Monday 6 July 2009

Scorching round the Burn Valley - a ½ marathon race..

It was one of those days when I really felt it's time I took up some more leisurely pursuit, like fishing, when I could sit in the shade by a kingfisher river with a couple of cans of lager in a cool bag and a few salad sandwiches, contemplating my navel and hardly expending any energy at all. But yesterday I was in Masham for the 19th running of the Burn Valley ½ marathon and the more tales of horror I heard about this 'scenic but demanding course', the more I wondered what the heck I was doing there.
"It's basically uphill for the first 9½ miles, after that it just undulates a bit" someone said. Another friend (I think) said "There's a nasty hill around the six mile marker that goes on for 1½ miles. Then it drops down into the valley past a farm before climbing steeply out the other side". Just the sort of thing I wanted to know. Nothing like a bit of mental preparation. I was plainly going to have to raise my sites. The pre-race weather forecast was for thundery showers but, instead, we got 24°C of searing heat. As we assembled for the start in the market square it was like standing in an oven. Good job I'd lathered my neck and shoulders with Factor 30.
Five, four, three, two, one, ZEERRROOOO - and we were off, the leaders as if they'd been shot from a catapult, myself at a more sedate shuffle as befits a septuagenarian gentleman with legs like road maps. After a circuit of the town we set off to cross the River Burn for the first time and made our bumbling way to Swinton Castle where lots of photographs are shot annually to make it look like a posh race in next year's advertising campaign. We re-crossed the river and ran west through the village of Healey where an old running friend of mine, Eric Nutter, is buried in the churchyard. He would have loved to be matching strides with me as I took off towards yet another river crossing before the long uphill climb up Breary Banks and past the memorial to the highest point.
At some stage in a race I usually manage to lock onto someone whose pace is roughly the same as mine and this time was no exception. I passed a tall, lithe, fair haired girl, a Harrogate Harrier, on a downhill section about two miles from the start. But she was having none of my tricks and came bouncing past me at the next uphill section. "I'm used to running at a faster pace, so have the oxygen" she said. Really? What fascinated me most about her was that her heels never touched the ground. I count myself as a forefoot striker but my heels do in fact kiss the ground lightly before take off. In her case there was always a gap between her heel and the tarmac. I'll admit, there were other sun-kissed curves and contours that caught my eye too!
The afore mentioned drop into the valley and up the other side duly arrived but it was no hassle. I'd got the pace exactly right and was moving comfortably at all times. We crossed the river for a fifth time before the long stretch back, past my old mate in Healey churchyard, on to the village of Fearby where some kind lady gave me a jelly baby that lodged in my mouth for the next two miles. There was supposedly a fast downhill section from Fearby Cross, down to the penultimate river crossing, but I didn't rate it as very fast. Or my legs didn't.
Shortly afterwards, on the run back to Swinton Castle, I spotted an old rival running 20 or 30 yards ahead of me. From the final entry list I'd been led to believe I was the only person over 70 in the race, and there were no entries on the day. Yet here was this guy, the Yorkshire MV70 half marathon champion, plodding along in front with a number on. Time to change gear. Time to speed up. I ranged alongside with a cheery "Alright there Don?", but he didn't look too happy to see me. I moved ahead to the noise of his feet slapping behind me. I powered up the next hill. The noise became fainter. A little further and he'd gone off the radar. On reaching the Castle the Harrogate girl came past again, to some rude calls of "Bouncy, bouncy" from roadside yobs. She'd scented the finish and had also changed gear. I latched on behind, allowing her to pull me along, but there was no way she was going to let me catch her again. She crossed the line in 1:56:55, 22 seconds ahead of me. I was pleased at breaking the two hour barrier, particularly as I hadn't run a half marathon on the road since 1998. My MV70 friend finished a few places behind but disappeared quickly before I'd chance to talk to him. His name never appeared on the results sheet so it's obvious he'd naughtily run the race using someone else's number. So, as the only official MV70 I was awarded a snazzy little boxed medal and £20's worth of vouchers. All finishers received a small glass memento but I'm quite puzzled as to what to do with mine!
In all fairness I should add that my wonderful partner ran this race too but would be horrified to think her name might appear in an internet diary. I should also add she too was first in her age category although she'd never run a road ½ marathon in her life before, which, I think, makes her rather special.
The race was one of the best organised I've ever attended. There were at least six drinks stations en route in addition to three places where sponges were available. The post race meal was a revelation, like the feeding of the five thousand, with a surfeit of most excellent food. The good people of Masham really did us proud - and made this old man very happy indeed. Huddersfield Examiner report here.
Postscript: The following Sunday we were in Masham again, but this time as tourists, exchanging our £20 Black Sheep race vouchers for exceedingly smart royal blue hooded tops at the Brewery Visitor Centre. Then we drove to Fearby for our 'two lunches for the price of one' at the Black Swan. My partner chose traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding whilst I opted for the sea bass. It was all very relaxing. Quite a change from the rigours of the previous Sunday.

1 comment:

  1. I wrote the following for my Facebook page and thought it would be of interest.

    2017 will see the return of the Burn Valley Half Marathon which was last held in 2012 and which was a favourite of mine when I was running in the North East. "The course is run entirely on minor roads. Starting in Masham's market square and taking you through the grounds of Swinton Castle, the course then follows the picturesque Burn Valley. It rises to the Leeds Pals war memorial near the top of Breary Banks. From there it drops down past Spout House Farm and returns via Colsterdale and the villages of Healey and Fearby. Turning right at Fearby Cross there is a fast downhill section before climbing back to Swinton Castle, just 1.5 miles from the finish at Masham School." There's a course map at

    The hardest part of the course is the climb from Leighton Bridge (at 5.5M) to the War Memorial (at 6.5M). Although some bits are a gradual slope, there are some steep bits: it's a climb of about 100 metres. And then, when exhausted you reach the top, you throw yourself down a hill on a rough track to Spout House Farm.

    The Burn Valley Half used to be one of the races of the Black Sheep Brewery series which I adored. And, if I were doing the Burn Valley Half this year, I'd shout "Eric, Eric, Eric! Oi Oi Oi!" as we run through Hailey as this is where my running friend Eric Nutter (of Swaledale Runners) is buried. We just struck up a friendship after seeing each other at the Black Sheep series and at other races such as the Brass Monkey Half.

    There are more details about the race at