There is no better way to finish the year off than taking in one last dose of the magical madness of a Woodentops race. It would take more than a few sniffles to stop me doing the Auld Lang Syne. (Yes Dominic Raby, that one's for you! Your clubmates were telling me you were running scared today!)
The popularity of this event went through the roof two years ago when 557 funnelled out of Penistone Hill's old humble little quarry in bone-chilling sub-zero temperatures. Since that mad stampede, a conservation group has requested a limit of 400 runners which is quite reasonable really. 
At the fun end of things, the fancy dress contingent was larger and wilder than ever this year. At the sharp end, this race attracts the likes of top marathon runner Andi Jones who made the Commonwealth team earlier in the year. European Triathlon champion Jonny Brownlee, whose brother Ali the 2009 World Triathlon Champion, won this race last year. Add to that the legendary multiple fell running champion Ian Holmes and a good few other top fellsmen and women, this is truly a great event on the fell running calendar.
After my first decent bit of running for over a week without snow under my feet yesterday, I did six miles but couldn't judge whether it had put me in good or bad stead for today. I felt pretty lousy warming up which is nothing new, but once the race got under way I didn't feel too bad and worked my way up the pecking order over the first few miles. I had Clayton's Jack Dugdale shadowing me until we reached the halway mark at the trig point above Withins where we loop back and soon enough pick up the route from the way we came up. At this point I pushed past a few other guys just ahead, including Wharfedale's seemingly out-of-sorts Gareth Hird, who I didn't expect to get anywhere near. I was now hoping I had enough in the tank to stay there. The next group further on were pretty much uncatchable by now so it was a case of trying to stay ahead of the bunch I had just taken on.
Before descending down to the stream again and then climbing out of it, I briefly looked across in awe at a quickly moving dot in the distance which was one of the front runners already well out of the valley and kicking for home. Stroll on, they are quick lads I kid you not.
On that steepish climb out of the valley there was little I could do as Sean Carey and Alec Duffield powered by and made about ten or fifteen yards on me before I could even contemplate my next move. For a moment or two I had some crazy ideas about catching them up over the final mile, but I seemed to have lost that bit of an edge over the past week or so and deep down I knew it was a bit over-ambitious. However I wasn't going to beat myself up too much as I was in the company of some very good young Yorkshire talent and managed to get a bit nearer to Sean. As a result I kept Wharfedale lad Matt Athersmith off my case after he had got a bit too close for comfort. I found a good kick wth a couple of hundred yards to go and sealed 18th spot. My time was over a minute down on my course best but nevertheless a top twenty place at a race like this isn't a bad return for the likes of myself.
Packed like those proverbial oily fishes in rich tomato sauce in The Old Sun Hotel afterwards, I was once again in awe of Dave and Eileen's prize-giving with an absolute grotto of prizes stacked high on the table and Dave's own brand of unique presentation on overdrive. Maybe my emotions got the better of me because when I went up to collect my ludicrously generous eight-pack of Wychwood's bottled Goliath Ale, I shook Dave's hand, told him that I love him and his wife Eileen that I loved her too. I should have given her a big smacking kiss on the cheek aswell to be honest - maybe next time Eileen - there will be no escape! Perhaps the Woodentops couple thought I'd downed four pints already and was talking crap, but no. Just the one pint consumed and nothing less than genuine affection for both of them. On that note, that was the year that was.
Time: 45:35   Pos: 18th/390     
Just as the thaw was finally kicking in, the Ribble Valley 10k was cancelled yesterday morning after another flurry of snow in the early hours covered the course that had otherwise been kept in good nick all week. Although bad news for Blackburn Harriers and frustrating for all the hard workers behind the scenes of the club's showpiece race, I doubt I am on my own in seeing it as a blessing in disguise on a personal level. It's been a load of rubbish trying to do any decent training on those snow packed pavements and roads in sub-freezing temperatures this last week or so. What was feeling like a PB in the making just over a week ago had turned into nothing more than an unwelcome test of what was left over after a week of low mileage and poor quality running. Showered, kitted up and ready for the off yesterday morning, I then noticed a text about the cancellation, dropped my bag on the floor and put the kettle back on.  

