years at this fell race. One of these years I'll manage to stay ahead of Jonny Wilson on the descent. I think for me to do this, I'll need to be ahead of him by about 2 minutes at the summit. That or find a bike for the road sections.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Whaley waltz

As triathlons go, this one suits me down the ground. It's a 5.5 mile fell race with a 5 metre river section where you can touch the bottom, and there's no biking involved.

You could almost argue that it would be better without the river section. Except that it makes for great photographs and gives the race a character of its own. Here's me hovering above the water. I was hoping to look a bit more Action Man than this - I think my eldest summed it up well by saying, "you look like a rabbit, Daddy". Despite this, I was pleased with my race, as I finished just behind my Pennine teammate, Nat, who I've yet to beat.

Mrs Noel is famous for this race. A few years ago she appeared in Runners World in a similar pose. She also holds the race record as she won it last year and it was a new course relative to the year before. Here she is showing me how it should be done. This was on course to setting a new lady's course record. She was also part of the first lady's team along with Pennine ladies Lucy and Elaine.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Isn't Borrowdale great?

It was my youngest's birthday last week, so we went camping to Borrowdale for a treat. The kids like gill scrambling and we managed to find the best gill we've ever scrambled up - Sour Milk Gill. I then went for a lovely run which was never contrived, and followed great natural lines to give me 4300 feet of ascent in 10.5 miles.

This was probably one of the nicest Lakes runs I've ever done. This was while Mrs Noel and the kids had lovely ice creams in a cafe which also sells sorbets (my youngest is intolerant to cows milk so can't have ice cream).

Then the following day we hired a canadian canoe on Derwent Water, which was very reasonable and quieter than it would have been on Windermere. I'm also slowly eyeing up getting back into rock climbing and couldn't help but notice that there are lots of good-looking crags in the Borrowdale valley.

To cap it all, my eldest found a dragonfly that had just emerged and was drying its wings in the sun. Borrowdale is quickly becoming my favourite place.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Edale Country Day

I've lost count of the number of times I've said 'this is one of my favourite fell races'. But, I'd be lying if I said otherwise. Edale is short enough to be enjoyable and steep enough to be challenging. It also has a fun boulder hopping bit in the middle where you can pick your speed up.

I'm not one to drop names (apart from when I do), but occasionally I'm genuinely amazed by who I end up running next to. I was chatting to Simon Patton before the race. He was saying he's been doing loads of training for the Bob Graham round (72 miles, and 42 Lakes summits in 24 hours!) So consequently he has lots of stamina but no leg speed. And for a while I was ahead of him. Then after about 3 miles, he warmed up and left me in a cloud of dust.

Here's me looking like I'm jogging down the fields towards the end of the race. I thought I was going pretty quickly here, but the camera doesn't lie. It could explain why I lose places on descents.

I now have a new watch, so although the results aren't out yet, I can tell you that I beat last year's time and finished in about 38 minutes 33 seconds. Mrs Noel also did well and got a prize from the nice people at Accelerate, who sponsor this event and the others that make up the Gritstone Series.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Boar's Head fell race

Yesterday was my first fell race in the colours of my new club - Pennine. Although I ran Shutlingsloe as a Pennine runner, I didn't have a vest, and I had pre-entered Wincle so ran it as a Fat Boy.

Fat Boys are my previous club, but they don't run many of the same races as I do (because I live the other side of the Peak). I would like to thank the Fat Boys for being so welcoming to Me and Mrs Noel over the years.

It seems I'm not big-chested enough to fit into a male medium vest, and there are too few scrawny men in Pennine to justify getting a batch of smalls. So we eventually decided on a lady's medium (thanks to Margaret and John for sorting that out). I was pleased that it didn't have any tassles or anything like that. It was also great to get people shouting "come on Pennine". Thanks to everyone giving encouragement on the course.

I've not run Boar's Head before as it clashes with Calver, which I've done a few times. I was delighted to find that it largely followed one of my old training runs from when I lived in Stockport. It was like a frantic, exhausted trip down memory lane with dozens of people chasing me.

