Sunday, 26 May 2013

Lake District, in good weather.

Its not often that I get to the Lake District and it is good weather. It certainly isn't all that often that I get to see where I'm going, and for almost that reason, I agreed to go up to the Lakes again this week to accompany Andy on a semi-recce of a couple of legs of the BG.

On the way around I realised that I am certainly not as recovered from last weeks OCT as I thought I was.
There were, however, ample opportunities to see the bits of the OCT that I didn't see last week, having been enshrouded by cloud - and new bits of the area that I have never seen before - mainly because when I HAVE been there, all there was, was cloud.

So I took the opportunity to take some photos.
All in all, 30km and 3000m or so of ascent.
Note that they aren't in order of having been taken, just an arbitrary order that the computer has uploaded them in.

It ain't often I get days like that.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Old County Tops

Race prep. The right way!
Old county tops. 3 little words, and the prospect of quite a long, hard day out. Something along the lines of 38miles and 10000ft of climbing. To be honest, its pretty much what I've mainly been training for over the past few months. My partner Alasdair was putting in some hard miles throughout February, when I took a month off running, and I basically didn't want to end up being the one holding us back.Lots of training later and the big weekend arrived. 5pairs from Glossopdale, and a good number of us travelled up on Friday evening, staying in a climbing  club hut.
Pasta followed by beer followed by bed was the order of the night.
Pre-race pasta
Up at 6 and do a few last minute kit checks before we headed down to Dungeon Ghyll for registration and a proper kit check. Standing there with a rucksack made me feel positively over prepared when the guys with bumbags started turning up.
All too soon it was time to start, and we made our way to the  car park. The Glossopdale runners had
strategically placed themselves right at the car park exit. So when starters orders were called, everyone else lined up behind us. Head of the pack and we are almost first out of the gate.

No need for having recced here as there was a great line of runners in front of us, and an even longer one behind. I soon realised that this was also the ascent line which Andy and I had used for the Ian Hodgeson
The Glossopdale dream team
Mountain Relay last year. Comfortable with knowledge of this line, I settled into an easy pace - rain and headwind notwithstanding, and carried on up the hill, trying to keep no further than 20 metres behind the seemingly indefatiguable Alasdair. (It wasn't actually the same line, it just looked like it and my mind was playing tricks on me. Just another normal course of events for a feel race...) Andy was having much the same amusement with Dan, asking if I had a leash to keep Ali back, and if he could borrow it to keep Dan in check...
After Grisdale tarn a split came, with the top 2 teams taking the line directly up, and the vast majority of others opting for a more diagonal line. Both, of course took in a fair amount of steep ascent. We chose the first, direct
line up the hill, and then a shallower angle across, over and then up to the top of Helvellyn. On the long ascent up, we saw the front runners zooming down the descent line, among them were Julien and Mark, who had accelerated away up the path. 

To the top, check time about 1:50. Oh. The one thing I remember is Andy Anastasi saying "with the OCT, if you get to the top of Helvellyn in less than 2 hours, at some point further on, you're really going to suffer". Oh well, we're going to be suffering anyway.... but not before a fantastic downhill section where Alasdair and I had a brilliant line, overtaking a number of teams, and, incredibly, nearly catching up with Julien and Marc by the bottom of Wythenshaw! They were only about 100m ahead of us, and Alasdair appeared to surge to try and catch them, but I put a stop to that with the comment "I can't catch Julien up a hill in a bog on a good day, let alone in the middle of an epic... let them go". 
So we did. 

We battled on up what was essentially a vertical bog for what seemed like mile after mile. I suppose we must have been slowing down a little as Dan and Andy, who we had left behind on the descent (Andy had apparently decided to attempt to concuss himself on a stone halfway down), were catching us by the top. As we approached the only part that we weren't entirely sure about navigationally, we were together. 

Around High Raise and down to Angle tarn we kept our momentum, I think I only managed to fall over about 3 times on that part, and we got to Angle tarn without too much upset or confusion, which was a real relief. It was very much the part that could have scuppered us. 
We said our numbers at the checkpoint, Dan and Andy were informed that the team with their number had gone through about 10 mins before, which was a little confusing. What was also a little worrying was that we were 6th and 7th respectively. Top 10? At this stage? Surely some mistake?

