Sunday, 8 July 2012

L100 Training - Ambleside to Threlkeld - A 60 mile journey through the Western Lakes

This was to be my last big days training, and took a bit of planning, and also some good weather would help after the wettest month on record. Starting at 5am in a deserted Ambleside with Andrew McCracken the weather was actually perfect. Through the deserted streets (only a milkman was around) we headed West following the L100  route to Coniston. Mist lay in the valleys as the sun gradually appeared, and we disturbed a couple of Herons in the Park.

Andrew outside one of the L100 checkpoints

The section is mostly very good running on well made paths, so you can relax a bit and concentrate on conserving energy. On the day of the race competitors will have nearly 100 miles in their legs, what might that feel like? I will find out and the end of July.

Today we were treated to the Lakes at it's very best. it may be hard getting up this early, but the rewards are there to be had!

Heading towards Langdale - the view towards Windermere

Descent into Langdale

After leaving the glorious early morning views of mist shrouded Langdale the we had the substantial climb beween Tilberthwaite and Coniston to tackle. This will be a very tough finish to the event. Today after just 15 miles it felt hard enough.
Andrew had planned to run back to Ambleside now, but I was meeting up with 5 other seasoned fell runners to do the next long section of 40 plus miles to Threlkeld. A big loop around the Western Lakes visiting many valleys. It was warm work heading over Walna Scar, and I was having to work pretty hard to keep up with Helen, Martyn, Martin, Colin and Neil with their fresh legs. Picking up food supplies at Coniston (that I had left with Martin the previous night) meant I now had plenty to eat, and for drink I relied mainly on refilling my half litre bottle from the many full streams en route, just adding rehydration tablets, which saved carrying a full 1.5 litre camelback "bladder". There were a few other L100 "nutters" out today doing runs, they are pretty recognisable to be honest!

After the Duddon we tackled a very rough, boggy section just past Wallowbarrow, slow tough and tiring. A short rest at Boot for drinks and we continued on our way, going a bit offline over to Wasdale, and meeting many runners taking part in the Saunders Mountain Marathon. 

With Neil approaching Wasdale
Neil and Martyn

Wasdale was busy, but we soon left the crowds behind as we headed over Black Sail pass in humid conditions to Ennerdale, which is the Lakes most remote valley with its solitary Youth Hostel. Time was passing now and by the time Buttermere came into view it was late afternoon.

The busy footpath into Buttermere welcomed us into this tourist hot spot, and the opportunity to have a few drinks before the last big climb of the day via Sail Beck over to Braithwaite. Tiredness leads to mistakes and we missed a path junction before the col and ended up the wrong side of Causey Pike, adding another mile or so onto our route!

A quick refuel at Keswick and then in the fading light we leaded on the loop up towards Skiddaw House, although this section climbs quite a lot it is on very good paths and leads to a good descent to Threlkeld. Our average speed actually picked up on this section.

10pm at Threlkeld, we all had tired legs but had really enjoyed the day. At nearly 4mph average speed it felt far enough, so on race day it will be important to moderate the speed on some sections. Another 50 miles will be tough, but didn't feel beyond the realms of possibility. The next few weeks training will be "ticking over" and perhaps just checking some short sections to get 100% familiar with the route.


Elevation profile of this section - nearly 11,000 feet.

Thanks to Cress UK for providing me with the excellent GEHWOL foot cream. It is superb for long days out, prevent blisters and damage from having wet feet

Gehwol Foot Cream (75ml)

Monday, 2 July 2012

Lakeland 100 - Training day - Aira Force to Ambleside

After a couple of years either training or supporting Bob Graham Round attempts the new challenge of the Lakeland 100 race at the end of July 2012 meant checking over some "new" ground. It tackles a huge loop around the Lake District via paths and tracks. No summits but around 30,000 feet of ascent means it is still pretty hilly!

There are 3 of us attempting this epic event - we are raising money for a Hospice in Lancaster - you can donate here!

Some grim weather in June (wetest on record) meant conditions were poor under foot and the forecast for the 30th June was not great. After leaving a car in Ambleside we eventually set off from Aira Force on the Western edge of Ullswater at just before 8am and headed North through damp vegetated hillsides and fields on muddy paths toward Dalemain. Ullswater is a long lake and it seemed to take quite a while to get beyond it's Northern-most point. The roads and lanes just before Dalemain were a welcome relief after some ankle deep bogs in the initial section.

Aira Force to Ambleside
The route then heads South to Howtown and then climbs over desolate moors to Haweswater and a delightful path on the West Shore, leading to the tough climb of Gatesgarth Pass.

