The Spires and Steeples Challenge- Event Report

Spires and SteeplesIt was not the most promising of starts for a 26 mile cross country plod. As I drove along the A52 in complete darkness, the rain kept an unrelenting splatter against the windscreen and I desperately tried to coax some warmth out of the ancient heating system. The thought of walking for hours against driving rain was rapidly losing its appeal and I started to question why I hadn’t just rolled over after being woken by the strident call of the alarm clock and drifted back into sleep.

But I am a bit of a purist at heart, and I had entered this event so I was bloody well going to walk it. That and the fact that I’m also a bit of a tight wad and couldn’t bear the thought of my entry fee going to waste. It was mainly this that kept my car on the road towards Sleaford and the pick up point for the Spires and Steeples challenge.

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On The Wishlist (Maybe!)- Spartathlon

spartathlonWhat is it?

Now I really don’t want to get obsessed with this race… I really mustn’t. As a slow plodder it doesn’t really have any business being on the Wish List at all… but, oh, there’s something about this challenge, the toughness and the history of it that intrigues me…

Spartathlon is a historic ultra race which takes place in Greece every September. It retraces the journey of the Athenian Pheidippedes, who could well have been the first ever ultra runner. In 490 BC, on the eve of the Battle of Marathon, he ran from Athens to Sparta to seek aid from the legendary Spartan warriors against the invading Persian army.

Pheidippedes apparently arrived in Sparta the day after he left Athens, after meeting the god Pan on Mount Parthenio (the first ever case of ultra-induced hallucination?). At first thought to be a myth, in 1982 five British Royal Air Force officers who were keen ultra runners and who were intrigued by this story decided to see if such a journey between Athens and Sparta was possible in just two days.

Well, they made it and found it was not only possible but would make a cracking race so that many others could experience the torture too… and so Spartathlon was born!

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The Ponton Plod

Ponton Plod On Sunday 15th September I experienced something that had never before been experienced… the first ever wet and windy Ponton Plod!

In the 7 years the event has been run, it has always basked in warm Autumnal sunshine- indeed the very name of Ponton Plod has been synonymous with warm sunshine and gorgeous blue skies.

But not today. I drove to the start at the village of Great Ponton, just off the A1 south of Grantham, with the radio giving dire warnings of the most wild wet and windy weather. As I registered, sipped coffee and said hello to the event organiser Stuart, I couldn’t stop myself from peering out of the windows at the unpromising steely grey sky. As we set off under the lowering clouds, I heard one runner say that the rain was supposed to start at 3pm so figured I at least had a few hours before getting wet.

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The Gritstone Grind

Gritstone ChallengeCovering the whole of the Gritstone Trail in Cheshire, England, in one day is certainly no easy task. I had expected a lot of climbing but hadn’t anticipated quite how much the Trail actually ascends and descends, plus 35 miles in one day was going to be a big ask considering my current fitness levels.

The race registration was at Disley Community Centre, near Stockport, which meant a lovely 4am start Sunday morning to catch the coach from Disley at 7am which was to take us to the start at Kidsgrove Station, near Stoke-on-Trent.

Race organizer Rich had asked the council several times to open the loos at Kidsgrove Station for us and had been assured that they would be… so of course they weren’t… picture a load of well hydrated endurance nutters all desperately trying to find a private spot to answer nature’s call!!

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Preparing for the Gritstone Grind

I am busy preparing for tomorrow’s Gritstone Grind. This is an event organised by Rich of Beyond Marathon– Rich is a veteran of many ultra including the MdS and the Atacama Crossing, and so has a very good idea of what makes for a great day out for ultra nutters.

The Gritstone Grind follows the entire route of the long distance path known as the Gritstone Trail, which runs from the railway station at Disley, near Stockport, to Kidsgrove station, north of Stoke-on-Trent. It is 35 miles long, and our challenge is to walk the whole length of it in one day- or 12 hours to be precise. This will be my longest event for a good while and I am really nervous!

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The Bassetlaw Bash

Bassetlaw BashThe Idle Valley Nature Reserve is a pretty, peaceful spot just to the north of Retford in North Nottinghamshire… or at least it is peaceful apart from one Saturday in April. For on this day scores of ultra runners and walkers descend on the visitors centre ready to start what has become an annual fixture- the Bassetlaw Bash, named for the area in which it takes place.

As it’s fairly local I thought I may as well give it a go. There are a variety of routes to choose from-  5 mile and 10 mile family walks, plus 20 mile and 25 mile challenge walks.  I checked in, told them I was walking the 25 mile route and got the cheery response ‘actually it’s 27 miles!’ Although it was only the second running of the event, it was very well attended, and there were hot drinks at the start which is always a bonus in my opinion.

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Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast PathThe Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path National Trail form a 93 mile trail across Norfolk and around the Norfolk coast. The Peddars Way runs for 47 miles from Knettishall Health in Suffolk to Holme-Next-The-Sea on the Norfolk Coast, carving like a knife through the remote agricultural lands of north east Norfolk as it marches inexorably towards the sea.

The Way was one of the earliest known Roman roads to be built in Norfolk. It formed part of an extensive network of routes created following the failed revolt of the Celtic leader Boudicca, allowing the Roman army fast access to the coast as well as all areas of Britain in case of further Celtic uprisings.

Over the centuries the Peddars Way has changed from a symbol of Roman might and oppression to an important trade route for pilgrims and drovers. In fact the name ‘Peddars Way’ did not come into common use until medieval times. Most of the route of the Peddars Way can still be traced today, and in some places the raised ‘agger’ of the original Roman Road can still be seen.

As the Peddars Way joins up with the Norfolk Coast Path at Holme-Next-The-Sea, the two trails have been linked and are usually walked together.

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Chasing the Naranjo de Bulnes, Picos de Europa

Naranjo de BulnesThe Naranjo de Bulnes, literally the ‘Orange of Bulnes’, had acquired a somewhat legendary status amongst our trekking group. It’s Asturian name is Picu Urriello, and it is one of the best known sights of the Picos de Europa mountain range in Northern Spain– a huge monolith of limestone rock, towering over the tiny isolated mountain village of Bulnes.

There are many view points from which to appreciate it, but thanks to several days of rain and low cloud, we hadn’t yet had so much of a glimpse. But that was to change today, or so we hoped…

The day had started off clear and sunny, so we bundled our packs into our tour leader, Juan’s, four wheel drive and started climbing the rough zig zag path to the Pandebano Col, which was to be the starting point for our quest. Abandoning the car, we leapt out and walked uphill through green meadows, noticing with some consternation that the cloud had already started to hide the tops of the mountains surrounding us, begrudgingly allowing the sun to shine through from time to time to spotlight the valley far below.

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Walking the Cares Gorge- Picos de Europa

Cares GorgeThe spectacular Cares Gorge was created by glacial waters carving a deep ravine separating the Western and Eastern massifs of the Picos de Europa mountains in northern Spain. The sparking waters of the river Cares now rush and bustle their way along the bottom of the gorge, but in 1916 it was decided to divert some of the water along a canal blasted out of the cliff face to feed the hydro-electricity station at Poncebos. An access path was created at the same time, and although originally intended to service the canal it has become a hugely popular walk.

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Joint HealthNow that I am well into my- ahem- 40s, I have started to give my future health some serious consideration. Given that I tend to give my body quite a pounding in the mileage stakes with the walking, trekking and running, and intend to continue to do so for as long as I am able, I thought it was time to develop a plan for ensuring that my joints are well able to cope with whatever I choose to throw at them. So I have come up with a five stage process for future joint health; feel free to use it yourself to help keep your joints in tip top endurance condition;

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