Race review: Harewood House Half Marathon


Sunday 8th February 2015 (Start 10:00)

 RECOMMENDED? Definitely (if you’re ok with trails!)

WHERE IS IT? Just a few miles due-north of Leeds on the A61, heading towards Harrogate.

Harewood House is a stately home standing in its own grounds, and the race takes place entirely within the private estate without needing to take to the surrounding lanes.

Harewood House, morningWHAT’S IT LIKE?

This is a fantastic trail course. Just one single mile is on tarmac, and that is part of the private estate. The rest is undulating tracks and grass. If you are purely a road-runner this isn’t for you; in fact if you occasionally go onto flat grass and paths in a managed public park it still may not be for you. It’s not a fell race, but nor is it a gentle jog in the woods. And there are hills, some of them quite harsh. The winning man came in at 1:23:26, the first lady 1:37:07, and the tail-enders around 3:30. This is a challenge, not a PB course.

Our day was a glittering winter morning, warmth in the sun in spots, but much of the ground still frozen hard and a bitter breeze. You may need a base-layer and gloves.


A medium-sized event with around 820 finishers. But this was the first year it has been run: if BHF are able to repeat it I suspect it will become much bigger, very quickly.

The Start

The Start


The course meanders in and out of itself to stay within the estate. It is simply perfect if you are a habitual trail runner; and beautiful too. Some of it is on Harewood’s public footpaths and bridleways (including some stretches of yours truly’s longer runs) but much of it on stretches which are not normally open to the public. Look to your left at 5 miles and you will see the Emmerdale set; look above and you will see the Red kites. You will weave in and out of the woods, skirt the Fish pond, see glorious – and sometimes new – views of the house, and run alongside pools and Kitefalls you haven’t had access to before. Much of the course is on grass and gravel track, some on wooded trails, some on open fields – just the sheep and you as you trust those in front of you know where the line is actually supposed to be.

And you will go up, and down, back up again, and down again – once in particular, approaching 7 miles I think, on a steep arm-wheeling bank with the house in the distance ahead of you. My Garmin measured 1,118 of ascent, slightly more than the pennine Hardrian’s Wall Half. Some of these climbs are long and steady, and a few are brutal; especially the short-sharp-shock to turn behind the house at 13 miles just when you don’t need it. Download Harewood Half map here.

Just perfect.



Excellent. The team at BHF do a great job and send out a high-quality race pack including letter and itinerary for the day, fundraising pack, and a booklet on their work. There are also reminders by email in the weeks before.

On the day, there is catering and plenty of BHF staff around the information and baggage tents. There are temporary toilets as well as the established car-park ones: long queues at one point, but there are plenty of trees and bushes beyond the carpark so no need to miss the start. On tip: Harewood only has the one access road, so be prepared to allow a few extra minutes to get into the carpark, and to leave at the end.

The only improvement I would suggest would be to partition off an end of the baggage tent for changing (especially at this time of year when its cold and breezy).

FEE: £26.00

Harewood medal

Harewood medal

BLING: Excellent quality tech t-shirt; the medal is more in keeping with a family fun-run than a serious Half.

BHF Shirt

BHF Shirt


MORE INFO & ENTRIES: https://www.bhf.org.uk/get-involved/events/runs/harewood-house-half-marathon


JOHN’s two-penn’orth

Loved it. Just loved it. My 42nd Half-Marathon, this was a home fixture for me as I can reach some of the trails from home on LSR day: it was a joy to be able to explore some of the hidden corners, and big congrats to the organisers for keeping the whole course on the estate. After Hadrian’s Wall for my 40th and a great York Marathon last autumn, this was another one for the “special memories” category.

My chip time was 1:55:98, Garmin (at 13.34 miles) showed 1:55:27. Comfortably inside 9-min/mile overall, both are significantly faster than my LSR pace on the same terrain and I

Sub-2 / 8:40

Sub-2 / 8:40

confess I was blowing a bit on a couple of the hills. Very satisfying, especially given the hills; and comfortably stronger than Hadrian’s Wall last year.