The race is more fun than some races in that there are alternative lines to take. At one point, the field of runners in front of me split, leaving us with a confusing choice of who to follow. I followed the person directly in front of me (as I nearly always do) and I think I got it about right.

I'd tell you what time I finished in, but I'm watchless at the moment, so am waiting for the results to come out. I can then obsess over them, looking at who I would have beaten last year and who I should try to beat next year. Ah, the joys of fell running.

Monday, 7 June 2010

All for the love of fish - Wincle Trout

Wincle Trout is a very popular race - it seems to appeal to a wider group of people than most fell races do. Perhaps it's the excellent fete, perhaps it's undulating course on good tracks, perhaps it's the free trout for all finishers. This year they limited it to 350 runners and it was full about a month before the race day.

Wincle Trout is also an interesting race, because the fete (and the start and finish of the fell race) alternates between three different fields in Wincle. So to beat your PB, you really have to compare your time from three years ago. I hadn't done this race three years ago, so I could only compare what position I came in the field.

Lining up at the start of the race, it was pretty obvious we were missing a few big names who normally win the race. Local world-class fell runner Simon Bailey wasn't there, and neither was Stuart Maycock who wins it when Simon Bailey doesn't turn up. So that left Simon Harding to lead out a group of about 3 or 5 of us, each trying to stick with the guy infront. In the end, Simon won it by a long way.

I was in fifth place for most of the race. At one point, I had aspirations of pushing into the top three or four, but in the end was pushed down to sixth. I was still very pleased with this position, as it beats my PB of ninth from two years ago.

Sixth was also high enough to retain my first local's trophy, and win a three pack of local beer. I was glowing with pride when I stepped up to receive my trophy having watched the male and female winners in each category receive their trophies before me. After they had shaken hands with the former MP Nicholas Winterton, each one was prompted to turn to the race photographer and have their picture taken with the trophy. 'Great!' I thought. 'I've finally reached the big time.' However, when I turned to face the crowd, I realised the photographer wasn't there any more. I guess first local doesn't cut it.

I can report that the trout was delicious, barbecued that evening and washed down with a bottle of Sir Philip. Another great day out. We also successfully imported egg throwing, which raised about 15 quid for the local church and school. This is something we had seen last year at Burnsall Sports Feast. Here's a top tip: remove any rings from your fingers before trying to catch an egg thrown by someone more than 10 feet away.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Bigger quads

Quads are the big leg muscles that help you run up hills. I have noticed that most of the better fell runners than me have bigger quads than I do.

It seems there are many schools of thought on how to get bigger quads. One of my training books tells me I should do plyometric exercises, or 'bounding'. The main drawback of this (apart from the injury risk) is that you look like an idiot when you're doing them. So on Wednesday night I went for a run on one of my normal routes and tried to find quiet bits where no-one would see me.

Basically, you have to bound and far and as high as you can after landing each stride. I usually describe it as running like Penelope Pitstop used to do when running from the Hooded Claw. Unfortunately, I can't find any images of this, so for those who didn't watch the same cartoons as me, here's Jonathan Edwards showing how it should be done. I don't think I'm quite there yet.

I have also noticed that people who cycle a lot tend to have big quads. So on Thursday night, I went to Manchester Velodrome for a 2-hour taster track session organised by a mate (who also has big quads).
This is one of those banked tracks so you can go quickly round the corners. The angle is 42 degrees at its steepest, but it seems a bit steeper when you're on it the first time, and you don't really want to cycle round the top.

We did individual pursuit, team riding and a timed lap and it was great fun. I'm not sure how this will relate to me improving at fell running. The test will be at Wincle Trout race on Saturday.

I've taken a picture of my quads and I think they might be improving. What do you think?

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Shutlingsloe - trophy envy

Mrs Noel has been coveting my first local trophy for Shutlingsloe fell race for the last few years. This was made worse last year when she was second local, so would have been the first female winner of the trophy if I hadn't turned up.

