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Norfolk Gazelles take part in many Park Runs across the county, being such a friendly club we also target Park Runs so that we can meet up and enjoy a post run coffee and cake. In some cases there is an option for a bike ride or an open water swim, all are welcome to join us. Whilst not an official race we do wear Norfolk Gazelle running tops.
In 2019 Norfolk is expecting a few new Park Runs to open, reserved dates are for these to be included in the tour once we know they are officially open. We've also added some Park Runs not previously included in the tour.
7th - Colney parkrun 2nd anniversary
21st - Colney Mob Match revisted
25th - Eaton
1st - 8.30am Brundall followed by Catton at 10.30am
18th - Colney Lane Gazelles marshal take over
15th - Brandon
14th - Mulbarton
11th - Watton
25th - Holkham
16th - Sloughbottom
6th - Blickling
20th - Thetford
11th - Sizewell
25th - Lowestoft
22nd - Lingwood
12th - Sheringham
10th - Swaffham
7th - Gorleston
25th - Eaton
A return to Dartmoor, for the toughest half-marathon I've done (so far), starting and finishing in the picturesque village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor. Organised by Pure Trail Running, the race features 13 miles of gruelling climbs and descents, with the highest point at Hameldown Tor.
You know it's going to be a tough race when within 30 seconds of the start you're having to walk up 15-20% gradients. There were incredibly strong winds, up to 50 mph at times, and horizontal rain driving across the moorland (I was literally blown over at one point, into the mud, which was a bit scary). We have only a few bedraggled ponies and hardy marshal for company out there today.
The first two and a half miles are all uphill, to get up to Hameldown, then a steep descent to Challacombe, an abandoned medieval settlement. The downhill stretches are tough, as the ground is saturated and solid footing is hard to find, especially with the wind swirling and pushing us wherever it chooses. We loop around Challacombe Down and Hookney Tor, before another sharp descent where I lose my footing several times and end up falling backwards on to my arse or forwards on to my hands and knees.
On to the second checkpoint and then the toughest part of the course lies ahead: our second ascent of Hameldown, which is a two-mile slog against the wind. We pass a memorial to four crew members of an RAF bomber who were killed in a crash in 1941. Then we head for home, downhill for two miles back to Widecombe, where hot drinks and delicious homemade cake awaits us.
It was the most technically challenging course I've done, and has made me realise I still have a awful lot to learn about trail running, in particular how to tackle steep, slippery descents. Only 11 out of 209 finishers came home in under two hours, which gives you an idea of how tough it was!
Delicious cake at the finish though, and that's what makes it all worth while. Sign me up for next year. There are lots of tempting Dartmoor races organised by PureTrail.
Arc of Attrition Race Report or I was glad when it rained because it washed the blood away! - 31st January
This is the biggest Ultra marathon in the South West. And for good reason, it’s superbly organised and a beautiful route. So having witnessed it last year crewing Jason Brunt I felt compelled to enter.
The journey down completed without incident (last year we got snowed in on Bodmin Moor), we checked in Thursday night and got ourselves ready for the start midday Friday.
The morning of the race, we got our trackers fitted and then attended one of the scariest race briefings I’ve been to: “pay attention or you might run off a cliff; don’t leave the trail, you might fall down a tin mine; don’t get caught on a beach by mistake, the tide might cut you off!”
Briefing down we got on the busses to the start. The start is a great piece of theatre, starting up in the village of Coverack you run down to the quay..the start is counted down to the sound of Led Zepplins Kashmir and live drumming and as we were set off through the plumes of blue smoke I felt goosebumps. Soon we were on the trail, the ascents were fine, but tough, but the descents just illustrated how inept I am at trail running. I was working really hard to find foot placement amongst the rocks and mud and given any opportunity runners behind me would skip past. I kept pushing though, almost with tragic consequences, I slipped at about 5 miles and had the choice of grabbing a thorn bush or falling of the cliff. The thorns ripped at my hands and soon, as I ran on I had two hands covered in blood! In fact I was grateful when the rain came to wash the blood away.
Before long we’d made it to Lizard Point, and it was great to see Amelia and get the damned Lizard Point fog horn behind us!
