Monday, 12 August 2013

The face of adversity


Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon

Fell events are multi-multi-dimensional: There’s the route, the terrain, the underfoot conditions, the gradients of the climbs, the descents, the weather, the route choice, the navigation, the nutrition, the hydration, the pacing, the competition.

As if that weren’t enough dimensions, a pairs event adds yet another. It’s almost a dimension too far for me – this blog isn’t subtitled misanthropic runner for nothing, as many of my acquaintances will confirm. So, after really enjoying the OMM in the Howgills last year I thought I would do the Klets version of the Saunders. Yeah, yeah, I know – I’d rather do two massively punishing days in the mountains having to lug all my kit myself rather than enjoy a pleasant few hours of bonhomie and camaraderie with a like-minded partner. Well, that’s about the size of it.

It was a lovely weekend for it and it was all going reasonably well. Though I hadn’t taken the best routes I’d not made any nav errors and I’d had quite a good time wandering around an out of the way corner of the Lake District. I was on for a six and a half hour finish to day one which I thought wasn’t too bad for a relative novice. Until the next to last checkpoint. Well, I thought it was the next to last until folding the map and I spotted an isolated circle which I’d forgotten to include when I’d joined the dots at the map markup.
Spot the not-so-deliberate mistake.
 
Dickhead. I sat down. I contemplated retiring. The checkpoint was well out of my way and up a significant climb. Retire? That’s something that a fucking pussy would do. Get up, Liptrot and go and get the fucking checkpoint. So that’ll be an eight hour day then.  I was fucking knackered when I got to the overnight camp.
 
Zzzzzzz. Bedtime at 7 o'clock.
 

Top gun orienteer Tony Marlow had got in about twenty minutes before me. Twenty minutes? I can make up twenty minutes tomorrow. Can’t I? Not that I'm competitive or anything.

It’s a very leisurely start in the morning
Nice leisurely start and a breakfast can of coke.
 
 
You’ve got all the time in the world to mark your map up and so there was no way I was going to make any mistakes. So I was really careful marking my map up, even though some of the features were a bit subtle for me. And then we were off. The mass start on day two of a mountain marathon is something to behold, with hundreds and hundreds of people trekking off into the mountains. The way up to the first checkpoint was backtracking where I had finished the day before and so I was fairly confident in my navigation. Tony had sneaked off into a quicker queue for a stile and so had stolen a march on me. Not to worry, I had all day to make up the twenty minutes. I got to the first checkpoint and saw a solo runner heading away to the next one. I know it’s a navigation event, but I rationalised like a politician: if he can’t outrun me then he deserves to have me follow him. And follow him I did. Hee hee, I thought, I’ll soon catch Tony up at this rate. Soon we were at the next checkpoint. Only, it wasn’t a spur as I had expected, it was a stream junction. Something was wrong. According to my map the next checkpoint should have been a spur. I swear I’d had this bloke in my sight all the time – he couldn’t have dibbed while I was blinking, could he. I sat down. I looked at the map. I looked at the control description. Map. Control description. Aha. The spur was at 954. I had marked it as 945.
 
 
So the first checkpoint I had visited wasn’t the first checkpoint, it was the second. I had missed the first checkpoint! I thought that the spur I had circled on the map was a bit "subtle." That’s coz it wasn’t a spur at all. You fucking dickhead. That was just an error too far. I rationalised again – I had the Lakes 50 in a few weeks, there was no point in thrashing myself too much etc etc. So I enjoyed a leisurely jog back to the start and an early finish and put it down to experience.

The International Snowdon Race
Coming soon: More mishaps and misadventure

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Better than the Lakes: The inaugural Cwm Pennant Horseshoe

As part of the build up to the Lakes 50 I've been having a spell of long fell races: Duddon, followed by Ennerdale:

Having a great time racing the cut-offs at Ennerdale. Lookin' good for an old geezer, I reckon.

followed by the Cwm Pennant Horseshoe.


This was the first running of this race - why? Such a compellingly obvious route, such wonderfully varied terrain.

