Sunday, 25 May 2014

Jura Fell race 2014

The slightly intimidating view of the Paps from the boat
I'll spare you the story of getting to Jura. Just think of a car journey, a ferry, another one, a bus journey and a walk, each getting progressively closer to a little cottage on a small island just off Islay in Scotland.

The home of a fell race that some say is the best, toughest and most ludicrous in the calendar. Always over subscribed, always talked about with awe, and always on someone's tick list. It is also sponsored by the distillery, which makes the prizes giving pretty lucrative for the winners. Add to that, if you manage to complete the 19 mile course in less than 4 hours, you get a whisky glass... which, having never run it before, was a bit of a target.

I woke on Sat with a bit of a stiff knee. Not really a problem until I looked at it properly as I brewed coffee.
Ready for Battle
It was quite swollen on the front of the knee cap, and a bit squidgy. Pre-patellar bursitis. Great. On today of all days. Jura Debut, with a decent amount of training behind me, I really thought that sub-4 was on. I'd even checked out Nic Barbers splits from last year- a 3:50-odd completion - to try and run to. Looking sorrowfully at my swollen knee I looked on the bright side.
Pre-patella bursitis... it's brought on by excessive kneeling (no, really, it is), it involves the bursa on the front of the kneecap - so its not contractile tissue like muscle, or an anchor like a ligament, or a tendon, it is a fatty pad that, when inflammed, limits motion. So, to be fair, a couple of ibuprofen should see me right. 2 early, and another 2 on the start line... that'll do, decision made.

As the race started at 1030, we had a leisurely breakfast and kitted up before heading down to registration - which included a kit check, and a section to pick up tags to hand in on the way around as a way of keeping track of runners, before we sat out in the glorious sun and waited for the calls for all runners to go to the pre-race pen. Which we studiously ignored for a while until runners actually started to go into the pen, and we joined them.

Slightly nervous before a race, especially one with a skyline like this... we'd seen it from the ferry - it looks like someone has cut out 3 comedy mountains, covered them in scree and stuck them on the horizon. It just doesn't look real. Running it, and running it in sub-4 is nigh on insane. Especially with a swollen knee... Right?

Glossopdale enjoying the pre-race atmosphere
A short spiel by the race organiser, I take a look around at everyone else lined up, all 220 of us. The sun beaming down on us, breeze from the north, and beautifully clear skies above the hills. And we were off. Along the road, left, a track, and up a rise. We could see the first Pip ahead of us, but between us and that.

The main geographical characteristic of Jura is that it has blimmin big hills that are covered in scree. What people fail to tell you is that in order to get to aforementioned hills, you have to cross a massive bog - no matter which direction you approach from.

I could see people thrashing through mud ahead of me. Konrad was particularly helpful in finding a thigh deep bit which the rest of us avoided, but it was like going through a wetter and less peaty version of Outer Edge. The pace slowed a little, but not by much, and soon enough we hit the first rise. I checked my watch - the only split I could remember was 36 minutes to the first checkpoint. The rest of the race, no idea, I'd just try and hold on. At this point, Nic was right in front of me and we were kind of on target for 36 or 37 mins. I had 10 mins leeway for the entire race, so it was kind of key to get this right.

Up onto the top, and breathing hard. Too hard. Was I going out too fast? The OCT from last week flashed through my minds eye, which ended up in a bit of a blow up. Well, if it happens today, it happens. I'm going to keep this pace going until I can't.
And then I shall take photos....

We hit the top of the Pip at about 37 mins, I was breathing hard, Nic was going away from me, and I was concerned that I was in trouble. ( He later said that he really didn't expect to see me for the rest of the race). I latched onto another Pennine vest- Dave Ward - Jura race extrodinaire. Tom Brunt told me that if I wanted sub-4 then I should just follow him "he has the knack of it". For the moment there was little else I could do but run off down the hill with my fellow competitors, and make my way as swiftly as possible to the next Pip- it just so happened that I followed Dave, I certainly couldn't go any faster. The going underfoot was getting less boggy and a bit rougher, and we wove our way over stone, scree and bog to hit the 3rd Pip before I felt good enough to start at it properly again. I overtook Dave on the ascent, and then turned to the right at the top.
Dave Ward, in his natural habitat
The Paps were there in all their splendiferous glory - the camera had to come out. Dave went past me, so I took a pic, and chased after him, packing the camera away as I went. Down over scree, and mud, I overtook Dave again, down into bog and squidginess, and toward the first Pap. A ridiculous pile of scree and rock rising above us, almost incomprehensibly big. The best thing to do was put the head down and just go up it and see how long it took.