On we plodded, dropping down into coves and then long hard climbs back out. Jason and I kept leap frogging each other (not literally!) as he sorted kit, changed socks etc, and I plodded on. Jason was moving better than me at this stage.
About 4:30 we were crossing the beach at Loe Bar. It made a welcome change to the mud bath of the last 20 miles. We were pushing quite hard to reach the checkpoint without needing to extract our head torches from our back packs. As darkness fell with ran into the streets of Porthleven. An Arc Angel was there to run me into the checkpoint, taking my food order as we ran. The Marshall’s on this race were all fantastic, and a real credit to the SouthWest running community and mud crew.
After shovelling some hot food down, and getting my flesh wounds dressed by the medic, we were off into the darkness. It was made mentally more challenging as we had to run past Rick Steins fish and chip restaurant , which looked very inviting! Anyway, more exhausting climbs, challenging descents, some boulder scrambling, a couple of river crossings, more mud. I was now running in a group and it was nice to chat to other runners; always worth a bit of banter as you run through a popular dogging site.
We were now counting down the miles to Penzance. For a few miles Into Penzance, there is the opportunity to change into road shoes as the coast path follows the road. It was so nice to change into some dry, mud free, cushioned shoes...although I’m not sure Amelia was too pleased at having to help Jason and I change. Soon I was running again, it felt so good to knock out some quick miles.
Then we were at the checkpoint. 38 miles done. Hot food consumed. Back out into the dark, no quick miles this time just some easy miles whilst our food digested. Soon we were meeting Amelia again, to change back into trail shoes.
Next was the section that was impossibly tough, picking our way through boulders, up incredibly steep steps, down horrible technical descents. We were struggling to move a 2mph. I later checked out one of the leaders Strava feed and they were ‘running’ at just under 20 minute mile pace! By the time we reached Minack Theatre we were both broken. Jason retired at this point, his poles having failed, not to mention the toll of 50 miles of tough trail. Amelia didn’t give me the option of stopping. Soon she kicked me out the car and sent me on my way to Lands End. The running mercifully got easier and I felt I was making good progress and soon the Lands End hotel appeared. However I still had a couple of coves to descend into and climb back out of. By the time I made it to the checkpoint I only had 15 minutes to spare, to avoid getting timed out. I wolfed down a bowl of chilli and got myself out the door, before I changed my mind. The first few miles onto Sennen was decent running and I made good time. However out of Sennen, it was a different story. The trail was hard to follow, sometimes dropping down onto the beach, heading in land or taking me onto the cliff edge for some heart stopping boulder scrambling. This section was to be my undoing, I lost the trail and without it realising I soon found myself heading in land. I had already been tight for time to make the cutoffs, but this made it certain: I wasn’t going to make it.
I made the phone call to retire and Amelia found her way to me as I sat shivering in my survival bag.
It had been a good adventure, for me a really tough race, and I can fully understand why well over half the starters never finish.
Reepham XC, 19 January 2020
The absolute best fun you can have waist-deep in a stinking ditch, this year's Reepham XC was the usual mix of laughs, mud and, er... mud. Brilliant sunny winter weather, happy marshals and a no-pressure vibe make this one of the best fixtures of the local race calendar.
William Robb flew the Gazelle flag, coming home in a magnificent sixth, likening his first leap into the freezing river to an ice-bath, which... er... "cured" his knee pain.
Imogen Lees and Gail Barnard ran with Gazelle-legend-turned-Harrier Sam Barwick and former Gazelle Ruth [she's lovely... if only I knew her surname] and laughed their way through the filthy water, the ditches and the farmers' fields. The course
has its ups and downs -- basically, it's "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" -- and you can really feel your hamstrings during the second lap!
Signing up for a cross-country in the summer is very different from actual undertaking of it in late autumn. The blue skies have long since faded to a dull, overcast grey. This one, 'Rag It Round Repps', was billed as the "most scenic and beautiful Trail Running event in the entirety of Norfolk". An ominous sky and chill wind blew across the village playing field as we parked up at Repps with Bastwick village hall . We bumped into Imogen Lees, a veteran of this event (she had run it the previous year), who said "It's tough, muddy and hard work but you'll love it". Tough, muddy and hard work was not what we wanted to hear.