I was a bit worried about just when the wheels might fall off. If we are going this well, then at some point, somewhere along the way, we're probably going to bonk hugely. Well, no point in standing around worrying about it. I put my very very very sodden gloves back on, stuffed more food in my mouth and started up the path to Esk Hause. It had been raining more or less constantly from the beginning. I was starting to get a bit chilled, and my hands, even in massive gloves- which were now soaked, were also going cold. Not a good sign. We just needed to keep moving, even if everything was starting to weigh a ton. 

Alasdair and I put some time into Dan and Andy, and the other team that was with us through to Angle tarn, on the way to Scafell summit. Trying to eat as intelligently as possible, while moving as fast as possible so as to keep warm. Further up into the mist, across the sharp rocks, past the walkers in their full waterproofs, looking at us in our shorts as if we were mad. To the top, - about 4:38 - we shout our number to the marshal as a group of 3 peak baggers attempted to make very lame jokes about us running (and who were thoroughly ignored) and down to the direct line off the summit. 
We vaguely knew were we were going, and with the assistance of a compass bearing and semi-photographic memory we were soon thrashing our way off the hill. Tired legs and complaining knees were amplified by the steep grassy terrain, and muscles were screaming at us to stop. With other teams really not all that far behind there was no option but to just keep on going. 

Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime of descending, the ground flattened out and stretched over toward Great Moss. By this time I had stopped counting how many times I had fallen over, it must have been somewhere in the high teens, but now came the boggy section. Less falling and a whole lot more trying to get legs out of holes with no bottom.
Having spoken to Dan about this section last night we knew it would take about an hour or so. Yiannis has apparently done it in 55 mins in the past, which is scarcely believable. It was decided that we should just keep on moving as fast as possible no matter what the terrain. There was no-one in view behind us, so we needed to be vigilant. If there is someone obviously chasing you, then there is always incentive to keep moving, but without that incentive, it is easy to become complacent. 

Not us. 

Into Cockley Beck
Every step taken as fast as possible, every slip recovered or rolled out of to keep going as fast as we can.
No stopping to take off gloves, no stopping to get anything out of main packs, just food from side pockets, and keep on rolling.
We thrashed our way through indeterminate bog, crossed a couple of rivers, churned our way up a climb, and with fatigue well and truely setting into our legs, pounded our way down into the final food checkpoint at Cockley beck. Alasdair was craving a banana at this stage, and from conversations with others who have done the OCT in the past, the food at Cockley Beck has attained a mythical status. Tea, sandwiches, bananas, cakes, flapjack, water, you name it, it was there. For all I knew, there would be candles and a sit down dinner, more welcome than that, though was the sight of Els,Caitlin and Josie Swan on the path, cheering us along and telling us that we were indeed still 6th. 

Happy Face
6th? at this stage? Again, scarcely creditable. I was still wondering just when the wheels were going to come off. 
To the checkpoint, a Tuna sandwich, Alasdair got his banana, and I could almost see that we were going to get sucked in to comfort eating… if we stayed too long we might be losing valuable time that we would need at the end. Mutually, we grabbed a small amount of food and set off up the ridiculously massive climb up to the Old Man of Coniston. Ahead of us we could see some other teams - quite a way ahead. 
The climb was incredibly strength and will sapping, despite the clag it was still getting warmer, and there was no end to the climb. The teams we could see were about 15 mins ahead of us, and climb as we might, there was no way to close the gap. We continued trying to eat, but it was getting to the point where food tasted of ash, and it was difficult to swallow with the effort of walking uphill and breathing at the same time. 

Eventually the top came, and "running" recommenced. It was closer to a shuffle than a run, but slowly we got the limbs moving again and started the clag ridden bash across to Coniston. That route is a whole lot longer than you expect. It took us forever to run over there, the main point which kept me going mentally was that we could see the tracks of the teams in front of us. Then those teams started to come past us on the way down and back off Coniston - must be getting close then. 
We eventually got to the top, shouted out number and started to run back. Fatigue was really really kicking in now, but after 6:56, we had done the final Top. Now all we needed to do was get down and back. 

On the way off we passed a huge number of teams, they all looked really fresh to my tired eyes, and I could see the possibility of a top 10 position rapidly diminishing. Just needed to keep going as hard as possible. Only about 6 miles or so left. We dropped a slight clanger on the route off, not following the optimal line - this was in fact the only navigational error of pretty much the whole day, which was astonishing, and all credit should go to Alasdair and his recce and navigational skills, however, right to the last checkpoint before the horrendous descent down the road into Little Langdale we kept in 6th. 