This year I was keen to beat last year's time (of course) and retain the much coveted (mainly by Mrs Noel) Frank Hooley Memorial Trophy. Despite managing to fall twice during the race, I finished 4th in 18 minutes and 11 seconds.

Mrs Noel was 33rd overall and again was second local. She also did very well and finished as the first lady, so now has a trophy of her own. However, it was handed to her in two pieces, with a screw in the cup part where it had been badly bodged together (I'm making no comments about women and DIY here).

Despite this trophy being in two parts, Mrs Noel has wasted no time in telling me that her trophy is bigger than mine. My trophy envy will be increased after we've had it mended.

This is an artist's impression of how Mrs Noel would have looked if she were a bloke.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Glaramara fell race - my birthday treat

We had a free weekend so decided to go camping in the Lakes with my family. This allowed Mrs Noel to check out a new campsite that looked nice. It also let me sneak in another race. Glaramara is 5 miles and 2100 feet of ascent (and descent).

This was the hottest weekend of the year so far and it felt very unpleasant as about 65 runners set off down the road towards the mountain (or hill, I'm not sure where the cut-off is). It quickly became obvious that I wasn't in tip-top condition as I fell further and further behind a small group of runners that I had started near. I would probably put that down to dehydration, general tiredness, a beer the night before, etc. It is also very clear to me that I don't train on big hills like this, and I'm not much good at them.

I was 6th at the summit after a brief scrambly section (see picture), but decided I should amble a bit so that I could follow someone down the mountain and see where the best lines were. Unfortunately, as soon as I got into ambling pace, my body seemed to say "that's me done, I'll warm down now, thanks". So it was almost impossible for me to get back into racing mode.

With this in mind, I was going to go for a gentle finish, but found myself unable to resist a sprint finish to secure 14th place (I think). All in all, it was a very pleasant way to spend my birthday.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Goyt's Moss

This is another one of my favourite races. I like the fact that there is a long uphill section in the last third of the race. I normally try to gain a few places on this bit.

The race is set in the picturesque Errwood valley, formerly home of the Grimshaw family. The valley is now flooded to form the reservoir which covers the old village where the servants used to live. The house used to look like this:

It now looks like this, and the fell race runs past it.

I was again hoping to beat my previous best time for this race. So I got in with some of the runners who I know do times slightly faster than I normally do, and I tried to keep up with them. I lost a few, but managed to hang on to some of them.

The end of this race is on a stony track that is about 3/4 of a mile long. It starts to go downhill at the very end. This year I mistook a slight gradient for the point where I should do a sprint finish. This almost went very wrong as the guy I was racing then caught me and we were neck and neck for about half a mile. Luckily, he's one of the few fell runners who doesn't descend as well as me, so I managed to sneak in front of him at the very end.

I think it was partly this last mile of racing that helped me beat my previous best for this race. I'm starting to realise that next year is going to be tricky - how will I maintain this level of improvement? I think I'll need some good excuses lined up.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Mount Famine - this is fell running

This is one of my favourite fell races. I've probably done it four or five times now, so I've put a bit of pressure on myself to do a better time each year.

It's a very sudden and pretty daft uphill start. You run up a grassy and tree-filled bank which is to the right of a valley-bottom footpath. So instead of jossling for places, everyone takes their own line for the first 200 metres. Here's a shot of the 2008 race, which sums it up pretty well.

I'm always quite a fast starter and am a better climber than descender so I normally try to get into a good position after the first climb. This time I was just ahead of Tom Brunt at the top of the first climb. Tom is a proper fell runner and wins races, so maybe I went off a bit too fast (again!!).

There were lots of steep climbing bits and I've found a new technique which seems to work. When the bits are too steep to run, most runners take large steps and put their hands on their knees to help them up the hills. I find that this works but I find the transition from slow steps to fast cadence running is quite hard. So today, I tried fast cadence walking and it seemed to work well. I certainly gained a few places by doing this.