Registration completed, we had the opportunity to watch the mayhem of the start of the canicross event. Hounds of all shapes, sizes and breeds howled, barked and snarled, straining on their leashes as their owners tried to control them. One ferocious looking Doberman, possibly rabid, looked at Bob with "hungry eyes".
As the howling faded into the distance it was our turn. I wished my shivering fellow Gazelles well and we were off. We skirted the edge of a stubble field, the going firm to soft, but pleasantly easy going. I guessed there would be more challenging sections to come. Across a road, then on to a single file path. Each step churning up the ground more for the runners behind.
Next up, a "beet" field. Mercifully there was a track through the middle, otherwise I fear there might have been a few turned or broken ankles. A short section of quiet country road was next, before we turned towards the river segment. We ran cautiously alongside the Thurne - a slip or a trip over a mooring rope here would end in disaster. A stumble into the brown, murky, uninviting and cold water of the Thurne would be unpleasant, to put it mildly. Two swans startled by the runners took to the sky and circled majestically above us . Onwards we ran, slithering and cursing as we went.
A stile at 4km allowed us to take a breather and an opportunity to survey our surroundings. In the distance, the white paint of Thurne Windmill shone like a beacon in the dull, grey and lifeless landscape. "Reach that and we are still less than half way round", Chris exclaimed, clearly needing to work on his motivational techniques.
Suddenly, a hail of goose poo fell from the sky as a honking flock of Canada? Egyptian? or Norfolk geese flew overhead. The runner in front of me got hit twice, once on the shoulder then on her head. "That's considered lucky!" I chortled. The disgusted look on her face strongly suggested she felt otherwise.
We reached Thurne Mill, some weird country ritual meaning we ran through the backdoor and out the front. Disappointingly no sign of Windy Miller. Along by the river we squelched, a particularly bogging bit resulting in my left leg sinking into black gooey mud midway up to my calf. Following this, we overtook Archie, a brown Cocker Spaniel who wagged his tail and barked as we ran past.
At Thurne village, The Red Lion Public House beckoned but no time to do a "Lee Oxbury" and have a drink mid-race. The sky was beginning to look oppressive and our mud-caked trainers were feeling heavy.
Thankfully, back on the road again, and the cloying mud stuck to our trainers was shaken loose. Through a farm, past George, a Border Collie, clearly having a ball, whilst his owners tongue was lolling out as she was being dragged along behind.
Another footpath and another field. This one had "life". Green shoots of "crop" had pushed though the mud, only to be tramped and churned back into the soil. Forward and onwards, only another 3km to go. A narrow and sludgy path weaved its way through a small copse of Oak and Silver Birch, then into “Mirkwood” proper. A disgusting stench assaulted our nostrils. The fetid aroma of damp and rotting foliage plus the reek of stagnant water hung in the air. Oh the joy of countryside. Hurdling over fallen trees, branches grazing our arms we preserved whilst stumbling over the odd tree root. No sign of the family of red deer who allegedly "often roam around there"
Out of the wood and across more open and exposed farmland. A bi-plane buzzed above us. Had we transported back in time? We rounded Lucius, a mud caked and tiring Dalmatian. Leaping a ditch and crossing a road we stumbled into a stubble field. Head down and arms pumping we ploughed on towards the finish line.
No medal at this event, the organisers opting for a more practical ‘shoe scraper’ that had to be utilised before entering the village hall for a hard earned cup of tea. Imogen appeared, beaming a smile and asking the question. "Did we enjoy it?" Yes, it was tough, it was hard work, it was muddy but we loved it!
A small but perfectly formed trio of Gazelles - Phil, Amelia and I - ran the Frankfurt marathon. I’d been egged on by Phil to enter on the promise of a flat, fast course, and easy cheap travel to get there. Frankfurt had the feel of London with a big expo in the lead up where you collect your number and hire a chip, and you can blow your trip budget on new running gear and fuel yourself up with protein bar samples. Maybe that’s just all big city marathons?