On that descent we were passed by a team that looked incredibly strong. Where we had started out, perhaps a little too fast, I suspect they started slower, and had scythed through the field as the day wore on. They were passed and down the hill, and we had no energy to stay with them. The powergels then made their appearance, inside the last hour of a race like this, nothing else works like them to keep you awake and tuned in to getting to the end as fast as possible. It doesn't matter about stomach cramps, because you should be finished before they hit...~!

Right at the end
The pace picked up imperceptibly as we realised how close we were. Throughout the day both of us had been the flagging member of the party, and we had both been the stronger part. Now we were reliant on each other to get through this final part.
We crossed into the valley at 8:05. A chance for a sub 8:30 if we get a shift on. Down and through the fields, and across streams. The ending had been flagged and we got to the first of the flags at 8:21. Hoofing it down toward the end, we knew we had it in the bag and crossed the line in 8:24:11.
7th overall.

That was a pretty long day in the saddle and from wondering if we might make it into the top 20, getting a top 10 finish was a huge bonus. The time was amazing as well, especially after speaking with others who have run it in the past, saying that it was pretty much the worst conditions underfoot that they had ever had to run it in.

Julien and Mark came in 5th in about 8:04, Andy and Dan were 10th in about 8:45ish. We missed out on the team prize (to locals- Ambleside) by 59 seconds. Which, over 8-9 hours of racing is pretty good going. So 3 teams in the top 10. John and Phil came in just under 10 hours,
Chuffed with that
and Andy F and Dave were just over 10.

An excellent day out in the Lakes, and that makes 3 top 10 places in 3 consecutive races for me. Unheard of, and very much unexpected. The long runs in the last few weeks, and the general training that I've been putting in has certainly paid dividends. I didn't hold Alasdair up, and in fact, we made a very strong pairing. There is talk of a  sub 8 hour next year. I may have to continue training....
I am now the proud owner of a 3 county tops t-shirt and a lot of soggy gear. Unfortunately, no team prize this year, but that means we shall have to try all the harder next year.
Theoretically THIS LINK should take you to my strava course for the race. 

Thanks muchly to those who organised it, the Achille-Ratti club, those who manned the checkpoints and made this event happen.Thanks also to Els Swan whose photos I have shamelessly copied off facebook.  
Post race sustenance in the Stickle Barn
 Thank you.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Mount Famine 2013

The Three Days in May Fell Race series kicked off yesterday with The May Queen. Last year I got my best result of all time- 5th. This year I missed it.
There was no way I was going to miss Mount Famine though. 8 and a bit km, nigh on 600 metres of ascent (brutal ascents they are too), and weather that never really promised to be much more than a bit damp and windy means that it is far too much fun to contemplate sitting at home revising.

Having done it for the past 2 years I know the course, which, in a nutshell does this:
Brutal up. Up. flatish up. Down. Hard up. Up. Up. along - but trending up. Really Up. Down. Up. Hard up. Up. Horrible Up. Down. Down. Down. Along. Up (forever, and ever and ever until you want your legs to give way) Along, but feels like its trending up. Down. Hard down. Hard along. Finish.

So basically its pretty much all up. Though it ends at the same level as you start. Actually, just a bit lower.
Surely the best and craziest start of them all. 
But it feels like it should end on top of a hill.
Lynne and I arrived early, so that she could help with the registration, and I helped drink tea and chat. As it was a Glossopdale race a fair few of the club were out and about, so it was a nice social occasion.

But not for too long.
We wandered across to the start, and stood around looking at the first climb up Elle Bank for a while. I took the opportunity to make my way up the ridiculous incline to work out where the path was at the top, so that I didn't start out too far along the path from it, working out a plan to get there as fast as possible.
We eventually started, with the starters orders being as low key as normal.
"right guys, uh. 3,2,1,go"
And we started thrashing our way up the hill. A Buxton guy threw himself past me just at the bottom, but I
Off goes Simon Bailey- top right
kept my line and started hacking up the hill as fast as I could. The next thing I knew I was at the top of the hill with only Simon Bailey and one other in front of me. Oh. Oh dear. I think I may have slightly over cooked this....
Then Mark Ollerenshaw came piling past and much the same thought flashed through my mind again.