Here's a shot of me looking dazed but happy about a third of the way into the race. I was pleased to finish tenth and to take about 1 minute 20 seconds off my time from last year. This now means there's more pressure on next year's time. There's probably a fine line between focus and obsession.

Mrs Noel was due to do this race as well but has a throat infection so has lost her voice. I should probably avoid making comments about the relative merits of this.

Photos courtesy of FRA forum members "Rudolph Hooker" and "finniganjones", respectively.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Rainow fell race - fast and hard

I don't normally target races that don't have loads of ascent in them, but this one is a local race and I've not done it before so I gave it a go. It covered a lot of the same ground as Sunday's race - Bollington - except in the opposite direction.

I managed not to get lost this time, and was pleased to finish 10th in 35 minutes 37 seconds. I think it's also the first time I've ever beaten Olivia Walwyn who is currently leading the ladies English fell running championships.

I'm slightly drained today and certainly needed my recovery run. I now need to focus again for the third race in 7 days: Mount Famine on Saturday. That's a proper fell race with lots of ascent. If we don't get any more rain before then I might run it in road shoes. Everything is the dryest I've seen it in about 4 years of living where I do.

Mrs Noel News:
Mrs Noel was third lady and 2nd lady vet-40 at Burbage Skyline on Tuesday night. She's waiting for the results, but should have taken loads of time off her previous best for this race. Last time she ran it was about 3 years ago and she was 11th lady.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Bollington - Where's Wally

It's common knowledge that you should do a reccie of the course before you race it - especially if you live near the course. This means you can pick the best lines and you know where the hills are. It also means you don't get lost.

I didn't reccie this course (despite living pretty close) and I made the mistake of assuming the four runners in front of me knew where they were going. Unfortunately, three of them were making a similar assumption and the one at the front was a bit uncertain. Anyway, it was a lovely detour and made the race slightly more challenging. We got back on to the right course after a while, but found we were joining the group of runners that we had left behind.

In the end I think I finished about 8th. Those who beat me included: the four who were ahead of me when we went wrong, Simon Bailey - who didn't go wrong and was too far ahead of everyone for us to follow him - and a few people that I couldn't catch after our extra loop.

Using similar statistics to those being applied by our politicians to describe their party's performance in the election: if I assume our detour was about 3 miles, I would probably have won had I not gone wrong. I told Simon Bailey this at the end, and got a laugh.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Crowden Horseshoe - am I suddenly really good?

Races that fall the day after an English Championship counter are great. Not only are they slightly less busy, but the people who generally don't turn up are the top 20% of people in any age category.

Today's race had about 180 starters (I think), and for about 400 metres I was leading the field! This was again due to my normal fast start, but it's not like I was flat-out sprinting. By the summit I was fourth and eventually finished fifth after a bout of exchanging places with the guy who then finished 6th. Here's me trying to maintain my lead on the final descent.

So, have I suddenly become a great runner who can finish 5th in a relatively high-profile fell race? I was pondering this, so checked what my place would have been if I had run this time a few years ago (when there wasn't a championship counter the day before). And the answer is... I would have been about 55th.

I should either start training a lot more, or stop putting these good results into context.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

5 seconds from my target

I was turning the corner of the field with the finish in sight and looked at my watch to see I had 10 seconds to run the last 100 metres in order to get my target time. I did my best but sadly my olympic standard sprinting is not up to much after nearly 10 miles. Still, my finishing time of 1 hour 17 and 5 seconds was very pleasing. That's more than two minutes off my PB.

I stuck to my normal race plan off setting off like an idiot and then dying on the second half of the race. I was 12th at the summit and finished 17th. I suspect if I had been 15th at the summit I might have finished in 15th, but as I'm a better climber than a descender, it always seems foolish not getting the advantage when I can.