The day before the marathon the Whitings hired electric scooters and headed to Ninna park and Frankfurt parkrun where I’m pretty sure Tom Whiting got a PB. I did the official Pretzel run, a 5kish jog around the city and a pretzel in medal as well as edible form at the finish, oh and a Kombucher beer. There was a pasta party the evening before at the Festival Hall where Amelia and I admitted our lack of training but comforted ourselves with the thought we’d both done long legs of the Round Norfolk Relay which would surely be enough to get us around a few more miles....
The marathon strapline is ‘run the skyline’ alluding to the distinctive high rise landscape of the city, but there are also lovely older areas to explore and lots to do and see in the city. The course itself is a disorientating figure of 8 over the first 12k, loops out and back around the central start area. Then it’s a long stretch out along the river, crossing it twice, then back the other side. Other than a few empty stretches there was great support along the way, and regular drink stations - water, iso drinks, tea, bananas, gels. It really was pancake flat, just a few very gentle inclines and the odd bridge or underpass with more serious ups and downs. The finish is another one of those mess with your head ‘I can see the finish but they are sending me another 3k in the opposite direction again’. And a stretch of cobbles for a second time, which at mile 2 just felt uncomfortable but at mile 25 was plain cruel. But the finish, well that is spectacular, you run into the festival hall on a red carpet with bright lights, dry ice and deafening music. Glad Phil had warned me or by that time I would have definitely thought I was hallucinating. We were herded along to an area where we got our medal, and a welcome plastic poncho. By now the rain was settling in. For running the weather had been great but now it was cold and the hot tea was bliss, along with more pretzels, beer, bananas, protein bars and mountains of cinnamon cake.
A great event, a fast flat course just like Phil promised. Free public transport to all runners on the day was a bonus and there was a sense of survivor solidarity as we hobbled around and waited on platforms in our blue ponchos with our medals. Next stop Berlin?
After deciding to run a half marathon (the first ever for two of the party) we had to decide on a destination which had to be a) a country none of us had visited b) easy to get to and c) had cheap beer. Travels in our youth, family holidays and a small matter of outstanding fines ruled out the EU nations. Our eyes turned eastwards; Moldova, Romania, Belorussia and the Ukraine became contenders. Kyiv (Kiev), Ukraine won the vote. A country which none of us has been to, a Ryanair destination which sold the cheapest beer in Europe (according to Google). The small matter that Ukraine was technically still at war with Russia did not phase us.
Our accommodation was ideally situated ten minutes’ walk from the start line. With our numbers pinned to our vests, flying the flag for Norfolk Gazelles and Great Britain off we headed to a thronged Sophia Square. The start/finish line was flanked by the golden domes of Saint Michaels Monastery and Saint Sophia’s Cathedral which glimmered in the warm autumn sunshine. The countdown commenced, and whilst our Ukrainian language skills were sparse, suddenly “Urrahs” echoed round the St Sophia’s Square and we were off.
The cobbled road was a surprise, but before long we were on the wide boulevard of Volodymyrsk St. We ran past the historic Golden Gate; a Soviet construct of wood and brick. The world famous Opera House was next, no time to take in a show as we turned left past Besarabski Market. On the corner stood a Ukrainian choir in full national dress. The women’s blonde hair, braided and shining in the sun, like the corn on the Ukrainian steppe. Their stirring patriotic songs spurred us onwards.
Up Khreshchatyk St, and on the right Independence Square. The scene of violent clashes which ended in the February 2014 revolution. It was sobering to see shrines and memorials to the ‘Heavenly hundred’ protesters who were killed by government forces.
We turned right, the running crowd thinning as we wound our way up Petrovska St past a teenage guitar band, spurring us on with Chuck Berry covers. This was our first hill. A pitiful lack of research meant that we were blissfully unaware that other, more challenging ascents were to follow.
Motoring on with a naïve exuberance that we’d pay dearly for later a steep downhill section gave us the chance to open up a bit as we circled the ‘Motherland’ statue; her sword raised saluting us as we turned into a headwind. Next came the Holy Lavra monastery and cave complex, scene of a near death underground experience involving mummified monks and candles the day before. No such fun this time round.
The Dnieper River flanked our right side and the wind blew into our faces as we turned back toward the city. No shelter, no respite for 6km. Muscle bound, militaristic types running bare-chested powered past with grim determination.