Best bits: being so local for me; glorious course and a joy to meander through the estate.

Worst bits: erm….. nothing really, even the b***ard hill at 13-miles was satisfying once it was over.

Could be improved by… Shelter for changing. Maybe signs to guide spectators to good viewing points: we thought 3.5 & 8 gave a double chance but the family got lost… Not BHF’s fault, obviously!

One final thought: a couple of years ago I had a heart attack. Only a small one and I’m fine and under supervision and running well. I was conflicted about whether to go for a fundraising push on this one – and BHF certainly deserve that for an excellent event – but somehow…. well, my heart just wasn’t in it. Maybe that’s an indication that I haven’t really come to terms that it happened. I did make a donation when I entered, though. And another after the run, with a message of appreciation for the heart team at Leeds General Infirmary, and for the pharmacists who keep me safe; as I run, and every day.


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Ten tips for a struggling beginner

In the pub last Sunday night with Nick, a girl – a stranger – came up and spoke to us out-of-the-blue. She was probably early twenties, petite, dark and so intensely pretty you had to concentrate hard to ignore it.

She was running a half-marathon; it was in aid of a friend who was terminally ill; she was struggling, couldn’t get into it; she was so very tired (and the wine had affected her more than it should); in fact, she was hating it.

We assumed she was about to ask for a donation, and Nick was probably worried that I would kick off into full-on “Coach” mode (to be fair, had Nick 2 been with us as normal I might well have done so, and left them to their cars and gadgets). And, she was right about the wine, was not entirely coherent, and was inordinately interested in whether we were a couple, even when we explained that we were married… to our respective wives, we added quickly, not each other.

But she didn’t want a donation: she just wanted to offload. She was trying, she really was, but it wasn’t working and it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t meant to be like this! Nick surprised me and said I’d run a bit, so we talked briefly. She seemed encouraged and wandered off in the end, probably – by morning – to forget anything we’d said.

But it got me thinking.

Ten Tips for Beginners

  1. If you’ve not run since you left school, then don’t expect to run a race and win, first time you go out. And don’t expect to run every day in the first weeks and months. Once a week is 100% more than you did last week. Add a second and you have doubled your running. Small steps.
  2. Start gently. Find a park or lake or playing fields or circuit of local streets, and walk round it briskly. Then put some 20-metre jogs into it. In time you will join those up until you can comfortably do the full circuit. In easy, gentle steps. Then extend it, add loops and figure-8s and you can move on to pick longer routes. In gentle, easy steps. The 10% rule. Don’t increase what you do by more than 10% in any week: number of runs, distance of longest run, total miles.
  3. The only thing you really need to begin with, are good shoes. You don’t have to pay £100, you can picked them up on sale sites for £30-40. Go to a proper local specialist running shop for advice. (Once you’re into it, you can of curse amass as much lovely kit as your budget will allow, and some items will become close companions which share special adventures with you.)
  4. Road or offroad? Try it, see how it feels. Road is easier for traction and progress. Off-road is better for your limbs (assuming you don’t sprain an ankle) and you may find it joyful to be out in the woods and seasons; but it is more effort. Try combining the two.
  5. Maybe try an event: it will give you a goal and a focus and a date to work to. Don’t be shy, they are not just for elite athletes: once you are there you will see that all shapes and sizes and ages do it. A 10km is a great event for beginners: a classic distance and definitely do-able. A half-marathon is a much bigger challenge and only to be tackled seriously. A full marathon takes over your life, and that of your family and friends. The personal emotional rewards are in proportion to the distance and effort involved.
  6. If you do an event, then take it seriously and manage it. Work back from the date: plot how many miles do you need to be able to run at x-weeks before the race, and plot some runs in between those weekly-long-runs, to build your fitness and as a base for your endurance. Treat this plan as a guide, not mandatory. And remember the 10% rule.
  7. Consider a local running club. Many people find the social aspect and regular sessions help with their motivation and get them out; and they are a great source of support. Ask at a specialist shop, they will know your local clubs; or look at the shirts and vests of people you see running, especially the groups. Clubs are not just for elite athletes: they cater for all ages and abilities, and they will welcome and embrace a beginner and share what they know. And everyone there had a “first time”, so don’t be shy.
  8. Listen to your body. Always. If it’s too much, ease off; if you get a pain, ask what it is and allow for it; if you feel you can do more, then do so. Your body will adapt to what you ask of it and become stronger with care; and it is sensitive and wise, it will tell you when to ask less of it. Always listen.
  9. For your first event, ignore times and splits and pace stats. Your goal is to get to the start-line healthy, to complete the event and collect your medal. In years to come, whatever you go on to, you will keep and cherish this one. Now you have a time; and for your next event you can set targets for yourself based on what you have learned.
  10. If it’s not working for you, change it or drop it, and maybe consider if this really is right for you. Running can be joyful and spiritual as well as physical, and if all you are getting is pain and frustration then question what that is telling you. But. Think about why you are doing it: what made you try running or commit to an event in the first place? Maybe it’s not meant to be easy; maybe the thing you are running for is worth some effort. You may find, with perseverance in the early days, that one day you find yourself running more easily, enjoying it more, even looking forward to the next time. Many people find they struggle to begin, then have a breakthrough and never look back. And that medal: it matters so much, precisely because it wasn’t easy.