Up to eight inches or more of snow had fallen overnight and yet no message to say cross country was cancelled! The fun started trying to find my little car under one of the heaviest blankets of the white stuff I have witnessed in twenty years. (Now I must be getting on a bit making statements like that) Trying to get on to a main road without getting stuck on a slope was a different matter entirely but I eventually made it for my club's home fixture which was indeed going ahead, albeit with different courses having been devised due to the adverse conditions.
I'm not a big fan of a lapped course which is one of the reasons I'm not a big cross country fan, but the men's revised course was four laps long. Yes, that's right. FOUR laps over the best part of six miles. I couldn't help but think that for fun I really ought to be sculpting a snowman back home or something. 
Anyway I just thought I'd better get my head down and get on with it. It turned out I didn't have a bad run at all and was comfortably in the top ten and duelling with a Tipton Harrier whose vest looked a little out of place amongst the East Lancashire tribes. I managed to stay on his shoulder until the final run in when he kicked on and I had nothing suitable in reply. I was quite pleased with my efforts though. A second consecutive satisfactory cross country result? I need to pinch myself.
Time: 36:41  Pos: 8th/62

Winter has made it's statement of intent as the sub-freezing temperatures seem to plummet further and further, so much so that the BBC are now trialling a new shade of blue to use on their weather maps.
In the North West we have been generally lucky enough to avoid any snowfall so far, although not out here on the Lancs-Yorks border where a couple of inches has laid itself across the landscape and made for an intresting race with the conditions very similar to my last visit here two years ago. 
I was steady away for this one today and with the only significant climb coming very early on in the race there seemed little point in going out too fast and busting one's balls. Sure enough when the race really does begin off the top of that hill I reeled a few places back and midway through the race ended up in a tussle with Chris Smale and some other dude in a cap. Whilst I seemed to peel away from them on the road sections, they were dragging me back in when our ankles were emersed in snow again. Listening keenly to their breathing and making sneak peeks at their facial expressions, I had decided that I was in better shape than them and so approaching the farm yard before hitting the fields upon snowy fields for about three miles to the finish, took the decision to take it to them and kick on from there.
Rather than worry about the goings on over my shoulder, I now had my sights set on the guy ahead in sixth spot who looked impossible to catch at one point but was now starting to flag a little. I was pinging along nicely through the fields although the lad ahead rallied in the last field once he knew I was closing in and whilst still drawing him in down the road back to the village, he pipped me by three seconds.
I was suprised to find I was ten seconds down on my 2008 time even though I felt more quicker and comfortable today. However, next behind me was Nick Charlesworth who had beaten me at Pendle and Withins recently and to be less than four and a half minutes behind race winner Tom Cornthwaite over this distance wasn't a bad looking statistic either. One must try and grab as many positive stats as one can!
Time: 50:56   Pos: 7th/128

This is another race I have been an ever-present at in my five years on the fells. It's a cracking little route up and over Darwen Moor from Sunnyhurst Woods with fast going underfoot and is a good little tester at this time of year. The race is in memory of whom it is named after and all proceeds are donated to Cardiac Risk In The Young.
I've finished well up in this race in previous years until last year when I had a nightmare and just couldn't get going, spitting my dummy, kicking tussocks and going straight home afterwards like a big sulky cry-baby.
Today though, I had no reason to fear a repeat of that and if anything was half expecting to beat my previous best time that I set in 2008 and thus keep my toys firmly inside the pram.
Once the climbing begins up to Darwen Tower, my fellow Blackburner's Ben Fish and Josh Tighe had already sewn up 1st and 2nd places respectively. I had my old Chorley friend Dominic Raby for company just ahead and a Pudsey & Bramley man just behind. Whilst I didn't fancy my chances of getting anywhere near to beating Dom, I was concentrating on finishing as near to him as possible but he started to pull away as we neared the tower. After the descent of Aggie's Staircase and the climb up Jacob's Ladder (as these things are colloquially known to the Darwen Dashers of this world) the race really speeds up off the top of the moor and I had seen off the challenger behind and kept Dominic in sight so it was really a case of holding my position and putting it in with the hope of nailing another course best. Well, these are good times for me at the moment as far as running is concerned and I sure enough knocked 19 seconds off my record and trailed Dom by just a respectable half a minute. 