Through a tunnel then left onto Nyzhnii Val St. I looked up and saw a cobbled hill. Bad news – this was more Ketts Hill than Elm Hill. What followed was 4km of pain. The names Shekavytsa Ascent and Hlybochytska Hill will be forever etched in to our collective memories. Fortunately, pavements were thronged with cheering crowds, children handing out cups of Pepsi and dancing girls with pom poms! High fives were given liberally and well received. “Urrahs” once again were heard, as well profanities in Ukrainian, Russian and, mainly, English.
A kilometre of flat amidst Stalinist edifices was a relief as we re-entered the city centre proper, through the Square of the Intellectuals. Then we were turning right back onto the cobbles for the golden confetti, big crowds and booming disco of the finish line.
A medal the size of small dinner plate was hung around our necks whilst we feasted on the hospitality: fruit, yoghurt drink and black tea. Foil blankets whispered in the breeze as goody bags full of unidentifiable Ukrainian freebies were handed out.
Possibly a little over-exuberant after going the distance, for cool-down we decided to take on the free walking tour of Communist Kyiv, followed with a slap-up meal for three pounds and a blurry night of beer and vodka in a 24 hour pub costing somewhat more.
As hangovers subsided and, after a ‘wacky races’ style panic, we made it to the airport only just on time, we were able to reflect on a successful trip. Out of the ten GBR male runners on the results page (a number of whom had suspiciously Ukrainian sounding names) Norfolk Gazelles finished 2nd, 3rd and 7th.
Wissey Half is advertised as fast and flat so it’s a shocker when you meet that long haul of a hill about mile 9, and the general undulations along the way can make you curse, but this is a lovely half marathon course, all along country lanes through fields and villages. The weather was kind, sunnier than expected but cooler than some of the recent summer races. Mile 10 is a treat of a downhill stretch through a shady narrow lane. Somehow sweeter when you can tell yourself there is also only a parkrun to go.... There is a friendly feel to the village hall start with the teas and coffees, cakes and snacks, and while there’s no great changing or even toilet facilities (start was delayed this year as people were still queuing...) it’s easy to park and Oxborough Hall is grandly on the doorstep. Marshalls were friendly and it all felt well organised with very little traffic. Some runners were complaining about lack of medals or goodies but everyone got a canvas bag and a buff, and the first hundred or so got last year’s leftover glasses. In previous years there has been beer on tap to fill these glasses so there were some disappointed looking people wandering around with empty glasses for a while... There was a small but strong team of 9 Gazelles there. Jason Black was 15 seconds off a PB and there were age category wins for John Moore, Lisa Bolton and Theresa Dooley. Roy Roberts was running as a Gazelle for the first time.
Hills, hills and more hills. The Dartmoor Highground Marathon takes in the highest peaks in southern England and it’s a toughie, with more than 5000 ft ascent. I’ve been doing some hilly Westcountry half-marathons in training, but knew that the marathon itself, my first trail marathon, would be a new challenge. This is the first race I’ve done with a kit-list, and the inclusion of a compass, hat, gloves and baselayer (for an August race) was ominous.
There were only 113 participants doing the marathon (with 50 others doing the 50-mile ultra) and the start in Okehampton was low-key. A few nervous glances among the back-packed runners, but looking around I thought, “We all seem to be up for this; let’s do it!” Today is not about time, but about the challenge. Complete, don’t compete.
The first few miles are in the rain, winding through the woods beside the East Okement River. In places we’re scrambling over slippery rocks. Before long though we’re on the desolate moor, ascending above the tree-line, and the wind picks up as the rain lashes down. This is going to be tough. I look at my watch and think, “Ooooh, I’m doing 12 minute miles…pretty good…” But I’ll soon learn that pacing on the moor takes on a completely different meaning.
In the distance the first misty Tor looms, and I see a long, trudging procession of runners being hoovered up by the cloud. Soon I’m joining them, run-walking over the springy moorland grass and sidestepping the many boulders en route to Row Tor, shrouded in mizzle. We pass the Tor and head down to the first checkpoint, where runners are in good spirits, stocking up on Jaffa cakes, flapjacks and squash. We know it’s a long way to the second checkpoint.