So there you are, pretty dark-eyed girl. Lace up, and go in small steps… Good luck!

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View from behind a race-number

To the supporters at the start celebrating with us as we set off,

To all the plentiful cheery stewards with your relentless smiles,

To the strangers along the way reading our names from our bibs,

To the children with your posters and high-fives and bright eyes,

To the old man clanging the brass bell on his porch as we stream by,

To the marshals holding the traffic and guiding us,

To the Church band and high-fiving vicar with your prayers,

To the person who says gently “good cause” on seeing your charity vest,

To the residents with drinks and jelly-babies,

To the peole with numb tingling hands, who can’t stop clapping,

To the organisers and the priceless time you give,

To the strangers mid-way, smiling and connecting with our eyes as we pass,

To the campanologists and your glorious full-peal,

To the people on the bikes who we think we’ve seen miles back,

To the bands and DJs, especially the samba bands and the spring you give,

To the people in deck-chairs, duffle-coats scarves and mittens; staying a while longer,

To the first-aiders with your outstretched dobs of Vaseline,

To the drinks-givers concentrating so hard to reach but not fumble,

To those who help a stricken runner in their exhaustion and pain, and their disappointment,

To the strangers in the final stretch, blurring into a haze but still heard,

To the stewards with the goody bags and blankets and the steadying hands,

To the medal givers, delight afresh for each one of us.


Thankyou so much; you may never know how much you do.

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Half-marathon no 41… and a first for me

It happened as I approached the 11-mile mark of my 41st marathon. It had never happened before. I had had a measured first half, testing my full-marathon pace for two weeks later, and then speeded up for the second half to see how that felt. I was just looking over to where the full-marathon runners split off for their second half, and wondering.


Then I saw it. A b-eat vest. I have worn mine like a billboard on my long training runs, and run many events, but never seen another one.


In a way, that’s kind of the point. I see countless cancer, and heart and children’s and disability and other vests from the big national and “corporate” charities… but eating disorders just aren’t fashionable. They are not talked about. They are not understood. Despite affecting somewhere approaching 2 million people in the UK; probably more, nobody really knows. Let me be clear: I have nothing against the big charities or their causes, on the contrary I fully understand that each vest carries a family’s story and probably a degree of pain. I wish them well. But they have their awareness, they have their share of airtime. Nobody is afraid or embarrassed or unsure how to talk about them, or where to turn for help.

That’s why I wear my b-eat vest. For various reasons I decided I couldn’t go heavy on the sponsorship this year; but I have worn my vest on my long training runs and will do so on The Day. Maybe, just maybe, someone will see it and find the website. Find they are not alone. Find some help.