Two things missing this year though - the cast iron windowed section at the top of Darwen Tower, which astonishingly blew off in recent hurricane force gusts - and the lady ringing the cow bells half way up Darwen Hill. I hope they will both be back in place next year.
Time: 35:39   Pos: 4th/140

A pretty rough week, for various reasons best omitted from these pages, was cheered a little by a tip-off that I really ought to make an appearance at the Harriers' awards evening because a little something was coming my way. I was in hermit mode and selfishly really wasn't in the mood for any sort of social occasion, but I was persuaded and in the end was glad I made the trip. I got the club fell running award, not particularly for any outstanding results as they have been few and far between, but for splashing the Blackburn Harriers brand around different little corners of the country on my fell racing travels since joining the club two years ago. I thought it was a nice gesture. Blackburn Harriers don't have to look much beyond their own ranks to find a top class athlete to present the awards and this time around it was the club's pole vaulting star Holly Bleasdale who this year won a bronze medal at the World Junior Championships in Canada and also bettered the UK Under 20's record of which she was already the holder.
Marl Pits, Rawtenstall

A cross country race was always going to bring me back to down to earth which is one of the reasons I decided to do it, coupled with the fact that Marl Pits is a proper quagmire of a course that I got some perverse enjoyment out of last year. Three laps and 9k later I crossed the line in 16th place. I had beaten who I thought I ought to be beating and nearly beaten one or two that I felt I had no right to be quite so near to. Significantly though, I was really pleased to chalk up another course best and with a substantial improvement of just short of two minutes on last year. Those very poor performances of my dark cross country past can now be laid to rest.
Time: 33:16   Pos: 16th/112  

Statisically, this was one of the toughest races I have taken on but I held no fear. I was feeling good and running well. Even on the journey to the race that morning, there seemed something in the air. There actually was something in the air, cold Pennine rain to be precise, but it was inspiring me rather than concerning me.
I was so relaxed going in to this race that I ought to have worried about having nothing to worry about! For once I knew in myself that I was going to do a long race and do myself a bit of justice at least. This was my first Tour Of Pendle and more than anything I was determined to enjoy it. I had a rough idea of what to expect as I had done a few recce runs up there with some lads from the club, but had not done the whole route in one full swoop.
The first half of the race is comparitively tame to the latter half and so my plan was to run just about within myself and make sure I had summat in the bank for when the going got tough. Pleasingly, just by running within myself I seemed to be going quite well although when catching up with runners from the early start, I began to lose all sense of what position I was in. The only issues up to this point were; wondering if I had missed the first checkpoint, although that seemed a mutual concern amongst other runners so I tried not to worry. Then, if snagging my favourite Nike windproof jacket on a barbed wire fence going up Spence Moor was a stroke of bad luck, it was soon enough retributed with a split second of extremely good fortune when bungling my way down the steep descent to Ogden Clough I sent a boulder the size of two milk bottles hurtling down the hillside and into the path of a lady who had gone with the early start. I stopped, screamed at her, as did the chap nearby me, then put my hands on my head in disbelief awaiting tragedy. Only by sheer chance did she move to the right and look back at us and so just avoiding what at best would have been some very nasty bruising. As we crossed the stream at the bottom I apologised sincerely for trying to kill her, but she seemed quite oblivious as to what happened - which was probably a good thing!
For a long spell I was in the company of a Scotsman from Carnethy Runners and Wharfedale Harrier Nick Charlesworth and we were in each other's pockets until when the latter half of the route kicks in and Keighley's Stephen Brock passed by to give Nick the taste of bitter Yorkshire rivalry and a reason to get the bit between his teeth and keep up with him. 
So from now on it was just me and the Scotsman. As the weather conditions worsened I found myself wasting the best part of a minute at checkpoint six unable to undo my checking-in tag with my gloves soaked and hands numbing up. I thought my companion from the North had long since got ahead of me only for him to actually catch me up shortly after at the foot of Mearley Clough. It turned out he was having the same de-tagging troubles as myself. We were inseperable!