I'd been out to reccy the race the Wednesday before and had a stark reminder of the relevance of all those FRA safety requirements. The clag was down to the treetops, it was blowing a gale and it was pissing down. It was proper wintry on the tops. Middle of June, eh? I got five miles in and thought better of it and jiffed it off in favour of a Costa coffee.
Despite the wild storm on the Friday night, 44 runners turned up at the Cwm Pennant hostel to find a beautiful balmy morning and a wonderfully cosy atmosphere. They all keep talking about the atmosphere at that London marathon thing and all those other big shitty marathons. But being a part of this little band of connoisseurs really brought a warm glow to the heart - chatting to the ladies serving the tea and cakes, watching the marshalls setting off,  sharing a word with the race organiser, a nod to Laren Jeska - she'll probably win it ,then, and here's Yiannis and his Bowland mate Alan Duncan, a few Dark Peakers including Greg, an old climbing contemporary of mine, Iwan Edgar who I'm told appears at every race and usually wins the V50, and this nice lady who I don't know, but wish I did:

And the race itself was absolutely flippin' magnificent. The Lakes just doesn't have anything like it in terms of variety and technicality of terrain - but especially the ridges. There are a couple of places where you definitely don't want to be tripping over your shoelaces. And the climb through the rocky landscape up to the Cwm Silyn plateau has something almost fantastical about it. And then the final descent through the knee deep heather hiding with bleached white rocks is almost Scottish, leading to a Jura-esque run in along the road - very character building. 

A magical, memorable day out - and all for seven quid.

You can't beat fell racing, can you?

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Long Duddon: crime and punishment, punishment and revenge, or something.

There's hard, there's fuckin' hard, there's dead fuckin' hard, and then there's the Long Duddon

18 miles and 6500 feet of climbing over proper Lakeland fell terrain.

This is another one of the many, many races that I've never done but should have done a dozen times. I'm now trying to fit a whole running career into the next five years or so.

The Long Duddon is 18 miles around the Duddon Valley; one of the lesser frequented valleys of the Lake District. It's part of a series: Lakeland Classics Trophy which includes probably the hardest fell races in the Lakes. I thought I'd have a go this year.

Duddon is the first race in the series. And a beautiful day we had for it too. I got sunburnt of top of the sunburn from our holiday in Majorca the previous week.

The Duddon Valley is one of the less obviously dramatic valleys in the Lakes. There are no imposing rocky peaks or dramatic crags towering over. It is all tinkling glade and bluebell woods. Idyllic.

I always like to set myself a few targets for any race:
Pace it so that I get the best out of myself
See how far up I can get in the V50 standings
Beat Little Dave and restore a bit of self-esteem after the beating I got at the Old Counties Tops.
I like running, I love running in the fells, but I love racing too, even if it's only against some old duffer in front of me.  So even when my times start to decline, I will still be enjoying the cut and thrust of the race. Like I always say, they are races, not time trials.

This one was going to be dead interesting - Dave's far superior climbing versus whatever I had to counter with.

136 of us set off across the fields and up the first steep climb zig-zagging by Wallowbarrow Crag. After the first climb and the long run through the boggy plantation I was keeping pace behind Little Dave and Kev Perry, but I knew it would all change on the first big climb up to Harter Fell.  I had to let Dave go to avoid going too far into the red, but I had to go hard enough to keep my losses to a minimum. Leigh Warburton of Bowland passed me here. I know Leigh is a bit tasty and so I thought I'd be doing well to keep pace with him. I passed Dave as I bounded down the other side, but I overdid it a bit and realised that I'd have to be a bit more measured with my effort. I was still following Leigh at the top of Hard Knott, and where most people were going straight on, Leigh made a sudden turn. I had scoped this line on the map - I had wondered about it - but what it looks like on the map and the reality on the ground can be very different - knee deep tussocks or knee deep bog don't always show up on the map. Anyway, I thought "Going my way, Leigh?" and dashed off after him down a beautiful oblique descent: I always favour the oblique line as opposed to the direct descent - far more runnable.

Then Little Stand - killer climb and I had to let Leigh go. He passed four people up ahead and another two people passed me, and so by half way up there were half a dozen people between us. Nice one, Leigh. I just don't know what I have to do to become at least an average climber.