I got stuck in, pacing up the green streak of a stream that leads you up the hill, and surprised myself by overtaking a couple of people - the only issue being this was the beginning of a 500 metre climb. The first of 3, and already 10k and just over an hour into the race. Going too fast? No idea.
As the hill climbing got underway, it seemed to get steeper, and although I didn't seem to lose too much time, I very soon had Konrad from Carnethy on my tail, commenting that "you don't get hills like this in the Peak District, do you".
My response was something along the lines of "Sorry Konrad, I can't really talk - I'm concentrating on making my legs go left-right-left-right, coz if they start going left-left, or right-right, I'm going to be in serious trouble".

Soon, (soon?) we got to the top - me, Konrad, a Bingley guy who seemed to know some pretty good lines,
and someone else. We struggled with tags to give to the marshals, and the nutrition strategy (which started with a massive breakfast) continued. I gulped a gel down and battered off down the hill, following Konrad, and soon realising that the ground was perfect for running down. Scree of good size and slippy-ness. The kind of stuff you always really want to slide/run down as a kid, but you get told not to- or to be careful... well, this is a race, go as fast as you dare. So I stormed off down the hill, enjoying every last footstep of it, gaining time over Konrad, and ahead I could see Nic - not a bad target. He is probably on a sub-4 as well, so if he is in sight, excellent.
Second Pap rises before us. Another mass of scree and rock with runners scrambling up it. Within about 3 mins of starting up it, Konrad had caught up, I don't think I really put much time into him on the descent, and the same 4 of us were together again. Some strategic passing and mini-shortcuts were had as we stomped our way up the hill - I was trying to keep a rhythm in mind just to keep the legs going at that speed - every step taking me closer to the end. Am I still on target? No idea... Don't waste energy, just keep going up. And up.
The Paps. On a blessedly good day. 
This was the second huge Hands-on-knees climb of the day, we'd been going for nigh on 2 hours now, my knee hadn't been bothering me, and it continued to be fine. I certainly wasn't thinking about taking photos at that point as the 4 hour time scale seemed to be good, though not with a whole lot of leeway. As we tramped up the slope I tried to take in just how much landscape there was- the beauty of the island and everything around it- though to be honest, even if I was a marshal and up there for several hours, I doubt I would have taken it all in.

At the second scree "wall" Konrad took a sneaky line around the back, so I swiftly followed him- it ended in pretty much a grassy scramble to the top, but we reached the ridge about 30 metres behind Nic, surprising him, and, without a doubt, spurring him on. Across the ridge, and Julien was there with a bottle of water and some helpful advice about the route- which I basically didn't hear as I was just too knackered to listen to anything at that point, gulping down the second of 3 gels I was potentially going to consume over the race.

2 Paps down, another to go, and then a blip at the end... but first the descent, not as scree-like as the first and last Paps, but still with a vicious character of its own. I made my way down, taking a fairly decent and direct line, as far as I could tell, though not as good as off the first Pap, across the bog at the bottom and then to the start of the final one.
2 hours and 17. Not bad, within limits, I think, but it was all going to depend on how this last one went. As time goes on, and we do more ascent, my legs really start to tell on me, and I lose time, that's what the training has all been about, but training for this stuff is difficult. Difficult, but not impossible.

Up we went, Nic quite a way ahead, as was Spike from Dark Peak, and Konrad overtaking me, and gradually putting distance into me. 5, 10, 20 metres.
Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. Just keep it going, don't forget to breathe.
I was fully aware that the descent of this Pap is the one that is writ large in the consciousness of the Jura fell race community. The one with scree, but on a scale you can't really comprehend without seeing and experiencing. I'd heard stories about car sized blocks, losing time hand over fist if you take the wrong line, of races and timings being messed up by a badly taken descent. I REALLY wanted to see someone in front of me going down there. But I just couldn't keep hold of the train.

The legs weren't responding to the head, and Konrad et al. were just eking out more of a lead over me. Damn.
I reached the top on my own. The others having dropped off the top a good 20-30 seconds before me, which doesn't seem a lot, but you can go a long way down in 20-30 seconds. So I thanked the marshals for being there, looked about at the view, took a breath and plunged down, following an approximate line through the scree field.
Konrad was just about in sight, so I scooted across in his direction as fast as I could, a load of runners were below and across to the left, but there was a mass of scree in the way. The best line was the one I could find. No following.