Up the climb from Mearley I discovered this was the very same Carnethy runner, Adrian Davis, who easily had the beating of me in The Lomonds Of Fife race back in August along with his super-fit cocker spaniel. Today though, without his four-legged pacemaker, there was little between us.
I led us a good line down to the bottom of what is known in these parts as 'Big End'. This is the last climb to Pendle's summit before a fast couple of miles or so back to Barley. With the cold and wet now penetrating so deep as to question one's love of this sport, if not quite the will to live yet, this Big End seemed a whole lot bigger than my last visit here. 
It was beginning to feel like all the good work I had put in to this race was going to fall apart at the seams. Adrian had broken away although shouted me encouragement, meanwhile I could hear a couple of runners behind closing me down very quickly as I staggered almost to a halt at the foot of this bloody big slope. 
Refuelling was urgently required. Some glugs of water and a few mouthfuls of Galaxy cookie crunch chocolate later, which I lashed down my gullet so quickly I almost suffocated myself, was complimented a little further up the hillside by a group of very brave and kind souls who were spectating and dishing out jelly babies and just a few minutes later the transformation was complete. My body thermostat resumed normal operations and I regained focus on what I was doing. I had a little chat to myself and decided that all I had to do was get to the top of this lump because even though I was struggling to climb, I felt there was plenty of running left in me and anybody who was going to pass me would have to be both fast and very determined. I dug in all the way to the trig point and then pushed myself hard down through the choppy heather back to Ogden Clough and even a couple of high speed tumbles didn't put me out of my stride.
With just a mile or so to go down the track back to the village I had closed Adrian down significantly and in a kind of 'gloves off' fashion, I whipped off my windproof jacket, tied it around my waist and knuckled down to the business of catching him up. Feeling amazingly fresh legged at this point, I was leaping cattle grids - Galaxy, you are the future! - and soon enough I had passed Adrian and so set my sights on the next figures ahead, unsure if they were from the early start or not I just pushed hard to reel them in regardless. I was pretty startled to find myself passing Clayton's Tim Edward who sportingly tapped me on the arm as I went by. ''Bloody hell, I must be having a good one'', I thought. That was confirmed when seconds later I am on the shoulder of Mark Russell, the former Bolton-Tri man now with Salford. Not confident of out-sprinting Mark from here I stayed with him only for the finishing line to suddenly appear around the next corner and some hundred yards or so short of where I expected it to be. Anyway, I just instinctively edged ahead and the results later revealed they gave it to me by a whisker. I asked Tim if he was running ok if only to find out if I really had run a good one and he reassured me I had. Still unsure of my finishing position, there was a bit of a mix up with the results as the early start for the so-called slowest runners to be able to meet the cut-off point had been hijacked by some not as slow runners and confusion prevailed for a short while. But whilst overdosing on lemon drizzle cake and coffee in the village hall I was gobsmacked to be told I had finished 8th. What a result! All in all probably my strongest performance ever.
Time: 2.45:52   Pos: 8th/310

This is the one and only tarmac race that I wouldn't miss without a very good reason and so this was my fifth 'Villages' appearance in succession. That statistic pales into insignificance compared to organiser Terry Dickenson's 24 out of 25 and Paul Muller's 20 on the trot, including a few victories down the years. But this one is very local to me, a fast but challenging course and in a nutshell I just enjoy doing it. I was hoping it would sharpen me up for the following weekend when I take on the Tour of Pendle fell race which has been my main focus for the last month.
It was a perfect morning with very little wind and the sun strong enough to clear the early morning frost. Warming up down the canal I felt a bit heavy-legged but it seemed I just needed that warm up to sort things out as I felt more bouyant as we lined up for the start.
As Terry delivered his pre-race rhetoric, including that old chestnut of his; ''Remember if you do think you are going to die, please tell a marshall'', I was scanning the front line and noticed that there was a distinct lack of top local runners who usually take part.
