Johnnie and the Giants

Two weeks ago, Johnnie Watson was competing in the quite-incredible Tor des Geants (“Tour of the Giants”) race. This is Johnnie’s report of his week amongst the giants:

Tor Des Geants 2017, Johnnie Watson

The Tor des Geants is a trail race around the Aosta valley in the Italian Alps. It’s been on my radar of a few years but I needed to wait for the green light from my wife. The stats are amazing, 330 km, 24,000 meters of climb, average altitude 2000 m and single stage. It was difficult to get a place as it’s very popular but luckily, I managed. I trained by doing as much climb as I could, and made sure I ran in the dark and through the night a few times. The longest I had run this year was the Fellsman, I was hoping for longer but injury and time conspired against me. People ask how you train for a race like this and I have no good answer, every race that you have ever done becomes your training and adds to your endurance. I did the Spine race a couple of years ago so knew I could cope with little sleep and constant motion. And I have also run the UTMB so thought I would be able to cope with the altitude.


The race starts in Courmayeur and loops anticlockwise around the Aosta valley. It passes through a main town every 50km or so. Here, there are ‘life bases’ where runners can get a meal, shower, massage, sleep etc, but the clock keeps ticking. Each runner also has a drop bag that is transported to the life bases. The race also passes many mountain refuges where food and rest can be found but you’re limited to a 2 hour stop. Before the race, people talked of race and sleep strategy. I was hoping to come in in around 120 hours so had a rough schedule but was not sure about sleep. I had heard the life bases were very noisy so planned to sleep for short periods at the refuges.

I can’t give a step by step account of the race as I don’t remember a lot of it, so I will concentrate on the key points.

Terrain/ Course

This is without doubt the most spectacular race I have been in. It gives you a sense of an epic mountain journey and exposes you to every mountain landscape. The climbs go on for ever, you go through town, wood, pasture and then up to the high mountain. A lot of the climbs are 1500m and more. The highest point on the race is col Loson at 3300 m. this is after a 1650m climb. I was struggling to breathe up there and was glad it was daytime and in good weather. Some of the descents seem to go on forever with endless switchbacks and village lights that get no nearer hour after hour. The ground is generally no more technical than what you will see on the higher Lakeland fells but there is some via ferrata and fixed ropes on the higher cols. Navigation is easy, just follow the yellow flags with reflective strips for night time, every 10 to 20 meters without fail. I took maps but never used them.


We were lucky with the weather, warm sunny days and cold clear nights generally. A weak front came through on the second half of the race and gave some rain and snow as well as some strong winds, but it only lasted for 12 hours and just made the place look more dramatic. I heard some people had to use their crampons (mandatory kit) to get over Col Malatra (last climb). It was just muddy when I went over, but at night this would have frozen. I was just lucky with timing. The course was very dry, with very little mud in general. A lot of people suffered with bad chests from breathing so much at altitude (where the air is much dryer). Covering my mouth and nose with my buff seamed to help but I was still coughing loads at the life bases.


I ran in Montrail trail shoes with orthopaedic insoles. I did take my size 11 Salomon Fellraiser but my feet never swelled up that much, maybe because it was so dry. I tended to my feet at every chance and got some blisters but never suffered with them. Shorts and t shirt during the day and tights and long top during the night. High cols at night were very cold, I packed my woolpower 200 top and this was perfect. Some runners wore down jackets. An altimeter was part of the mandatory kit list, useful to monitor your progress up to a col or down to a refuge. However, a double edge sword when on the countless switchbacks, so much time and distance for so little change in altitude can play havoc with a tired mind.