As I descended the smaller, runnable scree, I constantly scouted down and across for other areas of small scree amongst the ankle-trappingly large blocks. Once my decent running descent line had run out, I skipped across the face of the scree to the next line, descent, skip across, descent, skip across, find a line, run, and down.
Wind in my hair, not following anyone, but just thrashing down a scree field, and loving it. What a fantastic descent. I can see why some people hate it, but crikey, I loved it. Just like being a kid again.
Across to my right, below the scree, a runner in a Jura vest was gaining on me- evidently a local with a decent line, nevermind, I hit the bog at about the same time, and we ran down to the river, the low point before that final "little" blip at the end of the race before the road.

2:45 at the river. And who should I catch up with at the river? Spike and Nic. Wow, I never thought I'd ever catch them, in any race, let alone this one. They had stopped for water, and Nic sprang off as soon as I hit the river, but I overtook Spike, and chased after Nic as best I could.

The final blip is only really about 200 metres above where you start the climb. But heck- you've just run 18k, and ascended about 2000m of scree, and maybe, more to the point, descended it as well. Legs like jelly, any combination of hands on legs, hands in heather, pulling you up, anything to try and help those legs just keep going. What does the watch say? Nigh on 3 hours... that gives 30 mins to get to the bridge, and then a hard run to get back to the finish before the magical 4... still cutting it fine, it's not over until it's over.
That final scramble up the hill was horrendous, Nic gained time, Spike and Konrad were coming up fast behind, and my right adductors were beginning to cramp- not good.
Only one thing to do at this juncture... camera out, take a photo, grab a handful of haribo from the marshals and head off down the hill, back into the bog for another few kilometres before the road.
Spike, Konrad and a Jura runner, just before the final top. 

The trods off that final pip are myriad, and Nic had blasted away into the distance, Spike was in front of me now, and gaining further ground. I was anxiously looking at my watch, trying to work out just how far away the bridge was, and how much time I'd have left for the road. Cutting it fine... especially as with every mis-step through the tussocks and bog, my right adductor was threatening to cramp with increasing urgency. I just had to keep it together.
That bog took forever to get through. I fell over twice, and each time as I went my leg started to spasm, managing to land on it and force it to keep running, it somehow prevented itself from going into massive and painful contraction. If it did that, I suspect it would have been game over and a long, long limp to the end.
Keep it together, keep going to the end.
Finally, the bridge and a stile, and a massive crowd. Everyone stands there, mainly because it is an easily accessible point, but also because its the place where large amounts of runners with nearly cramping legs have to attempt to negotiate a massive stile, presumably with quite frequently hilarious results.

Over the stile, under the bridge, got rid of my final tag, threw water over my head, passed 2 runners who appeared to be having their shoes changed by their club mates (road shoes for the road section) - and blasted straight onto the road. Just before 2pm.
Now 5.3km to the end. Just need to keep at a faster than 5 mins per km pace to the end, and its in the bag. Nice. But it isn't over until it's over. Keep going. Don't cramp up.

Another runner sprinted to me to check the time, presumably having the same thought as me. We pounded along in silence for a while, grimly determined, keeping a decent 4:20 pace until we passed a house handing out water, where he stopped to fill up. In homage to Charlie Spedding in the 1984 olympic marathon, I said thanks and just keep on running. Any delay now was just prolonging the pain. Might as well go as fast as possible and get it over with. There was also a matter of pride that I was still in fellshoes. I wasn't intending
The coast. Lovely. 
to let anyone in road shoes overtake me, no matter how fast they may have done the fell-part of the race.

On and on I went, along the coast, frequently checking my pace on my watch. A DarkPeak runner appeared in front of me - not Spike, but someone else. He had slowed to a walk. The road had worn him down, and that in itself was an invitation for me to walk.

No. Head up. Dig in. Keep it going.
I passed him, and he fell in behind me. We had 3 km to go.

Then 2 km to go, he was still there behind me. The speed had dropped, and it was like running through treacle, but however much I was hurting, he was hurting more. Minutes ticked by. Soon we went past the school and the church, 800m to go, I wound up the pace ever so slightly, sparing a glance over my shoulder to see if there was anyone else back there. 3 runners, a good 100 metres behind- close enough to give trouble.
I tried upping the pace again, but the legs were going as hard as possible- I had a little advantage over the Dark Peaker, and decided that the final 200 metres were going to be all out. The final sprint.