Then it was long brilliant descent to 3 Shires.

I'd run down the next climb a couple of weeks before on the OCT, so I knew it was a long one. At the top I glanced back and who should I see about ten feet behind me?  So - ten miles in and all the major major climbs done and still together - I could live with that.  I also knew that he might just run away from me. But there comes a point in these super endurance events when you can only do what you can do - you've just got to hope that it's good enough.

So it was nip and tuck for a while up Swirl How and on towards Dow Crag with me straight lining it over the roughest terrain in the hope that it would put everyone following me off their stride.  By White Pike I was well clear and was thinking that I'd cracked it - imagine my surprise when I realised that the climbing wasn't all over! But the descent from White Pike was so dodgy that I knew I probably had a safe cushion.

The descent from Caw was very confusing but it didn't really matter by then and it was just making sure that I followed the flags in to the finish and a nice glass of orange squash. So a great day out, and a bit of pride restored.

Ennerdale next week!





Sunday, 2 June 2013

Old Counties Tops: 18 May 2013

Another must-do classic. The highest tops in ye olde counties of Lancashire, Cumberland and Westmorland. The main problem is that they are a long way apart, and their circumnavigation, devised by venerable mountaineering club Achille Ratti, involves some 37 miles of steep, boggy, rocky and very frequently pathless terrain. Not for the faint-hearted.
Another complication is that it's run in pairs so you've got to find yourself a partner of similar ability and/or aspirations: e.g who you are still going to be on speaking terms with after the event. (Albert did tell us a story of one of his partners throwing rocks at him to force him to retire!)

Step forward Little Dave. I'd seen Dave around on a number of the Runfurther events last year, but got chatting to him and his lovely, long suffering partner Sarah before the start of the Bullock Smithy.  Dave regularly travels up from darn sarf  to do ultras or fell races - because I suppose the only alternative would be running round the South Downs or up and down the Thames footpath.

Anyway, it turns out that Dave was totally up for the OCT and put in tons of quality training up in the Lakes.

On paper, based on our results last year, we should have been fairly evenly matched, and I think at the outset Dave was slightly more worried than me.

"Nice steady start, Dave. Nice steady start." And we did too, but I reckon you have to be dead disciplined on pairs events to get the pace right. Feeling guilty that I was doing the early pace-making, Dave took the lead up the track to Grisedale Tarn. I'm still not 100% confident about pacing on long events. If I have a very, very steady start I often wonder whether I could have gone faster. If I blitz the start I usually regret it. Dave blitzed the track up to the tarn  and I was feeling reasonably strong, but when we started up the steep flank of Dollywaggon Pike the alarm bells started ringing: oh fuck. So much so that I had to get my poles out. I've often debated whether poles make any difference - they definitely do. I was just about able to hang on to Dave's heels.

We got to the top of Helvellyn in under 2 hours.   According to the Tested to destruction blog:

 "with the OCT, if you get to the top of Helvelyn in less than 2 hours, at some point further on, you're really going to suffer"

Yep, can't argue with that. The "some point further on" was the bottom of Helvellyn 20 minutes later. And the suffering more or less continued for the remaining 6 and a half hours...  But part of the game of doing this sort of event is just sucking up the suffering. Just suck it up.....

Mind you, as we approached Angle Tarn in the pissing rain I was getting seriously worried. My light weight "waterproof" turned out not to be waterproof at all. I had to keep emptying the water out of my sleeves, I was soaked to the skin and was beginning to wonder about the consequences if the weather continued - up until Angle Tarn it's fairly simple to drop back to the start. After Angle Tarn you get more and more committed.  As I wasn't yet at the point of throwing rocks at Little Dave to force him to retire, we pressed on.
Fortunately it's very rocky from Esk Hause all the way to Scafell and since I am fairly nimble footed for an old geezer I was able to recover a bit as we tip toed across the miles of greasy boulders. We even caught and passed a couple of teams.

From Scafell we took the manly direct descent, which probably gained us a few places over the jessies who had to backtrack to Little Narrowcove. Steep and rocky, I gained a bit more precious recovery time and made sure I had a good scoff and drink.