The mandatory kit is what you might expect, shell and warm clothes, basic emergency gear, altimeter, crampons, food and water etc. Everybody used poles, except me. I didn’t see another runner without them. So many people commented on this fact to me. Maybe they had a point…

Race/ Sleep strategy

I know I am a slow runner, to give myself a chance of a 120 hour finish I knew I had to keep the sleep to a minimum. I ran with Matt Neale for the first section of the race, we kept up a comfortable pace and made the first life base in 13 hours. Here Matt had an hour’s sleep, I carried on and had my first sleep at refuge Sella (about 100km) after 29 hours. I asked for an hour but woke after 45 mins. I think I slept 10 times during the race, most were for 45 mins but I had longer sleeps at the last two life bases, not sure how long but less than 2 hours. I tried to get into the routine of sleeping just after sundown and then just before sunrise. Sunrise in these mountains is spectacular, this gives you a lift, and coping with tiredness is much easier in the daylight. I did not sleep during any daylight hours for this reason. I did however have a few powernaps, just close my eyes for a minute, let your head bob and this means you had some sleep. Even if it was for 5 seconds it helps you concentrate and keeps you going. In total, I think I probably had between 6 to 8 hours sleep during the race. This is much less than I had on the Spine race and I didn’t really suffer with sleep deprivation or hallucinations.

Race organisation/ support

This race is so well organised it is amazing. It just works perfectly without being obtrusive or officious. I cannot think of anything that could have been done better. Local volunteers staff the life bases and are very keen to help anybody who needs it. They will take you to find your drop bag and find a bed, and wake you up when you ask. There is a sense of great pride in the race and in the area, many check point have local dishes or delicacies, I remember having some fantastic ravioli somewhere and fried crispy cheese with soft cheese sandwich somewhere else. Everybody you run past on the course shouts encouragement. Earlier on there are groups of people on the higher passes who have obviously made a special trip to support the race.

After Thoughts

I would put this race harder than the Spine race, others disagree. Maybe I am just well-practiced at running over bog. I struggled with the altitude on the Tor, I have been to higher altitudes and not felt it as much. I must have acclimatised a bit during the race as I was less affected later on. I finally finished the race on Friday evening at 20.31 giving me a race time of 131h 18m. which was good for 206th place. The GPS tracker clocked up 339 km and 30908 m of total climb.  If I did the race again I would probably use poles, I would also learn more Italian and would try to get some acclimatisation in beforehand. My memory now of the race is rose tinted by time. At the time, I remember thinking the race was just too hard, I was cursing myself for entering as I would now have to suffer to finish.

                                     JOHNNIE WATSON

The futures bright for the juniors in red and white

The future’s bright for Calder Valley as the juniors again did the club proud at their races last weekend.

The BOFRA (British Open Fell Runners Association) Embsay Fell Race on Sunday saw champion William Hall adding to his already numerous 2017 victories, winning the U12s race. In 2nd place was CV’s James Duffy. All the CV U12 runners came in the top 10 with Patrick Casey finishing 8th.

William Hall in lead then James Duffty and Patrick Casey

And CV victory was also seen in the Seniors race with Gav Mulholland finishing 2nd and taking the MV45 prize. Said Gav:

‘It was a great atmosphere and nice to see junior races. I was second behind 2nd Jack Wood (Ilkley Harriers) who stormed the course. Fast undulating fields and then a climb that just gets steeper. Great views on the tops before we sailed back down. Mark Taylor was 2nd v45 and going for gold’

Gav Mulholland BOFRA Embsay

The weekend also hosted one of the gruelling and challenging fell race classics- Scafell Pike. The short 4.5 mile route packs in an excessive ascent of almost 3000ft. 4 CV runners took up the challenge. From a field of 75, Mark O’Connor came in 16th in 01:08:30. Stephen Smithies was 19th (01:10), Dave Hammond 35th (01:15) and Calvin Ferguson 48th (01:20).

Calvin Ferguson at Scafell Pike 2017

– Calder Valley News Reporter:Gill Dickinson

Fyrers hot at Hades hill

Hades Hill
It was a super result for Calder Valley runners last Thursday at the Hades Hill fell race in Whitworth. As the summer evening races are drawing to a close, Lindsey Oldfield, Gavin Mulholland and Carole Fryer took 1st places respectively for ladies, men and ladies V50. Gavin won the race in a time of 34:02. The nearest competitor finished a full 3.5 minutes behind him. Roman Sustovs also had a great race in 7th. Similarly, Lindsey finished in a time of 43:34 and was a full minute in front of the next female.