From before the townhall I let rip- at least, that's what it felt like- I might have slightly increased in pace, but whatever I did, I managed to put distance between us, I was now on my own.
50 metres later, my legs started to shut down, and with 75 metres left, my lungs were burning and co-ordination went out the window. Half blind with exhaustion and I lunged through the last few metres, and got through the finish, where Nic was there to shake my hand.
Whisky Glass secure.

As my legs started to cramp up, I wandered to the sea to stand up to my waist in the cooling water, before finally making my way back to the Distillery for post race food, tea, and chat.
Chilling with Dark Peak

An Epic race. Epic in every sense of the word.
Never been so close to cramping up. I don't think I've ever pushed as hard as in Jura. Fantastic.

Thanks to the organisers, to the marshals, to the myriad people that get together to make this race happen, to the Distillery for providing seriously good prizes for the winners, and, of course, to the runners who make the effort to get to the race, and make it what it is.
Jura... the morning after. That would have been a slightly more interesting navigation challenge..

And I got my sub 4 hour finisher glass - chuffed? You bet I am.
No... I didn't win the whisky.
I might have to get a LOT faster before that happens...
And finally, well done to Hector Haines for winning again, and this time, beating the record. 3:06... thats seriously impressive, and well done to Jasmin Paris for also retaining her Jura crown, again, a superb run from her.
I took a couple of pics of the results.... hopefully if you click on them you'll be able to zoom/ blow up.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Old County Tops 2014

What a day!
Such a shame that Mount Famine and Cader Idris races were on the same day as the OCT this year, but you have to choose a favourite.

Sometimes you have a plan. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't, and you just have to go along for the ride.

Prep - ie. suncream
The weather for the day was spectacular, the complete opposite end of the spectrum from last year. Al and I decided to drive up in the morning, and saw the dawn break as we sped up the M61. The day was promising to be as fantastic as forecast. Having come 7th last year, in 8:24, in pretty grim conditions we were hopeful of a better time- ideally sub 8 hour, which is quite a decent time for a 38 mile race with 10,000ft of ascent in it, no matter what the conditions. Since last year we
had the route sussed out, so no problem there. It was simply going to be a matter of fitness, and ability to get around the course.

I'd been getting out on a load of long runs and bike rides since February, and Al, although not training for the BG this year, had been getting some time out on his feet as well, including doing the London Marathon in sub 3:30, raising money for Mountain Rescue.

We got to the Langdales with plenty of time, got kit checked, and mooched for a bit, until getting geared up about 20 mins before the start. No point in warming up really- not for a race that was going to take most of the day. The plan was to be at the front of the pack to begin with, so as not be be in a mass scramble going up the first hill over into Grasmere, and just take it from there. Yes, there was a little pressure from saying we wanted to do a sub 8 hour, but I think both of us knew at that point, there were more things likely to go wrong than right this year, and as long as we were going at a pace comfortable enough for the slower of us, then that was fine.

From the off, we headed out in front at what I thought was a very comfortable pace. The mass of the pack was a good 20 metres or so behind us and we had a clear road ahead. I wasn't too worried about them not catching up with us, as long as we felt comfortable, and I felt absolutely fine. Al said he was too, so we
Leading the pack
carried on in fine style. The first few kilometres passed quickly as we stretched our legs- I hadn't been out for a week, so I was really happy to be running again, and even over the first hill, we were quite a way in front of everyone else. Concerned that we might have overcooked it at the beginning, I checked again and again with Al- how is the pace? Are we going too fast? I feel fine- are you ok? Apparently we were all good, so we forged ahead.

Finally getting passed by
Even through Grasmere we held a large margin, and then up onto the first ascent to Dollywagon. It was only about halfway up that the eventual winners passed us- I was expecting that to happen far, far earlier. My legs were still raring to go and I was all for chasing, though Al was a little less happy on the ascent, so I hung back with him as about 7 teams
Looking back from Dollywagon
passed us. Fellow Glossopdaler Dan also caught up with us, with Andy trailing behind somewhat, and we ran together to the bottom of the steep ascent of Dollywagon Pike. Al directing me over to the
diagonal ascent, while Dan and Andy took the more direct ascent before the cut back horizontally.
They came out on top faster than us, and by this time we were losing places again with team after team washing past us. Al was not having a good time on the ascents, but I was sure that his legs and lungs would kick in sooner rather than later, but until then we'd go at his pace.

