I guess Christmas is all about traditions, and if they are good ones, you really look forward to them. Well Christmastime for me has become a series of races, events and activities which make this 3 week period one of the highlights of the year.
It always starts with the Loftus Poultry Run, a 7 or 8 mile 'multi-terrain' race from the Loftus Leisure Centre - mainly road, but with two sections of farm track which can be quite muddy, and certainly not a flat course - the highest point is at the the Boulby mast on top of the hightest sea cliffs in England (some 600ft!).
This year's race was last Sunday, 18 December - conditions not too bad for running, a little chilly perhaps, but not icy like some years and not very windy. I felt quite ropey for the first couple of miles, but managed to get going by the first field track, and had various rivals from North York Moors AC in my sights by the second. By the high point, I was with a pack of 4 from NYMAC plus Rob H from Loftus & Whitby AC. Unfortunately, on the long steady descent, they crept away from me again, and I couldn't find anything in the last mile to fight off a small pack who swept by me in a sprint for the line. Still, 79th out of 487, 11 min down on the winner - not too bad.
Another thing about Christmas time, is the opportunity to train in the daylight. We live in the middle of the North York Moors National Park, but I rarely get to see it for 5 months of the year - I go to work in the dark and come home in the dark, and weekends are spent trotting off to orienteering events and bike-O events, usually outside the Park. This week, I had two days off work to look after the kids, so managed a couple of dawn runs before my wife went to work. Cold though, with heavy frosts both days, but still and crystal clear. Tuesday saw an absolutely brilliantly red sunrise - I kept stopping to turn around and gaze at it! On Wednesday, I disturbed three deer at various points on my run - at one, I stopped to watch and just listened - no manmade sounds at all! Just sheep, the odd cow, a grouse - magic!
So looking ahead, the traditions flow thick and fast! Christmas day will see me on a dawn run up Roseberry Topping, and a visit to a special spot to remember my father, who died of a heart attack whilst competing at the White Rose 16 years ago. It's surprising how many people are out and about on Roseberry Common and the Topping at 8am on Christmas morning to see the sunrise.
Boxing Day can only mean one thing - the Chopwell Woods Score event! And then off to the mother-in-laws for another present opening frenzy for the kids and another Christmas dinner. The day-after-Boxing-Day is the Guisborough Woods Fell Race, a three lapper all within the woods - a flat run out along a forest road, a sharp climb up beside an old Alum quarry, a muddy plodge along a forest ride before a steep very muddy descent on a small path through the woods to the start point. Then off to my mums for a family get-together.
The EBOR Strensall Common event has now become a regular feature of the week between Christmas and New Year - a flat Army training area on the edge of York, scattered birch woodland, wet bits and grassy firing ranges - and hot soup served up by Ann Smith! Then a quick trip into York on the park-and-ride so the ladies can get some retail therapy!
Weather permitting, New Year's Eve sees a family excursion to Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, for a walk and a visit to the tea-room. This year, I've also managed to get an entry for the Ripon Runners Jolly Holly Jog 10km multi-terrain race, which is being held that day - a very popular race, and the 600 entry limit is always reached before the closing date! Part of the route goes up the avenue through the Studley Royal deer park, before passing the lake and going down the 5-bridges valley - what a beautiful 4km that will be!
When I was younger, and before the police killed it off, I always used to do the Morpeth to Newcastle road race on New Year's Day, but nowadays I stay much close to home and do the Captain Cooks fell race - a 5 miler from the Royal Oak in Great Ayton up to Captain Cook's Monument on Coate Moor, before dashing over to the Hardy's for a CLOK social gathering (the older and less energetic, or more hungover, do a run on Saltburn Beach instead!).
The final event of the period under review is the CLOK New Year Relays on the first Sunday in January. When I organised it for the first time, it was a 9-lapper for teams of 3, quick 10 to 12 minute legs round a park or scout camp, three runs each, with each run being seperated by a break. In subsequent years, some daft blighters used to run all 9 legs continously - a good 2 hour+ workout! Nowadays, the format is 3 x 20 minute score events, 3 runners in a team and 3 sets of controls, with everyone out for an hour. Seems to work well. And the reason why we tend to use scout camps? So we can use their huts and cook soup and hot dogs and have another social!
Ah - traditions at Christmas - something to look forward to!!