Bolton's Anthony Valentine has made this race his own over the last few years and he wasn't hanging about today either, sprinting away from very early on to give himself a healthy lead that he would maintain unchallenged. After the first mile and a half - an uphill drag to Brinscall - one usually has an idea who you are going to do battle with and with only the Valentine ahead, I was in the company of just Paul Muller, some dangerous looking young whippet in a Blackpool vest and a chap from Buxton, so it became clear that a podium place was well and truly up for grabs this year. Then the short pull up Butterworth Brow really does sort out the stayers from the fast starters and the Derbyshire runner dropped off. With Blackpool's Luke Berry just showing a little inexperience by running in surges, I concentrated on the red vest of the mighty Muller. As we reached Abbey Village though he suddenly put his foot down and put some distance between us. I remembered to just concentrate on my own race and so tried not to get too downhearted that Paul was looking highly likely to get the better of me as usual.
Around the halfway mark I had shaken off the challenge of Luke and was out on my own in 3rd place with only the paranoia of a revival from the Blackpool lad to push me on as Mr Muller was now the best part of a minute ahead. I stuck to my task, felt comfortable and consolidated my position. My finishing time would normally not have scraped me into the top ten at this race, but there was a more confidence boosting statistic that I discovered a few days later -I had infact run my best time at this race and it's a long time since I've raced two course bests in succession. Excuse me whilst I just jig around the room and do the 'I'm on form' dance. Wheeheee!
Time: 49:46    Pos: 3rd/258      

One of a few annual races I have still managed to compete in every year since I started this game, it's been four years of very contrasting fortunes at Withins Skyline. This is the first of the Woodentops Winter quartet of fell races on Haworth Moor organised by Dave and Eileen Woodhead. The amount of work these two do for both junior and senior fell running cannot be underestimated. I support their races because I think they are stars in their own right. I think it is the duty of anybody who enjoys running off-road to sample the unique atmosphere of a Woodentops race and the barmy presentation in the Old Sun Hotel afterwards. There is nothing quite like it to my knowledge.
Ridiculously, I have gone off course on two occasions over what is hardly the most complicated of routes. Last year's detour was more of an uneducated gamble than an accidental wander. The lesson learned was never to follow a Keighley runner on his own territory!
I was hopeful of a good run this year, with a bit of decent form back in my legs and having made a pact with myself to stick to the official route no matter what anybody else does.
Unusually, the weather conditions were exceptional by Woodentops standards. As ever it was a speedy start out of the quarry at Penistone  Hill and as it turned out, a record field for this race of 345 runners.
Once the climbing begins on the moors I hit a bit of a traffic jam where the boggy trod narrows for a while and such is the extra effort required to overtake here, it makes for a pointless exercise. Looking ahead, Chris Barnes, the former Accrington or still with Accrington runner (the saga continues) had set off like a bloody steam train but was now holding the job up for a moment or two until this single file section opens up. I wasn't too bothered though as it is wise to keep something in reserve for the oncoming mile or more of boggy plateau into a guaranteed headwind and then the fast three miles to the finish from Withins Ruins. I was steadily picking my way up the order and from The Ruins, beyond a few guys just ahead who I was confident of out-running, I had set the Rossendale vest of Steve Clawson as my ultimate goal. Steve was a good one hundered yards or so ahead and despite my best efforts I couldn't draw him much nearer and he was pushed all the way himself by the classy veteran Steve Oldfield.
I finished 14th, my highest finish in this race, knocking 71 seconds off my previous best time and went home four bottles of beer, a Curly Wurly and a toffee apple to the good. Who was I to complain? 
Time: 46:29   Pos: 14th/345  
[LEG 1] 9.7m/2400ft

A few weeks of sensible and consistent training later and I was feeling better than I had done all year. A change of job had also started to benefit my running and for various reasons all round, it would be fair to say I was just about starting to feel rather good about myself in all departments for the first time in a good while. Even getting up at an eyelid-drooping time of 3:55am on a cold and dark Sunday morning after barely five hours sleep didn't phase me. Travelling up there with Jonathan Bridge and John Chaplin, little was said at all in that vehicle until we stopped for a coffee deep into the black hole of the M74. Having been pretty much ready to stop for a wee at Johnstonebridge services and realising we had past it by the time I was about to speak up, I had to hang on for another bladder twisting 30 miles until the next one, trying as hard as I could to think of the driest, most arrid landscapes imaginable whilst convincing myself of the benefits of the many extra nutrients I was retaining. Despite that bit of sufferance, I still felt good after the long journey when we reached our destination just outside the village of Falkland. I think the comfortable ride in Jon's tank-like Volvo can take much of the praise for that.