Anyway: back to mile 11. It was a girl, early-20s maybe, and running with an easy natural stride, yet with the slight raggedness of someone who is tiring. I pulled alongside as we approached the chicane which takes the runners off the road and onto the Embankment of the Trent. She was not aware of me particularly, just another runner passing in the fog of her tiredness.

I said “Hi” and pointed at my vest; she smiled, her name was Hannah, and she is on twitter as @hannah_mcbrien. We talked a little, about where we were from, and running; and we spoke of our trials of recent years. Sometimes she was quiet, tiring; I said not to feel she had to talk. I hate it when people impose on the privacy and escape of my runs, and I checked whether she was ok for me to run with her a little; she said, yes, it might be nice to have someone help her along.

To make the distance, the Robin Hood Half has a U-turn just after 12 miles. There was a difference between my GPS and the 12-mile marker, but I said “There: you are in mile-13, and every step is making it disappear”. At the U-turn there is a short but cruel uphill from the Embankment to the road and the return leg. “Take a breather; short strides” I said, “just flat road from here and then…” but I was cut off by a yell and a shout and waves from the roadside. Hannah lit up, suddenly energised, a huge smile and waves back to the group now behind her: her stride stronger for a moment, her head and shoulders lighter. “My friends, they’ve been brilliant, I can’t believe it…!!” I wondered, did they all turn to each other after we had gone and say: “Who the hell was that old bloke…???”; and I wonder if they will ever really understand how much their presence and shouts meant.

I pointed out the runners ahead turning onto the grass for the final run-in, and as we drew near I said I would drop back and leave her in peace to finish her race on her own. She glanced across with a momentary – and touching – confusion… and then she was gone.

My first encounter with another b-eat vest; the first time I have ever willingly shared a race with a stranger. It was uplifting, and a privilege to share that mile or two. So thankyou for that, McBreezey; and my apologies again if I encroached on your first half-marathon.

Im not sponsoring this year but if you can manage a donation please go to http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=HannahMcBrien

and say Johntleeds sent you 🙂


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Resilience, and a marathon start-line

Turning Point

Turning Point

Last summer, as I was trying to convince myself that things were ok, I wrote that I didn’t feel that in my heart. I think those were the most pained words I have written here.

I had recently had a problem which turned out to have been a small heart-attack. Not a dramatic soap-opera collapse as the music and credits roll; more like a couple of hours of hangover or man-flu. Even so, it was upsetting and at the time I had not “come to terms with it” (oh how that expression makes me wince, too many associations).

 I had been denied the full-marathon which I had half-expected to fail at… but I never expected to fail in that  way, and it shook my world, my whole view of myself.

At that time – and again in the year since –  I had faced turbulence in many other ways: unstable work, lack of security, financial worries, letting the family down, and all of those progressively eating away at my spirit. My GP spotted that, and referred me to a local mental-health scheme which turned out to be really valuable. In difficult conditions, being forced to deliver a service to a large group of people, they were very effective. People don’t talk about mental health, but one striking thing was the range of people there of all backgrounds & ages: I absolutely believe the reports that at any point in time probably one in four people are suffering a mental-health problem of some sort. And I have to assume there were even more who didn’t take the course… or couldn’t, and were struggling alone, unseen. The sessions explored Stress, breaking down the different components of Anxiety and Depression; it explained how the cycle becomes self-reinforcing, and offered tips to recognise and break it.

Looking back, I hadn’t coped well, but I did fight and fight.  Shortly afterwards I had a major breakthrough with a new job. I am now using the sum-total of all my management and commercial experience, but also building on what I did and learned in almost ten years as a school governor. It’s tough and demanding, but uplifting at the same time: I can have an impact on over 1200 futures, and I know I can add something. I’m loving it, and working there is repairing my spirit.

One of the guiding values of the school which we promote with our students is “Resilience”. Jamie Jones-Buchanan of Leeds Rhinos is a governor and has spoken of his nightmare year, which nevertheless ended in a cup-final triumph. I don’t know rugby league, but I did have a small tear during the Commonwealth Games at Lyndsey Sharp’s success; and Eilish McColgan and me… we’re the same except only one of us is running through the beta-blockers (and ok, she is just a bit quicker… but to be fair, I’m old enough to have watched her mum race!).