Striding edge. What a day. No. Really. What a day!
Up onto Helvellyn we were catching up with Dan and Andy, though it was already looking less than likely that we would be hitting a sub 8 hour pace. So I got out my camera and started taking a few pictures. When I packed in the morning I figured that a small camera would make little or no difference to the speed I was going to go, so it went in. Glad it did - what a great day to have a camera on a race.

Marshals at Helvellyn
From the top of Helvellyn and we cut back down, with some really decent speed, Al leading the way as we picked off about 7 teams on the descent down into Wythburne. Always a great descent, we hammered down to the bottom, filled up with water at the feed station and loped right on, though even on the flat sections I noticed that Al was already a little less fast than me, and I was still feeling fresh as a daisy.
Parallel to the road, and a right, cross the road and onto what I see as the hardest ascent of the day, up
Al - raising spirits in Wythburne
Wythburne. We started out ok, but soon got slower and slower. Running was replaced by walking, and then slower. Teams streamed past us. Not a good time.
I took a load of photos, relishing the opportunity to actually see where we were, considering that last year all I could see was mist. It really is a fantastic valley. Poor Al was struggling to keep up, even as I was struggling to go slower.

Being overtaken toward Angle tarn
Food was consumed, water was drunk, and finally, eventually, we topped out and started the contouring and ascent over to Angle tarn. Again, something I have never done in good visibility. By this time Dan and Andy had come, been and gone, and were far away from us being able to chase. We negotiated our way through the tufty grass and boggy bits, and by the time we had got to the bottom, before the final slight rise to the path to the tarn, we had a quick chat. Al was not feeling good. Dizzy, nauseous, he
kept falling on relatively easy terrain that otherwise would not prove a problem to a runner such as himself - worrying. More teams passed us as we walked up the hill. If he was feeling this bad, was it time to bail out? Ok, so we won't get a t-shirt (only finishers get a t-shirt), but if its that vs me having to drag him off the hill, that is the better option.
We joked about having checked to see what colour the t-shirt was before we started... if it was a colour we weren't bothered about then we should bail... We decided to plod on over to the Checkpoint at the Tarn and see how Al felt there.
Stopping for a chill with Konrad and Jasmin
8 hours as a time frame was out. 9 hours was looking decidedly dodgy- if anything, it was going to be a 10 or 11 hour race at the speed we were going- along with the minor issue of stubbing my right toe REALLY hard, and going down cursing. A bruise, maybe, but nothing to stop the running.

We struggled on over to Angle Tarn and the checkpoint, and as we wandered into view, who should be there but Konrad and Jasmin- who should have been running except for an unfortunate accident with a gate the day before (so I was told). We stopped for a good 5 mins, chatting away, letting strength seep back into the legs, and scoffing some haribo that were offered us. Yes, even MORE teams passed us by, but by this point, it didn't matter. Daz Fishwick also came past giving me a good opportunity
to take a pic of him. Before too long, Al was feeling better, and we made the decision to carry on. Timings were out of the window, and it was just about getting around.

We started the ascent to Esk Hause. The next team from Glossopdale, Carl and Tim C can't have been too far behind us, and we were chatting about when we were going to get passed by them as well. I kept an eye out behind us for those bright Aston Villa shorts that Carl tends to wear, but never caught a glimpse of them.
Up to Scafell Pike. Views Galore. 
Up and up we went, no running at all, but walking, and slow at that, around and across the sharp stone of Scafell. I danced my way across them, taking photos, and someone shouted "hey- is that Scott Sadler over there?" - I disabused them of that notion, saying that Scott was, of course, much more handsome than me.
So Scott- I was mistaken for you today - even though you were over in Ennerdale.

We caught up with Daz Fishwick on the final ascent of Scafell Pike, where I chatted with him about the
descent- he didn't know the direct line and was going to come back down the little cove way. I said that we were going direct, considering the speed we were going, we certainly wouldn't be hard to follow.
Al leading the way down the direct line
At the top, we beelined off toward the descent line, and wove our way down the hill, quite happily, until I stubbed the same toe again, and went down cursing even more... hopped up, and carried on.
It is a great descent line, and Al led us down perfectly. 3 teams followed us, and were very grateful indeed!