I was on the first leg with Matt Nuttall, so there was little time to get too settled at base camp. We were off and away at 10:30am. I was really pleased to be feeling quite confident as we set out with Matt setting the pace but certainly not killing me as we run along the hillside towards West Lomond. Up the steep power-walk to the summit I found myself feeling better and better and so pushed on. Whether Matt was struggling a bit after his time-trial on the bike the previous day or was just letting me lead to make me feel good I do not know, but I seemed to be pacing things on the descent and then again up the next climb to checkpoint four. From here though, Matt started to pull from me and I was having to do a bit of serious hanging on for ten minutes or so. The strap on my dibber broke and having to root around for it in deep heather did not help matters and cost me another 20 yards on him. Just as I was starting to wonder what the hell Matt was playing at, I began to close him in as we ascended West Lomond again. It turns out he just wanted to get a head start on me because, by his standards, he was struggling on the steep climbs. This is what is known as good teamwork. Mr Passco, take note!
Not really aware of our position at this point, we were expecting to start picking off a few teams once off the West summit. We were in the company of Rossendale's Stansfield and Preedy and so nearly 300 miles from home, local rivalry was still at stake. The Rossy pair flew down the West as if the finish line was at the bottom, but there was a good few miles to go and it was generally good running from here. We saw off our Lancastrian friends and a good few other teams from here and despite Matt taking a wee tumble and bouncing around in the heathers for a few seconds, we finished very strongly to chalk up 21st spot. For me that was a decent result. Better still, Matt seemed to enjoy it, so job done.
The rest of the team did their bit in the face of adversity. Our club's top fell runner Tom Cornthwaite was under the weather with a cold and 'overweight' by his high standards of skininess, but was never going to shy from the cause. John C. had the unenviable task of deciphering the navigation leg and after a wrong turn early on, recovered to get through a tough examination with Danny Maynard in toe who gained a couple more hours of valuable experience on the fells. Jon Bridge had the equally unenviable task of trying to keep focussed and warm having been up and about way before the crack of dawn and waiting around to run the final leg. As a team we finished thirtieth-something, but when some of our neighbouring clubs with more established fell running reputations didn't even make the journey, just being there was a triumph in itself. 
Time: 1.29:16  
[LEG 3] 3.4m

The idea wasn't to race until the journey up to Scotland for the Fell Relays. However, a Richard Taylor SOS SMS was sent out after the once rapid looking Blackburn Harriers 'A' team for the Northern Six Stage Road Relays had depleted within a matter of a few days and I replied that I'd be there barring any better offers he might get. It's such a pity with the wealth of talent in the club that this last minute multiple withdrawal thing seems to happen quite often and so wreck any chances of putting the club's name up where it should be at events like this. It's also a shame for Richard, or whoever is organising the team. Realistically I shouldn't even be getting in the 'B' team for an event like this with all the road and track running names at the club.
I wonder if one or two serial offenders put their own reputatation before the club's and decide not race unless they feel they will be in the sort of form that will look good enough on paper? My plea to them is this - don't say you will run in the first place if you really need to be in such outstanding form and for goodness sake don't jib with a day or two to go without damn good reason. I accept this point of view might seem easy coming from an average club runner like myself who is keen enough but doesn't quite eat, breath and drink the sport. However, when a club goes out of it's way to support individuals, as it does, then surely the individual should bite the bullet once in a while to give something back to the club?
And so, from my soapbox I humbly descend. Now sounding like the martyr which I do not wish to sound like one bit, I turned up at Wythenshawe without any speed training behind me and far from at my best, but so what? Being in the same team as Ben Fish who had recently finished 10th in the Great North Run was something of an honour in itself and never for one minute a chore.