Castle near Dacre
Andy at Haweswater - Andy had never seen this Lake before!
Tom at Haweswater
The long climb of Gatesgarth
Walls demolished by floods in Long Sleddale
Recent eroison near Sadgill
The floods of June had caused a huge amount of damage to some tracks, and made it pretty tough going on sections that should have been quite quick. We began to tire with our heavy packs after the 30 mile mark, but eventually made it to Ambleside in 9 hours, a reasonable time for a training run.The thought of another 70 miles to complete the circuit is a bit mind blowing though!

Heading to Troutbeck
You said 36 miles - this is nearly 40!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

CELTMAN Extreme Triathlon 2012

A new event and a new challenge in a very special area of Scotland. The CELTMAN really did appeal to me, and the fact that the swim started at Shieldaig, a small village were I used to go on holiday as a child gave it extra meaning. Being a strong cyclist the long 202km bike section would suit me, and the 40km mountain run over Ben Eighe would certainly be special, I love the Scottish mountains. However the 3.8 kms sea swim that started the event would be a big challenge for me.

Training properly for such an event is obviously pretty important. Having done 2 long distance triathlons (Embrunman in 2011 and 2009) I thought the distances should be OK, but having to tackle 4,000 feet of climbing in the last half of the run would be unknown territory, this was normally the point at which my legs turned to jelly!

Things went pretty well for me in 2011, completing 3 big mountain challenges (Winter Bob Graham, Ramsay Round, Paddy Buckley Round) followed by Embrunman Triathlon in France in the summer. A good winters training with fellow COLT (City of Lancaster Triathlon) members (including an epic weeks cycling in the Costa Blanca) and some long fell runs with John Carr and Ian Richardson meant 2012 was starting well. 

The first event of 2012 was the Haworth Hobble 50kms trail race.True to its name I ended up hobbling with a pulled calf muscle after 30kms, but determined not to let my fitness lapse I did complete the Hardmoors 55 mile trail race the following weekend, with the same calf strain making it tough going.

The calf strain subsided and I managed to avoid my normal ankle sprains and by mid April was feeling confident. Then a trip to Egypt to try Kitesurfing introduced a new challenge!

A badly twisted ankle? No, a broken Fibula!

On April 26th I had a plaster put on, and was told it would be removed on the 9th June. Which basically meant I had virtually no chance of completing any events until the Autumn. However a good friend who was a GP and also had a similar injury last year advised that I could remove the plaster early if I was careful, and that the sooner I loaded it the better it would heal. So my plan was to maintain fitness however I could and try and get back walking/jogging by the end of May so at least I would have a chance of completing the course. I was confident the CELTMAN cycle and swim would not be too unrealistic, so perhaps I had a chance, even if I walked the whole run route?

I borrowed a rowing machine, and did some one tough one hour long one-legged rowing sessions with my leg suspended by a rope, that was hard! Gradually over a two week period I started to use by bad leg on the rower as the pain eased. I even managed some swimming with a waterproof cast cover.

By 16th May I had had enough of the plaster, and invited some friends around to cut it off!

What a shock, my right calf was like jelly and had withered away to nothing, for the first few days even trying to do a slight toe raise was impossible, my leg would vibrate like a sewing machine!. I got on the bike that first week and managed around 300kms (mainly using my left leg), and my leg and ankle seemed to benefit the more I did.

Walking was still tough and my participation in a "warm up" event, Coniston Old Man middle  distance Tri on the 3rd of June was doubtful. I managed a few short miles jog/walk in a pair of nice padded Hoka Mufate shoes a few days before and decided to give it a go with my fellow COLTs. I could always walk the 16kms mountain run. A cold swim and a very hilly bike all went well, and starting the run I just had to be very cautious, it was frustrating letting people run past me, but held my place on the steep uphills where fast walking was as good as running. Traversing anything with a slope was very uncomfortable though, and I was paranoid about going over on my ankle, even with big supports. Eventually I reached the finish line, 20th place was better than I had hoped, and now I knew I had a chance of making the start line at least at CELTMAN on the 24th June. 

More cycling and swimming followed, and I arranged a couple of big hill days where I could perhaps get some running fitness on even ground 10 days before the event. Hill reps up and down Skiddaw gave my 25kms and 2,500 metres of ascent and decent on good paths using an ankle support, and another steady 25ms the following day was just within my capabilities. Each time my ankle felt a bit better, but I knew now I had to rest.