And I’m running well. Long days since I started the new job have limited my training in the crucial final month but I have managed it well overall, with plenty of long runs and hills deliberately built in. Apart from the loss of miles in the final month, I will line up at tomorrow’s Yorkshire Marathon start-line stronger than I have ever been.


I hope to be Sub-4. And then of course there is my secret target which I haven’t told anyone else. I think the missing miles will make that too much of a stretch, but if I don’t manage it I will be fine, and not be disappointed. I started out just desperately wanting to run this race, and only later, as I managed the training and became stronger, and other problems receded, did I start to focus on a particular time. So if I don’t make that time, I will be ok with it.

I know that, in my heart.

Im not sponsoring this year but if you can manage a donation please make a donation here and say Johntleeds sent you – thanks 🙂

POSTSCRIPT, and perseverance

Well! It turned out, on the day, that my secret target was indeed a huge stretch. But I did it.

My first marathon was London, April 1994: 20 years ago, younger, less battered, and with a fully-functioning unmedicated heart. 3 hours, 35 minutes, 50 seconds.

My Yorkshire Marathon was tough, but I fought and refused to let it go. I won’t bore you with the mile-by-mile splits but suffice to say that in the last mile, or the final climb back to the University, or the run-in to the line, or even in the gasping moments after crossing, I didn’t dare look at my watch.

But when I did, I saw 3:35:26.York Time

York Medal

Posted in Life in general, Marathon, Running | Leave a comment

The Marathon Widows’ and Orphans’ Survival Guide

This blog has become somewhat introspective in recent months (that is, when I have not been AWOL all together). I have had cause, mind you: things have been a little challenging, to say the least, but I now have light at the end of the tunnel. So in a return to the spirit of blogging-as-public-service, this is the first in a series which has been tumbling round my mind during long runs for well over a year.

Running a marathon is a hugely demanding affair, not just for the runners themselves but for all those around them: partner, family, work colleagues and friends. It devours the runner’s attention and emotion just as much as it does their time, and disrupts the flow of day-to-day life, the ordinary. As it should: taking on a marathon is an extraordinary endeavour. And the journey is so much longer than the 26.2 miles on the day: the idea may have been conceived some years before, but the preparation – and disruption – runs for many months before “The Day”. This means that those around the runner play a crucial role: it may be one of enthusiastic support, or of grudging – even resentful – tolerance. In fact, it will most likely be both, at different times.

So as a veteran of five (yes, a whole five) full 26.2-mile marathons, I thought that as I approach my sixth I might try to share some of what is going on in your marathoner’s head. If you know someone who is training for an autumn marathon like me (York, Nottingham, or maybe even Dublin or Berlin) you can follow it with me for as long as my ramblings last; or maybe your runner has their sights on London or Brighton or Paris in the spring in which case you will have the full set.

Either way, I hope you find it useful, and that it might make your runner’s and your lives a little smoother as you run this journey together. In coming weeks I will try to give a few pointers about training, injuries, preparation and how to help your runner on The Day. But to start I give you…


The Marathon Widows’ and Orphans’ Survival Guide

Episode 1: A different kind of calendar

Episode 2: Training, Pyramids… and “The Wall”

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Race Review: Hadrians Wall Half-Marathon



Sunday 29th June 2014 (Start 10:00am)


WHERE IS IT? Enter NE49 9PP into your satnav or maps and it will take you to… the middle of nowhere. That’s right, bang in the middle of the glorious English (only just!)

The approach

The approach

Pennines at the southern end of the Northumberland National Park. Go halfway across the A69 between Newcastle and Carlisle, and up a thumb’s-width, and you’re there. The place is marked on the map as Edges Green, but on race-day the event itself is by far the most populous settlement for miles.

This is an awesome and beautiful setting. And as you approach you pass for some miles along the line of Hadrian’s Wall, adding a unique and rather sobering feature to the day.