That completes another 30-mile week for me. Another 3 or 4 of these and I'll be properly in the swing of things. It's starting to get a bit hectic now. I think I've got about 10 races in May! However, three of these are over 3 days. May will be interesting - it's hard to plan in a steady 10-miler in the two days between races.

NEWS UPDATE: I've just looked at the results for Kinder downfall, and despite me hearing them say "1,17,05" my official time is dead on 1 hour 17 minutes. I'm glad I tried to do a sprint finish now.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Onion holder

That's right. It lets you chop an onion without getting onion juice on your hands. Here it is being demonstrated by my mum. For those who read my previous blog and doubted that there were more kitchen utensils than there are famous people, here is your evidence - onion holder!!!

I should probably add something about fell running too. It's Kinder Downfall this Sunday, so I'm hoping to finish in about 1 hour 17 minutes. That would be a new personal best for me, but it's very dry at the moment and that normally makes for fast times. Also, I seem to be going OK at the moment, so I should aim high.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

I'm a kitchen utensil

For those not aware of this game, it's like twenty questions. But instead of being a famous person or a type of animal, you have to pick kitchen utensils. This version of the game became a favourite of mine after I realised that there are more types of kitchen utensils than there are famous people in the world or types of animal (that people know about).

Anyway, I was at my parents' house over the weekend and spotted a new type of kitchen utensil. I realise a blog is not the best medium for a game that's essentially twenty questions, so I've also included a picture. Can you guess what it is? Even with seeing it, I was none the wiser. It hasn't got any moving parts it is just a lot of spikes in a row on a handle.

I suppose I should also post something about my fell running training. Here's what I've done over the last few weeks:

Saturday: 9 miles
Sunday: 4 miles hill reps
Monday: 4 miles steady
Tuesday: No running (Mrs Noel at Bjorn Again!)
Wednesday: No running (Mrs Noel's fell race - Herod Farm - 3rd lady and 1st LV40)
Thursday: 10 miles
Friday: 3 miles
Weekly total: 30 miles

Saturday: 5 miles
Sunday: 8.5 miles
Monday: 3 miles (hill sprint reps)
Tonight: 6 miles

Here's a picture from one of my runs. It's the steaming slurry heap from one of the local farms amid Saturday's early-morning frost. It's a glamorous life this fell running.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Cross training

When athletes reach their peak fitness level and want to make new improvements they turn to cross training. I am not an athlete, and have not reached my peak fitness level. So here is my cross training over the last 2 weeks, which have largely been spent in Mallorca

Cross training 1: building sand castles
If I am ever in a fell race where I have to run up a long sandy incline, I now think I will be better at judging how steep it gets before it starts to slip down hill under its own weight. We also briefly tried to build sand bridges, but I can see why this idea never really took off.
Usefulness for fell running: 2/10

Cross training 2: road running
Although there are lots of mountains in Mallorca, most are too far to drive from the villa when the kids are asleep. So we did a fair bit of nice road runs.
Usefulness for fell running: 7/10 (but it's probably not really cross training)

Cross training 3: snorkeling
If I ever see some small fish on a fell race...
Usefulness for fell running: 1/10

Cross training 4: mountaing running
We did get one day without the kids to run up Massanella which is Mallorca's highest accessible peak (the highest one has a military base on it). It was good training running up but very sharp and stony to run down. We were also a bit lost with navigating from a walking guide without a map.
Usefulness for fell running: 8/10

Cross training 5: road biking
I hired a road bike made out of expensivium and carbon and we headed off for what seemed like an ambitious but feasible 85 miles. However, after 60 miles, I remembered that biking stamina does not rely on memory, and I should have done some biking in the last 6 months. This sort of training probably would be useful, except I can't think of any training programme that tells you to completely deplete your legs' supply of glycogen and then do another 30 miles.
Usefulness for fell running: 7/10

Cross training 6: drinking beer and eating chorizo
I could probably argue that alcohol is a carbohydrate and therefore I was 'carbo loading', or that chorizo is an excellent protein source to build bigger muscles. Again, I can't find any training programmes based around this.
Usefulness for fell running: -2/10

I'm now feeling slightly behind schedule, so might have to concentrate on some training rather than cross training.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Dry season

It's been amazingly dry for the last few weeks. Although there is still snow on the ground in places, the bits that have drained are as dry as they normally are in the summer months. One of the local farmers even took the chance to burn some gorse and bracken off his land (I assume that's why they do it - feel free to correct me if not).