Next we climb to West Mill Tor, then head to the big two: Yes Tor and High Willhays, the highest points in southern England. The rain means we can only glimpse the peaks. There’s no path as such; we’re slow-jogging or walking over rocks and thick grass, following a trail of little red race flags spaced about thirty metres apart. The ground becomes boggy and we’re scrambling over boulders to cross a stream. Then, with the wind whipping around us, faintly through the mist I see the huge, flat slabs of weathered granite at Yes Tor’s peak. Suddenly I’m down the other side, then on my way up to a very windy High Willhays. I’m relieved to reach the course’s highest point. It’s a wild and barren landscape all around, and I love it.
But as the miles go on, we realise this race is going to be a relentless, rollercoaster ride of climbs to lesser Tors, followed by sharp descents. At mile eight, there’s a long, gradual downhill section with stunning views to the West Okement River valley, and before long, we’re wading across that river, and climbing sharply again past a solitary tree on route to Kitty Tor. By this point most people are walking, with growing gaps between us.
At one point my ankle seems to give way on a boggy sheep track and I scream in pain, “F*************ck!” But when Dartmoor’s windy, no one can hear you scream…And my ankle seems to be okay. I calm my nerves and get a grip: this is tough, but it’s not going to be another ‘Touching the Void’. Unlike Joe Simpson, I have a ‘phone.
A few miles over springy grass on flattish moorland and then, as we approach Great Links Tor, I see my brother, Neil, who has hiked to that peak. He’s waiting with his camera, so I think of my best race pose: ‘Shoulders back, knees up, arms out, big smile…’ I get a real boost from seeing him, and he reassures me I’m well on my way to the next checkpoint. It’s a long winding descent to checkpoint two, for refuelling and encouraging words from the friendly marshals.
The next section is tough. The sun’s shining and the climbs seem relentless. I can feel blisters on my heels. We’re over half-way now, but people’s shoulders are dropping as they run-walk. This is tough. The only consolation is the colourful yellow and purple heather all around us and the occasional bemused sheep looking on.
I say to myself, “Okay, I’m still feeling good.” And I know deep down I’m loving the experience, every step of the way.
The descent from Shelstone Tor is the steepest I’ve ever encountered: it’s thirty percent in places. I’m running in tiny steps to keep my brakes on, through boggy moorland and over boulders, every step hammering through my knees. I know there are speedy Westcountry runners way ahead of me who will have bounded down these descents, but I’m running with the confidence of a new-born lamb.
The terrain changes as we run the length of the Meldon Reservoir. The trail path is fairly level here and I’m relieved knowing I can chalk up a few easy miles. Neil’s waiting again before checkpoint three, with more encouragement and, importantly, fresh socks. At checkpoint three (mile 20), I refuel and change my soggy socks; that’s a great relief.
“Nearly there,” I say to a fellow runner. I know that the final six miles is mostly downhill.
“Nearly…but Yes Tor’s still to come…” she replies, with grim foreboding, which I soon understand. The climb back up Yes Tor is two relentless miles uphill over boggy, boulder-strewn moorland with gradients of twenty, twenty-five, in places thirty percent. But I know that this is the hardest part, and I’m going to do it.
And then I’m at the top, where I pause to take in the breathtaking views all around. With a huge sense of relief, I know I’m on my way back to Okehampton, retracing my steps back to the woods by the East Okement River. For the last three miles I can see no runners ahead and only distant glimpses of runners behind. This is a race for people comfortable in their own company!
The finish is a welcome sight, but I’ve enjoyed the experience so much that I’d be happy to keep going. I finish in just over six and a half hours, more than two hours slower than my previous slowest marathon, in 80th place. And straight away I think, “I’m doing this again next year!” Quite incredibly, I learn that the winning time was 3:43, and twenty people completed the race in under five hours. Amazing.
Dartmoor is stunningly beautiful place and if you’re looking for a different type of running challenge, I highly recommend it.
Gazelles! We're always looking for simple reports of races (e.g., how many Gazelles were there, who did well), or fuller first-person accounts. If you've taken part in a race, please let us know! We need to know the date and name of the race, and the URL for any results. Please submit to firstname.lastname@example.org.