After a stressful last minute faff to get his shoes on in time, young track starlet Chris Matthews got our team out of the blocks on the first of the 3.4 mile legs. Then it was the turn of the classy Mr Fish who blitzed the field on the second leg and made up a whopping 45 places before passing the proverbial baton to me... once again, absolutely no pressure whatsover then! I ran steady and kept up a decent enough pace to at least average sub-six minute miling and lose only seven of those positions that Ben had clawed back. Matt then won back five places before Scott Monk and John Chaplin's efforts secured a fairly respectable 25th spot overall.
Time: 19:16
Feeling shackled after Three Shires I decided to take the best part of a week off running. In previous years I have found myself going off the boil at this time of year, so I thought I should let all my little aches recover and start again. From the frustration and poor form earlier on in the year, I managed to salvage a decent summer of racing without actually running more than 30 miles a week. I seemed to have found a happy, if at times fine balance, of keeping going to a level I was happy with whilst not pushing so much that I would irritate my knee problem. After spending the whole year running almost entirely off-road after picking up problems I blamed on road running, it was ironic that I had now chosen to get out there and do some steady training on the roads to heal all the niggles I'd picked up on the fells! Twisted logic, but effective. Despite my heaviest week of mileage since the Winter when I resumed training, it was just steady stuff and I was starting to feel stronger and refreshed. No race plans really until the UKA Fell Relays. Partnered on the long leg with Matt Nuttall, it seemed a bit of a mis-match on paper and I was fearful of dragging his heels. But I decided to use it as the dangling carrot to knuckle down and get fitter and sharper than I had been all year and made it my goal to make sure I do the Wilpshire Ironman proud. For those not in the know, Matt is a monster. He trains like a pro. He is excellent on the roads, fells, cross country and is an equally distinguished triathlete. Oh, and he's a good bit faster than me. Work to be done then.

I travelled up to Little Langdale with a trio of Chorley Harriers. Gary 'The Flying Postman' Platt in the driving seat, Dominic 'The Dominator' Raby and Paul 'Wacko' Jackson joining me in passenger status. Now I've prattled on about runners and their excuses from time to time, but genuinely all seemed well until I got there. I was yawning as I warmed up, in fact I felt I couldn't even be arsed warming up. Thank goodness then for the refreshingly cold rapids of the River Brathay that the race takes you through after just half a mile or so. I should have gone in there to start with for at least it gave me some sense of being alive! This is a fantastic race route, but not one to look forward to if you aren't feeling half decent and I was fearing the worst. The first major climb to the summit of Wetherlam is a killer. I was thinking steady away up Wetherlam and then hopefully I'd snap out of my doldrums and get some places back. Well firstly, one can't just tinkle your way up Wetherlam. It's an effort just to keep moving. Secondly, my recovery was poor at the top, my legs felt weak. To my right a runner trips and cracks his head on a rock on landing. Fortunately no blood, but that was doing nothing for my shaky confidence at all on the rocky stuff over to Swirl How. For five minutes or so I was a bit down in the dumps until I took a look around me and the wonderful part of the world in which I was and remembered the key thing. Just to enjoy it.
Descending down to the Three Shires Stone, I tried to push on to see if there was anything there yet but again, no reply from the legs. They just kept on plodding. Going up Pike o'Blisco, Rossendale's Craig Stansfield is on a mission and had paced himself nicely. He is having conversations with people as he passes them by and is soon enough out of my sights for good. Coming off Blisco, I am losing more places but trying not to bother too much and just make sure I stay on my feet. The importance of that is soon enough epitomised when Clayton-le-Moors runner Carl Steele flies by and then takes a nasty little tumble which hurts his knee to the point of him yelping in agony and the stuffing is well and truly knocked out of him. He tries to hobble on immediately and I just tell him to get his breath back and calm down. Two years ago I did the same trick coming down Blisco and I made a right old mess of my knee which culminated in my first DNF.