Oh well, Ive always wondered what it would be like to go out hard and then see if I can hang on. I suppose this is as good a race as any to do it on.
A couple more people passed me on the next part, but I held on during the short descent.
Going up to Mount Famine Alastair was the first of several to go past, with me thinking "oh dear - I'm just going to to backward now".
It's that point in the race where the lungs are hurting, your legs feel slow, people are passing you and you think. "you know. I don't *actually* enjoy this".
Dan Chan, on his charge back to fitness overtook me, and all I could think was that I couldn't let another Pennine vest past me, as I was 3rd Glossop, and that would mean giving away the team prize.

We Ran across the Dragons back, and I gained a couple of places back, overtaking a Buxton runner and
Great picture taken by Nev
Alastair again just at the top of the hill.
Somewhere along the way was Nev, shouting wildly at us and encouraging us with great enthusiasm. No idea where it was, I was far too knackered to work that out.
Off the hill and a Cheshire Hill runner cruised past. Effortlessly taking another 20 metres in front of me, and catching up with Dan and a couple of others. Nothing else to do but head down, last climb, for the moment, before the massive down into Dimpus Clough, where I was planning on really motoring and trying to claw back some time.

On the way down, I found myself a little sidetracked, looking over to the left to see if Simon Bailey was already climbing up out of the clough, but after nearly falling a couple of times, and realising my pursuit wasn't going quite as well as I hoped, it was eyes down and concentrate on the hill all the way down.

Until the bottom. I'd just about caught up with the next 4 in front of me, who had all overtaken me just after the first climb. I don't have a great record on the ascent out of Dimpus Clough, having haemorraged places in both previous editions of the race, so I started the ascent with a little trepidation, stomping my way up the hill, and as soon as it got a little "flatter", or maybe I should say "less wall like" I ran a good few steps to try and gain some time, and, if possible, places.
Up and up, I managed to take 3 places, but a Buxton runner was right in front of me at the top, and the Cheshire runner was a good few lengths in front of him. A fight was on, and a few kilometres still stood between us and the end.

The end
How LONG does the dragons back go on for?! I managed to descent off the lump faster than the Buxton runner, and now with him breathing down your neck, the continuation to the end seemed to go on forever. Nev was there, braving the rather unattractive weather, shouting encouragement and taking photos at the point just before the final up before the final down, and I was being pressed hard.

Across the top, I thought it would be interesting to see what a couple of short accelerations might do, especially down the slight dips in the undulations. The only thing I could gauge it from was how much I could hear his breathing. My mind was completely focussed on not being overtaken.
Then I changed my mind. I looked at the Cheshire runner, an unfeasibley long way ahead, and instead of running FROM the guy just behind me, I started to chase the other one down.
Step by step, down and down, we continued. He was right behind me even to the steep path off the hill and onto the final track, and all of a sudden, he wasn't there and I was gaining on the Cheshire runner.

No. Surely not.
Yes. I'm wearing arm warmers and gloves, I didn't fall in a bog. 
I slowly gained until about 500metres before the finish where I drew along side, lengthened my stride a little, which he matched. Oh. He's playing with me. Do I want to be the one congratulating him for pulling away and beating me? No.
Slacken off, and go again, and this time he fell behind.
I have to keep going now, and managed to hold on right to the end, gasping, choking, coughing and spluttering. I rocked in 5th.
49:28. Sub 50, which was the main aim for today, and only a place behind Mark O. (a couple of minutes behind, admittedly, but still, just one place). Now *thats* the good feeling I was looking for during the race.
Alastair came in as first V40, Caity came in 2nd Female, and Lindsay got 1st V40 female.
Despite our best efforts, Pennine got the team prizes! Well done guys.

Alison and the Glossopdale cake box. mmm. Thanks Alison 
Slightly recovered
And Alison brought out some amazingly tasty ginger and chocolate brownie cake. Definitely worth a mention!

So. Happy with that. Training seems to be going well, and the next race is Old County Tops. Long and slow, not really one to race, but rather, just to survive. Can't wait.

Well done, as ever to Simon Bailey. First by miles. Just out of interest, does anyone actually know what he does for training? My theory is that as a sheep farmer, he doesn't have a sheep dog and just rounds them up, one by one, on foot - thus training through work. This hasn't been substantiated, of course.... but I was just
Something I don't see often, but am really quite proud of.