Then we were at Cockley Beck facing the last big climb up to Grey Friar.  This is a complete and utter bastard and seems to go on forever. Fortunately Dave was too far in front chatting to a couple of Achille Ratti fellas to hear me calling him a twat. Contouring around towards Coniston Old Man I was able to keep pace with the Achille Rattis. But the wily Achille Rattis had no intention of towing us to the Coniston checkpoint through the thick clag - all of a sudden they came to a dead stop to "check the map/tie their shoelaces/comb their hair" or whatever. The clever thing to do would have been to fake a sudden attack of cramp, but instead we just ran on, congratulating ourselves on gaining another place - when will I ever learn?  After blundering about a bit in the murk on the return from the Old Man, the Achille Rattis went from 5 minutes behind us to finish five minutes in front of us. It turns out that they have every blade of grass memorised and use marker points that they keep secret even from each other. That's one of the things I like about fell running. As well as a test of fitness, skill and mountain craft, there is also a place for stealth, guile and low cunning.

On the last few fields we saw a team in front of us going at a very leisurely pace. They caught sight of us as they climbed over the final stile - then broke into a frantic run. As we climbed over the same stile we saw a team coming up behind us - ensuring that we too finished at a frantic pace.

9 hrs and one minute - a nice target for next year, then! I reckon Dave could have gone at least half an hour faster if he had been running solo - sorry Dave.  Anyway, to show that he had no hard feelings he presented me with a shed-load of fine beers from the boot of his car - cheers Dave!

http://www.justusuk.com/



Sunday, 7 April 2013

Blackpool Marathon - a 30 year ambition realised

I had a go at the resurrected Manchester Marathon back in something like 1992. The usual story - got injured, couldn't train enough, turned up under-prepared.

Sound familiar?

Eventually staggered round in something like 3:45.
Anyway, ever since I've harboured an ambition to do a sub 3hr Marathon, convinced that I had one in me. I entered the new Greater Manchester Marathon in 2012 but that clashed with the Fellsman. Big Shitty Marathon versus the Fellsman: no contest.
So, the Blackpool was at the right time, was reputed to be flat and was as close to the BSM "atmosphere" as I ever want to get. Big Shitty Marathon atmosphere versus atmosphere on summiting Cribyn alone and exhausted during the Brecon 40; or cresting Stoodley Pike in freezing sleet and clag; or running through the night on the Bob Graham Round or The Lakeland 100 or The Fellsman: no contest.
As it turns out I think I turned up to this one underprepared as well. Trying to prepare for fell races, ultras and the Marathon led me into a bit of a jack-of-all-trades scenario. I'd better make sure I get some hills in now or I'll get another good beating in The Fellsman in a couple of weeks time. Having said that, the next two weeks are not going to make that much difference - it's what I have/haven't done in the last few months that are going to count.
I'm not going to give a mile by mile account of the Blackpool Marathon: basically we ran one way along the front, ran the other way, ran back again and again and again. I'd like to record a few observations, though.
1)  On the day before the race I felt quite seriously lethargic. After resting Friday and Saturday I should have been feeling relatively rested. I genuinely though I was coming down with something. By 8pm I was whacked out, and ready for bed. Carol said I looked ill. I have been wondering all year whether I have overtrained and I was seriously wondering whether I should put myself through a marathon. When the alarm went at 6am on race day I seriously contemplated not getting up; "You're not up to this. Give yourself a break..." etc etc. Once I was up and shaved and breakfasted I felt fine. This has happened to me before and I reckon there's a huge psychosomatic element to it. It's my body giving me a get out if I want it. By willing myself to get up in the morning, body thinks, so we're doing this thing then? and it snaps back into line. One of the things I like about long distance stuff is that there is a lot of willpower and mental strength involved, as well as genetic determinism, which is something I've talked about before.

2)  I can't believe that having as much indian ink as some pople have injected into their arms and legs is not detrimental to performance....