Then today we finally had some rain. I took this opportunity to run to the summit of Axe Edge. This hill is long and pretty flat and is the source of about 5 rivers. So it's no surprise that it was very boggy. In fact many of the wetter patches had their own mallards! Here's the trig point at the summit.
The route was just under 11 miles, and will probably be a welcome addition to my set of routes once I work out the details a bit better. As it was it satisfied my need for longer slow runs, as it took me about 2 hours.

Tomorrow, I plan to cheer on the runners taking part in the Edale Skyline fell race. There are a few Fat Boys (the running club I am in) running it. I think the ascent of Lose Hill is probably the best place to watch it. Otherwise they go past too quickly. This way, I should have a chance to heckle and they'll be too tired to answer.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Wolf Spit

I have been counting down the weeks and days until my first fell race of the year. It was today, and I hoped I had got my training right in the final few days before the race. I went for a hard and hilly 8-miler on Thursday, followed by two gentle recovery runs on Friday and Saturday.

Wolf's Pit is 5.8 miles with 1600 feet of ascent (and descent), so is among the steeper of the Peak District fell races. It runs up the hill behind Mrs Noel in the photograph, which is, of course, steeper than it looks here. I had been looking at last year's results and thought I could do faster than 49 minutes. Mrs Noel was sagely pointing out that I haven't done that much training so should be taking it easy! Imagine - taking it easy in a fell race!

There was also the added spice that I knew my long-time training partner Dave would be trying to beat me up the first hill. While I tried to put such things out of my mind, it was quite tricky. Especially after his demolition of my hill climbing ability 4 weeks ago on a training run.

We set off quickly and I was feeling confident until we turned for the first climb. I heard a "Come on Noel!" from the spectators - thanks whoever it was. This shout was followed a few seconds later by "Come on Dave!" My fears were confirmed when Dave smoothly accelerated past me up the first climb. I was full of friendly advice befitting such a situation, "Take is easy" and "It's a marathon not a sprint", but these thinly veiled taunts were dismissed as they should have been. Luckily my hilly training seemed to have paid off and I managed to sneak a slender lead by the top of the first climb, which I managed to hold on to for the remainder of the race.

Surprisingly, my descending seems to have improved. I actually made up a few places on the downhill sections, which is not my normal form. I managed to finish in 48 minutes 40 seconds. So was very pleased to be ahead of my target time.

Mrs Noel was also pleased with her day. She was third lady, for which she got a prize. She was also first lady vet40, for which she got another prize. She was very pleased that one of the prizes was garden centre vouchers. It's as if the organisers knew her.

Once we'd had our free soup and roll (thanks to the organisers), we all huddled round the boards showing the results. Stuart Bond won it by a street. A mere 14 places and over 8 minutes (!!) ahead of me. I can only imagine how fast that must feel.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Mrs Noel's birthday run

It was Mrs Noel's birthday over the weekend. So we decided she needed a more special run than our usual circuits. So we ran from Bingley (where my parents live) via Saltaire, to Ilkley. I think it was about 7 miles. It's amazing how much ground you can cover when you're only running in one direction. My parents had very kindly agreed to take the kids over to meet us.

Our imagination was somewhat fired by the idea that we would be running past the twelve apostles stone circle.

We had high hopes of something wondrous (like the picture). But instead, what we actually got was quite small and it seemed some of the apostles were lying down.