WHAT’S IT LIKE? Undulating/hilly in stunning countryside, mix of rural lane, grassy trail and sound gravel track. Good relaxed atmosphere and a mix of all shapes, ages and abilities. Do it for the character and location, not for a PB. (This year’s winning man and lady finished in 1:24:35 and 1:40:23, both around 3mins outside the course-record; and the tail-enders were around 3 hours.)

Start & Finish

Start & Finish

HOW BIG IS IT? The race entry is capped at 500; 434 finished on the day I did it. (Mountain Rescue were in support but I wasn’t aware of any emergency so I guess the 66 just didn’t  get there on the day.)

THE COURSE: The route follows an anticlockwise course

  • 3 miles of single-track road, downhill to start then steeply uphillHWMap
  • 3.5 miles of grass trail, with sections of classic Pennine rough and heather (and maybe a hint of peat-bog) but always with a good track; this follows the route of the Pennine Way
  • 5 miles of forestry track, solid gravel roadway
  • 1.5 miles back on road to finish, undulating

On the road climb heading out, it’s particularly satisfying that looking over to your left you can see the whole route laid out in a wide anticlockwise sweep, just like a real image of the map in the course-notes.

Pay attention here: there are 329 meters of height-gain: that’s 1,079ft 3 ¾ inches in old money. If it was on the floor that would be about a fifth of a mile; but it’s not, it’s upwards. The course profile map shows most of the climbing up to around 7.5-mile point followed by what looks like flat/undulating afterwards, but the scale understates it…. At least, in my case I found the gradients from 7 miles much tougher than I’d expected (and from the grunting and blowing at that point I don’t think I was the only one).

ORGANISATION & FACILITIES This bit’s easy: his name is Ian. When you enter

Half Mara XL

Half Mara XL

online Ian sends you an email to confirm; then you get your race number and a factsheet in the post, and that tells you all you need to know. Ian also hands out prizes and the odd freebie at the end and I’m sure would be happy to chat: I’m annoyed with myself that I didn’t pop over and say thanks for the day.

Considering the relatively-small scale (ie compared to a big-city event, I am under no illusion that this is anything less than a major project for Ian) the facilities are excellent, with

    • lots of marshalls for the parking,
    • a catering wagon,
    • portaloos which were quite adequate for the demand
    • marshalls on the course at the key turns
    • water handed out mainly by smiley children (biodegradable paper cups, out of respect for the environment; fair enough)
    • Mountain Rescue were present. You don’t get that at London.

      I don't care how fast you're going... read my shirt!

      I don’t care how fast you’re going… read my shirt!


FEE:  £27/£25 and you can donate to Mountain Rescue (go on, it’s really worth it… and much less trouble all round than the approach of “Support Mountain Rescue: get lost!”

BLING:  a good-quality tech T-shirt.





JOHN’s two-penn’orth

This was my 40th half-marathon, and I had been looking for something special. This absolutely was it.

Best  bits: the approach; the location and presence of the Wall; reaquaintance with the Pennine Way (my Wainwright says I last walked this section on 13 July 1979); layout and variation  of the terrain; organisation. So, erm…. everything, really.

Worst bits: Just for the sake of something to say… we were lucky with the weather – bright/sunny skies, dry overhead and underfoot, and a wind which was cool-bordering-on-chilly. I suspect it’s not always like this, and more realistic pennine clag and gale and bog would fundamentally change the nature of the run.

HW TimeAt the end my Garmin showed 2:00:28 (bugger!) and the results sheet has me 199th overall which puts me in the top half… but it also showed 13.24 miles so the Court of Arbitration for Sport have ruled it a clear Sub-2 Half. Any discrepancy will undoubtedly have been down to my meanderings as I enjoyed the scenery, and not Ian’s piece of string. I didn’t even mind that I’d underestimated the terrain after 7 miles and couldn’t pick up the pace as I’d hoped: it may have been my 40th Half, but it was just making sure I kept my respect for the distance.

Could be improved by…. No, sorry, nothing apart from “I should have gone over and said thank-you to Ian”.

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