3)  One of the big talking points amongs the chattering, twittering running classes at the moment is "footstrike".  Forefoot striking is very much in vogue at the moment and if you're an inveterate and proud  heel-striker like me, that attracts a lot of tut-tutting and shaking of the head: "you'll get injured," "Forefoot striking is far more efficient," blar de blar and so forth until the next big thing comes along. But I've taken to observing running styles and I've identified a new style. There was the most pronounced example of it bounding along the promenade today. This is the "I'm-going-to-run-on-my-tiptoes-because I've-read-it-on-a-forum-that-this-is-how-the-elite-run" style. I hope it worked for you, buddy.

3) I've recently read a book recommended on one of the ultra-running forums:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Im-Here-Win-Champions-Performance/dp/1455502677 
It looks very cheesy and Ironman champion Chris McCormack will not be to everyone's taste, but I found it a great read. It's part biography and part training tips, but I found his emphasis on the psychological aspects of racing refreshing, interesting and informative. He goes into great detail about mental battles and trying to psyche his competitors.  I had a few "Iron Wars" myself on the roads of Blackpool.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOVGVMiwPSA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oB2UDkXeVtY

I won them all of course, but then part of the psychology is choosing the wars that you can win! Top tip: if you catch somebody, sit about ten or twelve feet behind them for a couple of minutes, then pass them wide and fast. Don't let them even think that they can hang on to you.

4)  There is no "wall".

I'm glad I didn't do the Coledale Horseshoe fell race the day before, as I don't think I would have made my sub 3 hr target. As it is I had to blow my ring off in the last 5 miles and sprint the finishing straight.  It's a good job I looked up and saw the clock when I did: a second later and I would have blown it! The chip time has me at 3:59:52. My Garmin at 3:59:56; the gun time at 3:00:00.
24th overall and second V50. I didn't stay around to see if I'd get a prize. I was already pissed off with the organisation - all part of the BSM experience. i don't think any prize would have compensated for the unpleasantness of hanging around Blackpool for a second more than was necessary!

http://www.ukresults.net/2013/blackmara.html

I should have pushed a few rows forward at the start so that I started on the line.  Anyway, I'm having that as a sub 3 hr marathon. I might do another one next year and do some more focussed training just to make sure.

A great day out. And I've actually got a nice bit of vest-shaped sunburn!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Wuthering Hike 2013

That bloke Marc Laithwaite keeps banging on about how doing long slow runs produces long slow runners, and about ultra-plodders and about being able to run long doesn't improve your results because the fast runners will already have finished etc etc.

So this winter I've minimised the great big plodding days out of 6, 7 and 8 hrs, giving a lot more time to intervals, threshold runs and generally higher intensity.

As the Hike approached I did begin to wonder how I'd do.

Not as well as I would have liked, as it turned out; I think I might have to try a few of those big plods before The Fellsman.

It was a great day out, don't get me wrong, on one of my favourite courses. A great day out - I just would have preferred it to be about 20 minutes shorter. I was very pleased (and surprised, almost shocked) at my 4:45 last year. I would have been happy to repeat that, or better still knock a minute or two off.

I don't normally get overtaken very much in the latter stages of races. But Chris Davies overtook me about four times - the last I saw of him during the race he was virtually sprinting up the climb to Stoodley Pike.  Going up Crimsworth Dean they were passing me in droves, including people I thought I'd seen the last of at Widdop. Hey ho.

Around Crimsworth Dean I fell in with a chatty bloke from Redcar. I've mentioned before I don't know how people can talk and run. I definitely don't know how they can talk and run after 26 miles. I was right at the limit and I needed to concentrate to get just the right pace to go as fast as I could but without blowing up. Stopping to chat wasn't helping one bit. I know ultra-running is one big happy family and all that and that road runners are all up their own arses and don't let on and all that - but I was discussing the fucking weather while Kev Perry and all the rest were strolling past.

Going up Top o' Stairs Redcar was telling me about his mate who was also running. "He'll be a fair way behind. He's a bit of a plodder. He's fifty one. He's fit for a fifty one year old, though."

We were still together at Penistone Hill. Anyway, I thought, "I'll show you a fit fifty one year old, sonny." And I did, too.