The long journey north was on, and allowing a few extra days before the event I walked around the key running section with my Support Runner Phil Whiting. A cool but incredibly clear day saw us get a bit dehydrated, and pretty tired by the time we completed this section. It suddenly dawned on me what a big challenge this was, tackling that route after the swim, cycle and 10 miles of trail running suddenly seemed very daunting!

Ben Eight Recce

Cold swim on the run route

A couple more days rest in the idyllic village of Shieldaig followed as excitment mounted and more COLT team members arrived.

June 23rd 2012 proved to be a special day, with the atmospheric swim back to Shieldaig to start with. The water was around 10c, but the sunrise as we swam across the bay was amazing enough to distract from the numb hands.  Looking down into the water there were many jelly fish - and sometimes you would scoop one! A bit disconcerting.

just over 1 hour for 3.1kms of cold swimming -

The 202 kms bike ride through the Torridonian landscape was where my race started, exiting the water in about 100th position by the time I got to T2 I was approximately 15th, I had been well looked after by the COLT support crew. Now 7.30 hours into the race I was  unsure how much energy I had left as I sat in the cold rain of a sudden and unexpected downpour and the start of the trail run.

Starting the bike - It took 80kms for my feet to warm up!

Catching team-mates after 4 hours on the bike - adrenalin!
Hard work maintaining the aero postion for over 200kms

Starting the run my legs felt really good, what a suprise, but my ankle was far from perfect so I concentrated on every step looking for the smoothest route. An initial slimb was followed by a long decent and I picked up a few places, and enjoyed the feed stations.

8 miles into the run

T2a loomed and I was passed by a slim guy who seemed to have an extra few gears!  After the kit check the long 3,000 foot climb did at least offer a change of pace, and using walking poles to get my arms working I gained a couple of places by the time we passed the bag-piper on the first summit.

Approaching the first summit

Then it was into the mist before rough ground up to the second peak, and a chance to see competitors in front and behind on the out and back section. I had potential to gain or loose a few places. I was told I was in 9th position, fantastic, but the worry now was my ankle, would let me down on the descent and long trail out to the finish on the road?

Suddenly we were alone, no one in front or behind as we rattled down the scree slopes of the big descent. This was the only secion we had not checked out on our recce as we had looked for a direct descent from the last summit (no longer allowed). A choice of footpaths confused us and we ended up on some poor sections of path before passing a Mountain Rescue guy and rejoining a bigger path by the lake. 

It turns out I was sandwiched between Andreas Murgler from Germany and Johan Nykvist from Sweden. Johan gradually appeared in front of me, and with a few miles of trail running left we were just on their heels, but I was concentrating hard on making sure I did not twist my ankle. After following Johan and his support for a few minutes we passed and they tagged on behind us, but we were not dropping them. I increased the pace to try and make a gap, but there was no shaking them! I could hear the Scandinavian chatter but had no ideas what was being discussed, but suddenly they stopped and we were on our own again.

 Hitting the road with ankle intact was great, a quick change of footwear and Phil ran with me on the very gradual descent of 6kms to the finish.I pestered Phil to check who was behind, "No one" he said every time. That was until about 2kms to go and then there were two people chasing he said!  The flying German Andreas was chasing me down, I increased my pace as much as I could (and did two 4 minute kms to finish!). With about 200 metres to go Andreas was just 50 metres behind, and we were bamboozled by two BIG green arrows at the edge of the village pointing to the right - were these for the run course? We stopped and discussed, we asked a passer by and they confirmed straight on. However it was too late to fend off Andreas' awesome finishing speed and he shot past me with just a few metres to go! I walked across the line in 9th place, it was not the finish I expected after 13 hours of racing to have a sprint like that was bizarre.

Back on the road - just a 6 kms to go

John Iron Farmer Carr, Alistair Shawcross, Tom Phillips, Ian "Crazy" Richardson
the COLT awesome foursome!

Andreas (the flying German)
Thanks to Paul for organising the event, and all the other helpers who made it happen. Plus of course my support crew Phil, Dick, Sharon and Emma. CELTMAN is destined to become a classic, and it was a privelege to be there at the start. 

Thursday, 1 March 2012

A Trip to the Scottish Wilderness - Bothies and Munros

My friend Phil asked me if I had a weekend free at the end of February, a quick trip to Scotland to do some Munros. He said he had the accommodation sorted and the train tickets could easily be organised.

After a rather hectic week an early departure from Lancaster saw us heading to Blair Athol with bikes and enough food for 3 nights and days. The freebie newspaper in Glasgow had the North East of Scotland as full sun for the Saturday, perhaps our luck was in?

Before 1pm we were cycling up Glen Tilt with a stiff tailwind after failing to find any open caf├ęs in Blair Atholl and making do with a few sandwiches and a very dubious pack of cream donuts from the local shop.

Despite taking a route on the wrong side of the valley (which joined the correct route after a scenic detour) things were going really well and the weather was very mild for late February. The idea was to cycle to the end of the track (12 miles) and then walk in to a hut (known in Scotland as bothies) which would be our base for three nights. The westerly wind was funnelled up the valley and pushed us up the gentle slope, whilst a couple we met cycling the other way were having a real battle. 

The steep climb out of Glen Tilt
A steep climb over a pass on the last section of the ride led us to a rapid descent to the end of the track. The remaining 2 (ish) miles was walking so we left our bikes locked up and made our way up the vague path beside the river with panniers and rucksacks. It was fairly boggy going and with an attempt to cut a corner resulting in a mile of tussocky heather by the time the bothy came into view we were quite tired and also relieved.

The final obstacle was to balance across a plank spanning a fast running stream, a set of walking poles really helped here. The solid granite walls and new roof gave the building a sturdy appealing look but even the best kept bothies are extremely basic shelters. Our bothy, the Tarf Hotel, was built in a very odd location and obviously suffered from flooding several times a year. The floors were wet and if anything it was colder inside than out. With no source of wood within many miles (apart from soaking wet tree roots in the bogs of the nearby hills) we were in for a few cold nights! We chose a recently refurbished room with a sleeping platform big enough for 2 people, and a couple of chairs and a table. After a few warm drinks and a snack we felt much happier and settled down for the night. 

The Tarf Both (Tarf Hotel)

I soon realised that even with a bivvy bag on top my sleeping bag was woefully inadequate in the fridge like climate of the bothy and spent a pretty uncomfortable night awaiting the dawn and a few hot drinks and hot porridge. My deflating thermarest didn't help matters either so it was with relief that I noticed the first sign of daylight, albeit rather grey.

The temperature gauge on the GPS showed 0.9 celcius, no wonder it had felt so cold! I had even slept in my duvet and hat. Phil got the jetboil stove going and plied me with warm drinks and I started feeling human again after a while.

Phil had a big day planned with possibly 4 munros to the north but all widely spaced so potentially 20 miles plus over mostly trackless terrain. We marched of at a good pace and via the first peak we descended over some snowy patches to the Geldie Lodge, a ruined hut in another equally desolate valley. A short food stop and we carried on over rough moorland towards Ben Bhrotain which at over 1100 metres was a long ascent. We were surprised to see people at the frozen and very windy summit, but it wasn't a place for friendly chatter, just a quick discussion about the best way off.
Descending from the arctic conditions we found a sheltered resting point and checked our progress, we were averaging 4kph so if we kept to that pace we could take in another munro on the way back. Straight line navigation over rough trackless terrain was not easy going. 

Wading the Tarf
We did spot a few mountain hares in their all white winter coats as well as ptarmigans, buzzards and many chuntering grouse. Descending from our last summit of the day we met three walkers who were also going to stay at the bothy, they had got second choice of rooms at the Tarf Hotel!

Having covered over 32kms (20 miles) we were pretty hungry so fed ourselves well on pasta, cake and custard and after several hot drinks I put on as many layers as I could to stave off the inevitable cold night ahead. The temperature already was hovering at just  1.9 celcius. I kept warm enough but my sleeping mat which had needed an emergency repair went completely flat and so a second uncomfortable night was endured.

Cooking in the Bothy
The next day Phil suggested we head East to two munros back across Glen Tilt. This seemed a reasonable proposition but our tired legs had had enough by the time we got to the heather clad slopes beyond Fealar Lodge and we decided to head back to the bothy via an alternative route, we would still cover 28kms (18 miles)

Stream Crossing in Glen Tilt
A third night of cold looked to be on the cards, but I remembered a pile of discarded wood next to a shed near where we left the bikes, and so I filled my rucksack with about 25KG's of fuel. With the aid of some firelighters left in the bothy we got a great fire going and actually raised the temperature to 11C, which felt positively tropical!

Heat at Last - you just have to carry the fuel 2.5 miles!
Despite little rain the melting snow had raised the level of the "burn" we had to cross and we resorted to throwing our kit over before our final walk back to the bikes and the 12 mile pedal back to civilisation.


Map showing Tarf Bothy to Ben Bhrotain Route - click to view

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Hardmoors 60 Ultra Marathon

My main reason for entering this event was to gain enough "points" to enter the UTMB (Ultra Tour de Mont Blanc). However I discovered that the Hardmoors events are worthy challenges in their own right, and although no where near as hilly as other long distances challenges I have done, the pace required to complete them in the time limit makes them very tough propositions.

My friend Jules caught a nasty virus a week before the event and so I only knew one other person taking part, Matt Beardshall from Chesterfield. I'd arranged to meet up with Matt on the bus going from the finish (Filey) to the start (Saltburn by the Sea) at 5.30 am on the Saturday morning. With a good forecast for the weekend I felt well prepared as I pitched my tent on Friday evening just a few minutes from where I would be catching the bus. A restless nights sleep followed however, and next thing I knew it was daylight - that was odd I thought for a split second before I looked at my watch and realised I had overslept by 2 hours!

I bundled the tent into the car and drove like a maniac northwards. The car sat-nav said I could get to Saltburn by 8.10 am, that's after the race had started. However the quiet roads meant I got there at 7.35 am just as registration was closing. So I had 10 minutes to register, leave my "drop bags" for the route, have my breakfast, a drink, get changed, check my running kit was all packed, put on my foot cream and anti chaffing cream, sun cream, etc, etc. I just managed this and caught the tail end of the briefing and then it was time to set off! I felt worn out before I started.

Matt had tracked me down and we set off together at a steady pace to the Coast, trying hard to avoid the temptation to "race" the other 65 starters. I had a garmin GPS to allow me to try and judge the pace, it is very easy in distance events to go off way to fast and then grind to a halt later. To start with we were doing 10 minute miles, plenty fast enough, perhaps too fast?

The first checkpoint at Runswick Bay (13 miles) was just a mile away when I tripped on a section of cinder track and fell hard onto my knees and hands. It was like falling onto sandpaper and a considerable amount of blood oozed from the wounds, not a great start! 

By the second checkpoint at Sandsend (19 miles - 3 hours 22 minutes) I was starting to feel fatigued, not a great sign so early in the event. But we were about 20th and had quite a lot of time in hand, so no excuse to "pack in" now. At Whitby a few miles later I did feel like stopping, weaving through the crowded streets I felt tired, jaded and the though of carrying on for another 40 miles was not appealing. I couldn't even appreciate the superb coastal scenery of the Cleveland Way.

I told Matt to carry on ahead as I was holding him back, and he gradually pulled away into the distance until I couldn't see him any more - very dispiriting! I did overtake another two runners (although by now much more walking was being done), especially on the vicious descents into places like Robin Hoods Bay and Boggle Hole. Forcing a couple of gels down I rallied slightly on the long climb up to checkpoint 3 at Ravenscar (32 miles in 6 hours 33 minutes). In the village hall at Ravenscar there were 5 or 6 VERY tired looking runners, including Matt. I just guzzled rice pudding, peaches  (about 3 tins worth I think!)  and warm tea, refilled with water and started to feel much better. Setting of with Matt 12 minutes later we rattled off the next few miles at a good pace, even having the energy to have a good chat for the first time. Things were looking up.

Scarborough hovered in the distance for a long time, never seeming to get any closer, but  when we did eventually reach the promenade I found it very hard to run for more than a few minutes at a time, and even then it was at a very slow pace. We spoke briefly to Julien Pansiot who had caught us up before dropping behind again. He had been feeling ill earlier in the race and was doing well to carry on. The 43 mile checkpoint at Scarborough was actually at 45 miles but we got great encouragement from the Hardmoors checkpoint/support crew (we were in 13 place approx) who refilled out water and handed out goodies.

By now our average pace had settled to 12.30 minutes per mile, and indeed the miles were clicking over steadily. We had done 2 marathons in just over 11 hours by the time we got to the Filey Brigg checkpoint at dusk. Filey Brigg is a peninsula that sticks out just North of the town that marks the finishing point. However this wasn't the Hardmoors 53.4, so we had to go right past the finish line to complete an extra 10 mile loop to the South West of Filey. This meant nearly 2.5 hours wandering through fields and deserted villages to reach the last "clip" at Stocking Dale and finally return to Filey.

What a wonderful welcome as we walked in the hall to a huge round of applause. We finished = 13th in 13 hours 45 minutes.

Thanks to Jonathan Steel and the Hardmoors crew, I would throughly recommend your events to anyone. And thanks for the lift back to my car at Saltburn!

Hardmoors 60 route

mile splits - notice the slow down towards 32 miles and the recovery afterwards