Lindsey 1st Lady Had Hill – Photo by Mick Fryer

Yorkshireman Off-Road Marathon and Half-Marathon
It was also one of the closing races for the Calder Valley club championships this last Sunday. Although the first place positions are tied up, the 26 mile Yorkshireman off road marathon still provided good battles further down the pack. Taking in a circuit of the Bronte Moors before heading through the countryside between Denholme, Wilsden, Harden and Keighley, the route is considerably harder than a road marathon being on stony footpaths, boggy moors and climbing about 3200ft through the course.  

From the Left Dougie Zinis Paul Haigh and Ian Illstone – Photo by

In particular the battle for 2nd place men between Dougie Zinnis and Iain Illstone was exciting. Said Dougie “We set off from Haworth in fairly good weather conditions sticking to a vest. There was a good turn out of CVFR runners. Paul Haigh, Iain and I decided to run together for the first half to pace each other on the climbs. There was good support on the way around (Jocasta Fletcher had a Calder flag shouting support) and the bogs were very wet as expected. After the second trip to Ogden I pushed on from the lads creating a good gap finishing in 3hrs 51mins in 8th place and a happy man.” Iain and Paul went on to finish 12th and 13th respectively with only a second between them. Toby Sydes also had a great race, knocking 15 minutes off his personal best to come in 34th place.  Carolyn Shimwell / Liz Lloyd came 16th in the paired event in 6:09:20
Calders Full Marathon Results
8 Douglas Zinis 03:51:02
13 Paul Haigh 04:08:32
14 Iain Illstone 04:08:55
35 Toby Sydes 04:24:53
69 James Cooke 04:57:02
111 Gill Dickson 05:40:13
113 Gloria Ayuso 05:40:14
143 Sue Martin 06:31:37
144 Ruth Thompson-Davies 07:04:54
In the half Yorkshireman Dan Marsden, who has struggled with injury this year, was first Calder runner back in an excellent 35th place.  First Calder woman, Ann Holden also had a good race as 7th woman and 49th overall, knocking over 20 minutes of her time from last year.

Dan Marsden YM Half – Photo by

Calders Half Marathon Results
35 Dan Marsden 02:10:16
49 Catherine Holden 02:14:40
69 Andrew Davies 02:19:50
131 Linda Cooper 02:45:40
133 Matthew Bott 02:45:56
196 Elina Nhinda-Latvio 03:15:38
204 Eileen McDonach 03:21:38

– Calder Valley News Reporter: Paul Gilbert & Tim Brooks

King of the Castle Gray, surges to the finish.

Castle Carr

The Castle Carr Fell Race was a counter in this year’s English Fell Running Championship. Over 200 of the country’s best fell runners descended on the Hare and Hounds at Old Town where the race starts. Over 50 marshals helped out including some of the finest CVFR runners helping direct parking before doing their race.

The runners set off to the pulse-racing beats of the Hebden Bridge Samba Band then took in 15 miles of moorland, tussocks and faster tracks over and around Midgley and Warley Moors. The route includes running twice through the grounds of the Castle Carr estate, past the famous fountain and the ruins of the old hall. The private estate allowed access for the race thanks to the generosity of the farmers, the Scholefields. Thanks are due to all the local landowners for their helpfulness.

Sam Tosh (Rossendale) and Carl Bell (Keswick) are both vying for the men’s title and had a good tussle throughout the race. Carl pushed the pace on the flat and downhills, while Sam went ahead on the climbs, with Tosh ultimately victorious by just over a minute. They were in a leading group of 4 with Simon Bailey (Mercia) and newcomer John Spill (Pudsey and Bramley) for much of the race, but John dropped out injured around halfway, and Simon fell back before the final sections of the race. Sam and Carl both were under 2 hours, amazing speed over such tough terrain. Bell is currently leading the English Championship but if Sam can win at the final race of the season, Great Whernside in October, he could pip him at the post.

Calder Runners, Karl Gray and Gav Mulholland worked together for the first 3/4 of the race, then Karl surged ahead as the route crossed the Luddenden Dean valley. Carl was 8th in 2 hours 4 minutes 49 seconds and Gav was 13th in 2:08:02. Gav’s result will put him at the top of the V45 Championship, but Karl’s 1st in the V45 at Castle Carr will mean he could take the title if he does well at Great Whernside.