It was also pretty murky as you can see in the photograph. It's not a complicated route but we had to check a few times using my compass. We eventually got to Ilkley and had a nice pub lunch and a pint. Birthdays are made for this. We tried our best to get Mrs Noel to buy something. But despite being led into her favourite clothes shops and even the running shop, she was uninspired. Feel free to make suggestions as to what she might like, as I was hoping to get an extra something for her in Ilkley.

Then after Saturday's murk, it was glorious on Sunday (but I didn't take my camera out - sorry). I was trying one of my local loops at race pace. I always do this when it's early season and convince myself I'm running really quickly and have somehow changed into some sort of fell running god in a kind of boyhood superhero style. Then comes the first race and I realise (a) I have not been bitten by a radioactive fell running spider without knowing it, or hit by a strange comet-like thing from the planet Fell Running, and (b) those people who I used to be close to in races, but who have trained over the winter, are now a bit faster than I am. The first race is this weekend, all being well, so I'm looking forward to going through this cycle of naivety and mild disappointment all over again during the race.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Running the wild boar

I was reminded how Wildboarclough got its name on today's run. When I first moved near this Cheshire hamlet, I read on a website that it was the place where the last wild boar in England was shot. However, I subsequently worked with an expert on wild boar in England. He told me that in the olden days, people didn't call wild boars by that name, so the place name couldn't be related to them.

The most likely reason that Wildboarclough has this name is that it's related to the bore of water that from time to time races down the narrow Clough Brook. The last time this happened was on 24 May, 1989, when the sudden flood destroyed the road bridge. The rebuilt bridge now bears a plaque to commemorate this event, and the local vicar blesses the bridge once a year.

Anyway, enough history - back to my run. It was pretty wet and there was lots of snow just on the point of melting. Here's Clough Brook looking pretty high, but hopefully not on the brink of a flash flood. I continued up one of the three valleys that feed Clough Brook to see quite a lot of snow just waiting to melt all at the same time.

I also encountered what must be the main rabbit and hare high street. Because of the snow, all their tracks were very visible. I considered following a hare track to see where it went, but I've seen hares run rings around my dog (literally) so didn't fancy my chances of even seeing one.

My fitness seems to be getting better slowly. 8 miles today. I plan to do some speed work tomorrow. I also did about 3 or 4 miles midweek from work. It's getting very close to being able to go out in the evenings, which should be when my training really takes off.

Monday, 22 February 2010

10 miles and dinosaurs

I think this was a pretty perfect weekend. First I went for a nice 10-mile run on Saturday morning. Mrs Noel had already been out for about an hour running and when she came back, she informed me 'it's not cold'. Luckily I know she's made of sterner stuff than me so I took my hat, gloves, thermals and fleecy buff. I needed them all, as the picture shows. This is the back of Shutlingsloe.

Luckily the sun came out, and despite the ankle-deep snow I got some beautiful views from Wetstone Ridge. You can really feel like you're out in the wilderness from up here. I have just realised how daft that statement is, given that I was running on a bridleway next to a fence. But you see what I mean. Note how the frost on the fence has detached from the fence and made a frost fence just next to it.

Then on Sunday, we awoke to even more snow. This was an excuse to rope my parents in to helping me (ahem... I mean the kids) make more snow sculptures. This time we went for a dinosaur theme. Here is the T. Rex. Unfortunately, his teeth kept thawing out and he later collapsed. I've realised it's hard making animals that rely on counterbalance to stay upright.

The stegosaurus, however, is still standing a day later. I think in future, I would advise against two-legged snow dinosaurs. I was contemplating a sauropod, but the long neck was too tricky to think about.

After all this exertion, we also built a large snow chair. It was pretty comfy, but slightly on the cold side. I was planning another training run, but instead had to make do with a new form of hill reps. This involved sledging down a slope and then running back up carrying my youngest. He seemed to like the idea too.

The best thing about this 4 inches of snow was that it melted from the roads in a day. This meant we could get out to see the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain who were playing at Buxton Opera House. For those who haven't seen them, here is one of the songs they played: