Monday, 1 July 2019

Arrochar Alps 2019

Potted summary of the race written while waiting in traffic on the way home....:
The 4 horsemen of the glosspocolypse headed to Arrochar, just north of Glasgow for this delightful little race which is 277,777 battered Mars bars long and has 20869 cans of irn bru of ascent
Here's a bullet point list of quotes and things we learned.
1. Findlay Wild does not look like that.
3. Scottish tussocks are easier to run on.
7. Thunder travels at the speed of sound.
8. Everywhere in Scotland has a castle. Even caravan sites.
10. Midges are lovely around these parts. Less like being bitten, and more like having a massage.
14. Just because you live in Scotland doesnt make you any better at going up hills. (according to Angela mudge)
16. Weird moaning cows
17. Carnivorous plants
18. Frogs everywhere
19. Jamie nearly got struck by lightning
20. We can't count. 
"next time you have a 'good idea' at the Christmas do, make sure I'm on the other side of the room".
It seems that Glossopdale Christmas parties are the place where running, alcohol and "good ideas" come to meet. Daz ended up doing 365 ascents of Cockhill in a year after one such occasion. This time around it seemed that it would be a good idea to do a decently long fell race in Scotland in honour of our late Chairman, John Hewitt.

race prep
Arrochar Alps seemed like a good choice. Long, lots of climb, few people and plenty of adventure. (I must note that we didn't go the whole hog and enter the Larig grhu the next day on account of having an ounce of common sense between us, but there you go).

The Arrochar Alps. Just north of Glasgow. 27km of course, 2400m of ascent. 4 munros. An average of 30 people enter every year- so generally not a great course to do if your nav is not up to snuff. Imagine our disappointment when we found out it was a Scottish Champs race this year! 170 people signed up for it on SI entries- I believe that about 130 eventually turned up to run it. However, the "large" number of entries in no way detracted from the event: it was wall to wall type 2 fun.

Having been watching the weather with interest and trepidation for the last few weeks, the day dawned cool, soon to be humid, with vast tracts of rain forecast. The rest of the UK might be basking in record temperatures, but we were in for some precipitation, and no mistake. The (very midgey) pre-race briefing went along the lines of:
"there are thunderstorms forecast. The marshals are on top of the hills and have been told to get off the tops when they deem it unsafe to be there. Mountain Rescue have said we should be ok, however, if it starts with the lightning, it is up to you to do what you want... personally I would get off the hill, especially as the marshals probably won't be up there anymore. Whatever happens, make sure you tell someone at race HQ that you're off the hill".

So with my race number pinned to my shorts, killing as many midges as possible (and Andy saying... oooh, these midges are really nice. It's less like being bitten and more like being massaged), we set off with a massed crowd of runners.
Being massaged by midges
The first bit of the race is along a single track path, which makes things fun with larger numbers of competitors, though is probably fine with normal low levels of runners. To be honest, I think everyone was fully cogniscent of the hills to come and there weren't any impatient "get out of the way" type people anywhere.
A lovely 5km bimble along an undulating path followed, with us getting warmer and warmer as the humidity took over. Matt thought we passed Finlay Wild along there. We definitely did not.
Path to the dam

We were longing for the climb to get out of the stifling valley.
Not to worry, it was soon upon us.
Current state of the initial climb

Along the track, from single to double and then a right hook up a steep, rocky path into the mist. Finally! A breeze came in from the north and we began to cool as we climbed. A number of runners took a different, steeper grassy line to the left. We stuck to the path having seen that the winner last year seemed to do that on his route- and we were rewarded at the top by coming out marginally ahead of a couple of runners we were with at the bottom. Much of a muchness then.
Still on the initial climb. After sending an SOS...

Taking out my phone for some photos, I managed to inadvertently send an SOS message to Lynne. Well- the climb was big, but it wasn't THAT bad. So I hurriedly send badly spelled text messages to her saying to ignore that, I'm just taking photos, while still climbing as hard as possible. It was surprising that there were so many people who were suffering on that first climb. In my head, all scottish runners eat hills like this for breakfast. Apparently not.

Up into the clag, and Matt went past me as my legs started to complain about going from sealevel to the top of a munro in one go, and it was all I could do to hold onto his coat tails. Through the murk we saw the front runners come back to somewhere around the 854 contour to drop to the dam... didn't see anyone actually take any trod though, so it was going to have to be guess work. 20metres of vis hampered our ability to find the top slightly, but we got there, touched the cairn and came back to the marshals in the tent who had no trouble at all seeing my number attached to my shorts, and we made our way back along the top in the clag to somewhere around the place that we might want to go down the hill.
Yay! descent lines!

It's claggy, all you can see is me and matt, and a hillside that drops more steeply than anything in the peak district, steeper than the descent off scafell pike in the OCT, and no idea of quite what is below. What else to do than to just plunge.
So we did. Down and down until eventually we came out of the cloud to see the dam slap bang in front of us. Bingo!
Look! it's a dam!
A shettlestone harrier who we were with earlier was on another line and well below us- evidently a much faster line... but even by now Matt and I were less in race mode and more in "lets just get around this monster" mode. We could kill ourselves on the climbs and still the locals would breeze past us on better descent lines that were unbeknownst to us.

Down to the dam at 230m, over a gate, along the dam and, whaddaya know- we've got another munro to head up.
Slowly bust surely we tracked down the Shettlestone harrier, and followed a trail of people to the top. A Carnethy lass outclimbed us easily. No, it wasn't Jasmin. It was Angela Mudge. (who else?!)
This climb was amazingly steep, up grass and bog. Hands and feet stuff- and at times I was wondering if I was getting elbow tendinitis from pushing on my knees so much. Once more we ascended into the clouds, munching on haribo, trying not to think about cramp. Towards the top it cleared and the views across the hills was astonishing. Looking at the line on strava it would seem that we took a somewhat sub-optimal route, but to be honest, the fact we got to the top was a triumph at that point.
Marshals at the top

... doesn't really do the view justice

The marshals took our numbers and off we went, down the hill. I was a little confused about where we were going next as there didn't appear to be anyone on the hill in front of me, and it took a bit of brain power and compass work to figure that I was looking at the wrong hill- and it fact I should be looking more to the left... ah - THAT hill.
An easy run off got us to the bottom and then another gruelling thrutch up to the top of our 3rd munro of the day.
Grassy bog. Slippy underfoot. Frogs. Carnivorous plants. Climbs so steep your nose is touching the ground as you're standing upright. Yes, this is Scotland.
Nose to floor climbs

As we approached the top, far away we could hear a faint, deep grumble... big jet? Thunder? Yes... thunder- but still a long way away- we were reassured by the marshals, who looked at the numbers on our shorts, marked us on their records and cheerfully sent us on our way.

Oh, great, that's ok then.... Where is the next top- aha- over there in the mist. Make sure you don't end up on the Cobbler- an easy mistake to make.
Matt and I plunged down the hill on gradually fatiguing legs in approximately the right direction, into the col, through a gate and then up the hill to the final Munro of the day. Towards the top there was a small amount of scrambling before the plateau, where we found our last marshals of the day.... and heard a slightly more significant peal of thunder whilst looking at some particularly freaky waveform clouds....
Mutual agreement. Let's get off this damn hill!
Have you seen those clouds? What the heck are they? BOOOOOOM. Let's get off this hill.

A run down to the next level, and it became apparent just how our perspective had changed through the day. We knew we were looking for a path, but considering the crazy steepness of the route so far, we found ourselves looking down an almost sheer cliff thinking "yeah- that looks like a sensible line"- when out of the mist to the right there was a REALLY obvious path that was no-where near the ridiculous line we were vaguely ready to throw ourselves down... AHA! it's over there.

Down a slightly less ridiculous path, to the next col where we had the choice... follow the path, or take a totally non marked descent that might or might not work.
We were definitely tired and took the boring option of the path. In hindsight, we should have taken the other line, but also in hindsight, I can see that we were both pretty done in and wanted an unmistakable line off the hill.
The path is horrible.
That's all you really need to know.

Down at the bottom I nearly snapped my knee backwards as every muscle in my right leg rebelled and cramped, which resulted in a few choice words, but we hit to final track and were in the last half mile when the rain turned into a truly torrential downpour. Ridiculous amounts of rain cascaded from the sky as thunder and lightning played across the area. (Andy and Jamie were still on top at this point- the rain was apparently hail up there- and Jamie was encouraged off the hill by seeing lightning strike on the hill *below* him).
Matt and I ran into the finish- which was about as low key as you can get. A bloke with a clipboard, in a mosquito net. Awesome. That just about sums up the entire race- epic, but low key.
Post race irn bru. That's real nutrition.

The scran at the end was excellent. Soup, tea, cakes (for a donation). Finlay Wild won the race in a scarcely creditable 3:07 (and was still 20 seconds outside the record)- we were about an hour slower, but I have no idea about our places.

Basically, this is a little like a Grassy Jura, but in reverse. A long flat 5k section followed by some monstrous ups and downs. As good as Jura is, I have so say I prefer the Arrochar Alps as a race. I hope to be back to to it again next year- maybe with a bit more training in my legs... a sub4 here would be a good day out.
Huge thanks to the organisers and the marshals. Total legends.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Supporting John Kelly's Grand Round PB

As ever, it starts with Chris Webb talking to me in a car.
John Kelly is in the UK. He's looking at doing the big 3 rounds, connecting them up by bike riding. We should go and help out on the Paddy Buckley as he hasn't got much support...

It's on a Wednesday, which, even though it is half term, means that it is a little bit of a challenge to make things work for pacers. However, I managed to clear the diary for the day and at 1am, Chris knocks on the door.

An easy drive to Capel sees us arrive with an hour to spare which is filled with faffing, coffee and breakfast. The skies are semi-clear, but beginning to cloud over. To the south it looks cloudy, and dare I say it, grim. Andy Simpson, the other pacer, turns up at about 4:10 and we mooch around in the carpark as the first few drops of rain begin to fall.
A text arrives, John has been having technical difficulties and will be a little late.
He arrives at just after 4:30, the proposed start time (the route wouldn't load onto his watch), and after a prerequisite few minutes of food prep and handing out of gear and a vast amount of water... which looking at the rain now coming down, probably wasn't going to be needed, we set out on the round.

The schedule was for a 20 hour round, which, to me, if youre about to do 3 rounds, is fairly ambitious. We had visions of him sprinting off up Siabod, but we settled into a fairly decent rhythm, as the sun rose behind the clouds and we were treated to a spectacular dawn. Maybe the best part of the day. John mentioned that he was going to try and keep his feet dry for this leg of the round.
Oh how Chris, Andy and I laughed.

Up and into the cloud and the rain, and that was pretty much the size of it for the rest of the day.
First we got wet then the wind came and we got cold and wet, and we carried on running.

John's thoughts of keeping his feet dry quickly disappeared (I was going to say "evaporated", but that is certainly the wrong end of the heat scale).

We stormed along the boundry line at some incredible pace, and reached Allt Fawr while still feeling pretty fresh. Doing this leg in the light is certainly a non-debatable point, it speeds things up immensely.
It looks quite nice here, doesn't it?

Down to the quarries via the slopey line, still unsure if this is faster than the route off the top - and straight into the moelwyns.
By now, my hands were so cold I could barely tie my laces, let alone feed myself on the run, so I stopped for a moment on the traverse to Moelwyn Bach for some admin- taking on a bagel and a LOAD of tangfastics.
Suitably revived, I caught up and on we went.

I was shivering wherever the wind caught us, but fine in the sheltered places. Down to the quarries again, and then a spectacularly good line from Andy and Me up Cnicht which popped us out pretty much direct on the summit.
Fluffed the descent a little, and Chris came a cropper on a wet and slippy stone, crashing down on his hip which slowed us down a little- but from being 10 mins behind schedule for most of the morning, we ended up at the transition at exactly that - 10 mins behind schedule.
Yeah - we kind of stopped taking photos because it was too grim... sorry.

Andy had already left us by then, we picked up another pacer as I changed tops, got another warm pair of mitts out and loaded up on food- John doing all his admin, and picking up another Pole as one of his had broken on the run to allt fawr. (don't worry, we didn't leave it there, I carried it all the way back).
Up onto leg 4, a shorter, pretty leg. Not that you could tell.
The ascent was brutal, we lost the new pacer before we even reached the 2nd peak. So it was Chris and me supporting this leg in rain, cutting wind and naff-all visability- Chris handicapped with a bashed up leg and me being handicapped by going from mild to moderate hypothermia.
Ah - a grand day out.

We were ticking off the summits, bashing through heather, generally getting rained on and getting colder as John forged up the climbs like a monster with his poles. We had real difficulty keeping with him uphill, but regularly dropped him going down, despite our diminished strength.
Across the Nantille ridge was slippy as hell and we were very circumspect. All I could think of was getting off the hill safely - there was no way I had a 3rd support leg in me.
Chris showing correct food replenishment strategies.

 Down off the hill and into the forest, down to the carpark and the welcome sight of the support vehicle. Damian Hall was waiting there to support on the next leg - John got his stuff together, another layer, and off they went as Chris and I looked forward to some Coke and a hot meal at Siabod Cafe.

In summary, it was a fast, fast first leg, though the wind and rain really made it more difficult in terms of support, navigation and personal admin. The vis was horrendous, and personally, if I ever got around to doing a round, it would not be in these conditions.
Even with mitts and hand warmers, I was not in a good place- "hard man of the mountains" I am not... (and perhaps I need a new waterproof... the OMM Aether is getting a little long in the tooth, it certainly doesn't seem to provide the same kind of protection as it did a few years go, despite reproofings etc).

Good luck to John with the remainder of his Grand round. As of now- 930 the next morning, he finished his PB in just under 24 hours, got a couple of hours kip and is now on his bike on the way to the Lakes for an attempt at the BG. He has an 18 hour schedule on that, which will be interesting to see.  

Monday, 27 May 2019

bloody irresponsible fellrunners

It doesn't happen too often, but I giggle when it does. You're running around some godforsaken fellside in the cold and the fog wearing a pair of shorts, a tshirt and a bumbag and out of the mist looms a single, or more likely a group of heavily clad walkers. You know the type. Goretex tops and bottoms, boots made of something dead, 40-60 litre packs, mapcases fluttering in the wind.
Instead of a cheery "hello" which most people tend to use for greeting, you'll get a "bloody irresponsible fell runner... out in these conditions wearing nothing at all. You're the reason Mountain Rescue Teams get called out.".
Typical irresponsible fellrunner

Which is the funny part.
Looking at Edale Mountain Rescues stats from this last year of 151 rescues, 1 of them was a runner. (51 were walkers...)  - and can you believe it, I can't find the webpage now.... Ah heck, lets just look at the stats for the whole of Britain actually. (this time I DO have the site!) in 2017 there were 1468 rescues across all areas. There were 34 Fellrunning incidents - with 27 subjects. So 2% of people picked up by MRT are runners. Right.
How about hillwalkers? Well there are probably a lot more hill walkers in the UK than there are fellrunners, so that's going to skew the statistics, right. True, but 1119 incidents were for the hillwalking fraternity - with 1061 subjects. And that doesn't include DofE - they're in a stats box of their own, so you can't blame them.

So, excitingly, as a fellrunner I'm somewhat less likely to need to callout MRT - or indeed have someone else call them out on my behalf. Which is partly what makes me giggle.

There was a bit of an argument on facebook a while back about wearing shorts in the hills, and about if you broke a leg, how hard it would be to put on waterproof trousers. The guy talking about this was essentially saying that if he was out walking, wearing trousers, it would be really easy for him to put on waterproof trousers in the event of him breaking a leg, whereas a runner in shorts would be in a totally different situation.
ah, the 2 litre bumbag. What could you possibly fit in there?
I had to beg to differ - if you're lying on the floor, screaming in agony because you've just broken a leg, I'd say that it doesn't matter WHAT you're wearing, it is going to be just as much fun putting on a a pair of waterproof trousers with a broken femur. But I kind of digress.

So what to actually carry?

If you're a walker, you'll have a hard time believing it, but in that tiny bumbag (or, more likely, a race
vest, these days), you can get a fair heap of stuff. There have been a number of reviews on this site over the past few years, but they have tailed off recently. The main reason for that is because I've got a load of kit that works, and hasn't broken yet. No-one gives me anything to review, so its all bought, and I like things to last.

So what's in there?
SOL bivvy bag. It's still going! (that's since 2013)
OMM aether Smock - It's still going! (blimey, I bought that in 2014)
Berghaus vapourlight Hypertherm - It's still going! (I got that before the Spine!)
Montane Prism Mitts - They're not exactly still going - Im on my second pair.
Extremeties Tuffbags- waterproof overmitts in case it gets really grim
A whistle
a headtorch (petzl reaktik+- make sure you know how to lock it)
emergency gel

Ok- so in this picture there is no Aether - it's the Berghaus Hyperlight Smock. Still taped and waterproof though.

On warm days with no chance of rain I'll swap out the Aether for a Berghaus hyperlight smock (technically its waterproof, but I wouldnt like to be out in grim weather in it) which is lighter and more packable.
Very very very very occasionally I'll pack a pair of waterproof trousers- Berghaus Paclites, or, if I'm actually going to use them- Montane eVent trousers (yup... they're still going as well).

Which, all told, I'm not sure what else you'd have in a rucksack- maybe more extra layers? more food? a thermos flask? Who knows. Maybe they take it for when they inevitably have to sit down and wait for mountain rescue?
Ok, that's going a bit far, sorry about that.

A quick note on some of those items above- The Aether is still being made, as are the Sol bivvy bags and the Prism mitts. The Vapourlight Hypertherm appears to have been discontinued, which is a shame- but there are other products around like it (even if they aren't quite as light) such as the Montane Fireball, inov8 thermoshell etc. It appears to have been superceded by jackets with hydrodown, which Im sure are fine, but I haven't needed to buy to try out.
The Hyper light berghaus "waterproof" is now called the hyper 100 shell, and is now a 3layer waterproof!
Now I'm getting into other stuff which was not the point of this blog in the first place... looks like I might have to write something else with a bit more detail as to what might be good this year....

Anyhow. The point of this blog is simply to say, if you see a fellrunner out and about with just shorts and a tshirt on, carrying what appears to be a bumbag or rucksack too small to carry anything in, be nice, say hi. Don't moan about the fact they'll be the ones calling mountain rescue, chances are, they ARE mountain rescue. 

It isn't the runners you want to be worried about, anyway... its the walkers wandering around with guidebooks following terrible route descriptions and hand-drawn paper maps that are getting shredded in the rain - but that's another post away.