I finished in 5 hours and one second and people keep ribbing me about how that one second must hurt. No, I don't give a toss about the one second, it's the fifteen fucking minutes that pisses me off...

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Winter Hill fell race. It's a little hill, but a big race.

I could see Winter Hill from the house I was born in. When I moved away to University, or later to work, whenever I saw it's distinctive whaleback shape and the lights of the mast I knew I was nearly home. And I've been tramping the moors roundabout since I was thirteen. It's where I learned to navigate by pacing through the tussocks across the featureless moorland to some invisible stream junction.
So it's great that there is a fell race up there. Well, there are a few actually, including the famous Rivington Pike race, one of the oldest fell races in the calendar, plus our club fell race and the hendersons End race, also organised by Lostock. But the Winter Hill fell race is the big one. It's long and hard and takes in a lot of climbs and some difficult terrain. It's the first weekend in February too, so the weather usually adds its bit to the test.
This year it was a pretty bleak day, but to be honest it looked worse than it actually was. It's just that people are permanently on the verge of panic now over every slight fluctuation in the weather.
As I said in my last post I wasn't sure about my form. I'd been doing a fair bit of training but it hadn't seemed to be giving obvious results in the couple of shorter races I'd done since Christmas, namely the Jubilee Plunge and the Ashurst Beacon race.
I ran it hard, hard, hard. I had to let everyone go at the start - I estimated about forty odd in front of me at the bottom of the rocky road. I just can't start off fast. Mind you, neither can half of those in front of me because I finished off in 23rd place. There's a lorra lorra uphill in the first few miles. In fact, most of the first 3.5 miles is gradually uphill. But going through the bog and the tussocks after the Pike things usually settle down and I got into the old chuggernaut rhythm. I knew that if I could pace myself and hang on to the fellas in front of me then I would almost certainly 'ave 'em on the downhill to CP3.  And so it was. I seem to descend very well and so I can usually go down pretty quick, gaining a lot of places but recovering at the same time. I usually lose all the places again on the next uphill, but I've been trying to work on that, so on the murder mile up the ramp I was determined that no-one was going to pass me. In fact no-one passed me on a climb for the rest of the race. Though the longer the race, the more I can hold my own. Good running economy I think they call it. I found myself chasing Darren Fishwick of Chorley, who I'd last seen as he passed me near the finish of the Jubilee Plunge - his 100th race of 2012. I was just behind him at the trig point and I thought I'd get him on the descent to he footbridge - especially with my "oblique line". rather than run along and then drop steeply down, I often find it faster to run a more gradual oblique descent.

So I thought: "Heh heh heh, I'll see you at the bottom Darren." Only, my oblique line across the north face of Winter Hill was blanketted with snow and I could have cried as I stumbled and slithered my way down!
I passed Dazza going through the flagged section and had a good climb up to Noon Hill. But I stupidly played follow me leader and went straight on when I knew I should have swung right. I only fully realised where I should have been when I saw Darren's Everton mint Chorley vest disappearing into the clag. Bah humbug! So I had to give chase and do it all over again, only finally getting past again by dint of taking a better line across the moor after CP8. Then it was that barnstorming descent to CP 9 and the final lungburster climb. I was really proud of myself here as I really dug in and held onto the bloke in front of me who was running really strongly. Real elbow to elbow stuff. I kept shouting directions to a couple of blokes in front which I thought was the gentlemanly thing to do, rather than keep letting them go wrong. But that backfired a bit when I told them to turn left at the kissng gate near the bottom of the big track. I should have known it was straight ahead. The problem is that I have done so many races that I have competing memories and in my anoxic state I made the wrong call. Sorry fellas. Having said that, the bloke I'd been running alongside didn't say anything when I called out to the two blokes to turn left. Nice one.
Anyway, I was seven minutes slower than last year, but so was almost everyone else. I also gained 11 places, which was great. After all, it's a race, not a time trial.



So, overall a good run out. But the real acid test will be the Wuthering Hike in a months time.

Post scriptum:
Apres -

Corned beef anyone?  Way to go, well known shoe manufacturer!  Glad I didn't pay the full RRP of ninety odd pounds to have my feet butchered!