Karl Gray approaches the Rocking Stone checkpoint

In the women’s race Victoria Wilkinson (Bingley) continued her winning streak and looks to be unbeatable in this year’s Championship. She has won it for the previous four years an must surely count as one of the all-time top fell runners. Having beaten the record at Kilnsey Crag earlier in the week, her time at Castle Carr was quicker than Ben Mounsey’s race-winning time last year. Under 23, Annie Roberts’ 3rd place amongst the women was superb. Helen Roberts was Calder Valley’s first woman back in 22nd place.

Full Castle Carr Results

Pos Name Category CP1 CP5 Finish
8 Karl Gray M45 00:20:23 01:06:07 02:04:49
13 Gavin Mulholland M45 00:20:22 01:05:56 02:08:02
39 Mark Taylor M45 00:23:28 01:15:23 02:23:56
48 Darren Kay M45 00:21:24 01:11:38 02:26:07
53 Ian Symington MSEN 00:25:48 01:19:47 02:30:32
57 Stephen Edwards M40 00:24:37 01:17:52 02:31:42
76 Romans Sustovs MSEN 00:25:43 01:24:16 02:39:22
119 Matthew Ray MSEN 00:27:57 01:30:35 02:53:01
131 Helen Roberts WSEN 00:28:49 01:30:51 02:56:29
143 Martin Howard MU21 00:26:13 01:28:48 02:59:01
149 Phil Wells M45 00:26:39 01:24:25 03:00:57
188 Simon Fisher M40 00:31:37 01:42:13 03:28:50
189 Jackie Scarf W55 00:30:41 01:40:58 03:29:47
195 Karon Forster W55 00:30:45 01:42:07 03:38:23
199 David Culpan M55 00:40:31 01:56:21 03:39:27
206 Graeme Woodward M55 00:41:01 01:58:14 03:56:43

Blackshaw Head

Many of Calder Valley’s runners who were marshalling at Castle Carr on Sunday, took the opportunity to race at the Blackshaw Head fete on Saturday. Taking in a rapid circuit of Heptonstall Moor and finishing with a steep uphill run into the fete field from Jack Bridge the 5.5 mile race was won by Callum Hanson of Pudsey and Bramley, shortly followed by Calder’s Shaun Godsman who was 1st V40. Backed up by Iain Illstone in 8th and Paul Haigh in 12th, Calder took the men’s team prize. Christina Turner was first woman back for Calder and second female V40 overall.

Calder Valley Results:-
2 Shaun Godsman 37:01
8 Iain Illstone 41:28
12 Paul Haigh 42:59
14 Toby Cotterill 44:17
26 Toby Sydes 48:43
28 James Cooke 49:30
33 Blair Garrett 51:25
40 Christina Turner 53:21
47 Jeremy Wilkinson 54:39
59 Charlotte Wetton 58:49
64 Jocasta Fletcher 1:01:03
78 Tasmin Cooke 1:16:20

Kilnsey Crag

Some of Calder Valley’s fastest runners headed up to the Dales the Tuesday after the August Bank Holiday. The Kilnsey Crag Fell race is a traditional, short fast and steep race from the Kilnsey Show. It includes an infamous scree descent known as The Chimney. Math Roberts, Ben Mounsey and Darren Kay were 6th 7th and 9th respectively out of 110 runners, all under 9 minutes. William Hall was first in the under 12s race, with James Duffy 3rd and Patrick Casey 4th out of 34 runners. Fearne Hanson was 6th girl.

Will Hall and Patrick Casey at Kilnsey

World Masters

Amazing results for Calder Valley Fell Runners out at the World Masters Mountain Running Championship in Pruske, Slovakia. Ben Mounsey was 5th in the V35 race, Jason Wilf Williams was 7th in the V40 and Mark Wharton was 20th in the V50. Last but by no means least, Max Wharton was 2nd in the open race.

Ben Nevis

A handful of Calder valley made the long journey to Fort Willam’s for the Ben Nevis race. Standing at 4400ft this is the UK’s largest mountain. A quick 4.5m straight up and then a zoom back down, however, this does include a mile run in on tarmac to the finish, which is known to catch out many jelly legged runners. A few impressive results saw Calvin Fergus PB and Jon Smith in fine form, ran a sub 2hr for his Nevis debut.

– Calder Valley News Reporter:Tim Brooks