Last year I was pleased just to get round unscathed and my ambitions were now similar for this year. The final climb up Lingmoor is a real choker. Lingmoor is just a mere bump in the grandeur of Langdale territory, but it's a fair old slog at this stage of the race and I found myself in close contention with Rossendale's Rick Solman, as indeed I had most of the race. Nearing the summit though I found a bit of extra energy from somewhere and picked up one or two positions and distanced myself from Rick. I was pleased to finish the race on a high by getting a bit of speed going coming off Lingmoor and also successfully navigating my way off the thing after spending a short time on a rocky slope in chest-high bracken with a bloke from Wakefield in last year's race.
At the finish I tried to salvage a little more positivity having snipped a minute off last year's time. This is a tough race. The next job was to take advantage of not driving by tonking a few beers down in the Three Shires Pub with Dominic. Now if that wasn't cheeky enough, not having one waiting for Gary when he got back and letting him queue at the bar was, in hindsight, quite rude to the point of almost criminal. Mr Platt, I will make it up to you one day I promise. 
Time:2.21:22   Pos: 55th/294

This was the last midweek night race on the fell running calendar and it was for that reason, coupled with the depressing realisation that summer was almost over, that made me line up for my first appearance at this one.
Looking around at the start there seemed to be only the young Todmorden lad Sean Carey and Calder Valley's Steve Smithies to trouble me. Does that sound arrogant? Well I seemed to be in that sort of frame of mind that night for some unknown reason. Welcome John Sutton, arrogant fell runner. Straight from the off I'm thinking, ''I should win this'', that's right, not just can or could, but ''should''. Frankly I have no right to think such a thought at any race. I am, afterall, just John Sutton. Right now I needed to just get a bit of consistency back and run my own race. Instead I began to run the race of my alter-ego for the evening.
After watching the big leggy action of Sean up the first hill and hearing him huffing and puffing more than me without hearing any huffs or puffs directly behind me, I tucked in behind the young leader as we got on to the moor and then made the outrageous decision to forge ahead and take the race to him. I was absolutely loaded with false confidence and gave myself a considerable lead at one point. However, a couple of short climbs later I began to suffer what is essentially known in the trade as a stitch, although the egotiscal me was convincing myself it was just a bit of wind or a slight recurring pain from those stomach cramps at Sedburgh. I was kidding myself, this was a stitch! I had blown up and yet I couldn't accept it for some reason. Sean eventually came past to regain the lead before the climb up to Hades Hill and soon enough as the race retraces it's steps back from where we came, Steve Smithies breezes by whilst I am still suffering this mysterious sharp pain in my abdomen. I was pretty much annoyed to lose another place and Steve shot away from me down two descents so by the time my mysterious abdominal pains were subsiding, it was too late to even dream of recapturing second spot. At least I managed to find my composure and hold on to third, but even at the finish I find myself telling Sean and Steve that they were lucky and that i've torn a stomach muscle or something. What crap! 
Like all runners I have the odd excuse in the bag, but I pride myself on genuine ones and on this night I did myself a great disservice. I blew up, I got a stitch, I thought I was much better than I was, just for tonight anyway. 
At least I refrained from any dummy spitting though and so stayed for the presentation; an entertaining affair in the local working man's club where race organiser Derek Clutterbuck (now there's a proper Lancashire name) delivers his sermon from the snooker table which is costing the Newburgh Nomads contingent in the corner a fortune to keep the lights on at 20p every five minutes! After it was alledged by the Rossendale posse that I had sent the whole field of runners looping the wrong way on the top of Hades by shouting Sean to where I thought the next marker was, there were some playful howls of foul play when Derek finished with the words, ''Now finally, is John Sutton still here?''. Fearing a very public disqualification, I was instead handed a generous running tackle voucher to accompany the beers I had won because Steve had already taken the Vets prize and so leaving me with the prize for second. Phew! It got a laugh though, I thought I was in the dog house.
On the way home and settled back in to the mould of my humble self, I wondered just what the hell had got in to me that evening. I concluded that I shall not be letting it happen again and pondered that if I had just tucked in behind Sean and stayed there, maybe my more humble self might not have been so far from victory afterall.
Time: 35:26   Pos: 3rd/78