Down toward Moasdale and the sun was really beating down on us. I was never particularly worried as my water consumption was more than adequate for my needs, and still had plenty as well. We put distance between us and Daz and mosied
The line- Look - there it is. 
Wow- and that'd be Scafell. 
on down through the valleys, with some stunning scenery around us. Up and over to Moasdale, we picked off 4 teams who had taken a really odd line, and then Als legs came back with a real vengeance down
Always time to take a photo
toward Cockley beck, and I had a hard time keeping up as we powered past another team and zoomed into the feed station.
If ever there was a welcome sight, it is Cockley Beck feed station. With Grey Friars looming in the background. 
Tuna sandwich and a banana for me, a cup of tea and an egg sandwich for Al, and we headed off to perhaps one of the more challenging parts of the day - the climb up Grey Friars. I think its a much better climb than the one out of Wythburn as I KNOW I can't run it. On this day, although the sun was out, there was a lovely cool breeze, though we were in no shape to take advantage of it. Slower and slower we went as we ascended. The gaggle of runners we could see ahead of us on the climb edged away, those behind us swarmed up and overtook us, and there was nothing else to do but take photos, smile, and just get on with it.
Runners strung out below us - taken while Al was having a magnificent cramping session on his hamstrings... I had a while to take some photos.

More runners strung out...
People attending their feet near the top of Grey Friars... if you wear Hokas for a race like this, what do you expect?
Eventually we topped out and jog/walked along toward the Old Man of Coniston - final top of the day. The breeze was getting up, and I was wondering if I should have worn my helly instead of a very thin and breathable t-shirt- also, did I have enough food?
Alison and Lindsay!
I had planned on being out 8 hours, not a whole lot more. A bit of a concern, but by now we were close enough to the end not to really need to worry too much.
Just along the edge we came across Alison and Lindsay, who were out for a run and cheering on the Glossopdalers in the race. Al carried on while I stopped for a chat. Apparently Dan and Andy weren't too far ahead, and Andy was having a bad time of it. Now that climb was out the way, Al was looking stronger than he had been all day and we made our way along the edge.

Runners were now on their way back from the top on the out and back course, and soon enough we saw Dan and Andy, who had already been to the top, and were on the return leg. They looked much stronger now as well - doubtful that we would catch them.
Al, looking spectacular
Out to the end, chat to the marshals, and look at the view, bit of food and water (I suggested to the marshals that maybe they should have had something a little stronger than water, but nevermind),
Marshals at the Old Man of Coniston
and back along the ridge, passing Daz on his way out, and also Stefan from Pennine, who I hadn't seen all race.
We also came across fellow Glossopdalers Carl and Tim, who were going well.
Synchronised running from Carl and Tim - the OCT debutants

The final descent caused us some issues last year, and was the only bit of the course where our route finding could have been better. This year we absolutely nailed it and dropped off the top to 3 shires stone, down the long horrible road, where a number of cyclists were pushing their bikes up- and getting overtaken by half a
Final Descent off the Old Man
team - the other bloke apparently wasn't having any of that kind of speed down a road, and then the final left turn, along through a path, round the lake, again passing Alison and Lindsay with their words of encouragement, and a final plunge down a hill- with a momentary pause for me as I got some barbed wire wrapped around my leg... thankfully the only wound came from me hitting a rock as a result of the slip caused by the wire, and a nice little jog back into the finish, with no-one else really near us at all.

Flags means the final 500 metres~!
Astonishingly, despite walking for more than half the race we came in 20th in 8:48, just less than half an hour slower than last year. Considering the shape Al was in at Angle Tarn I was surprised just to finish it, let alone with a sub-9 hour time - especially with all the poncing around with the camera that I was doing.

I wasn't devastated with the time, though I reckon if ever there was a year for a decent sub 8, this would have been it, I think that it shows that where you run with a partner, there is double the chance things can go wrong. It equally could have been me having a shocker of a day, holding Al back, and I'm sure he would have held back with me and helped out as much. I know there are others who would love to have done a sub9 hour with or without a knackered partner. Perhaps this is a lesson in that you can't out run not having a good base of distance and endurance training on the fells.
Al, coming home strong. 
It was a concern that we really hadn't put in all those hard miles early on in the year, and it came back to bite going up Wythburne.
Did we go out too fast? Did we burn out too quickly? I don't think so. No matter what pace we set at the beginning, the crash was going to come eventually.

No matter what, I got a lovely day out in the Lakes, 38 miles in the legs in preparation for Jura, and for Ennerdale in a couple of weeks, and some steely resolve to do well.

Well done to Dan and Andy for beating their time from last year, coming in 13th in 8:30, Carl and Tim for their debut OCT in 9:40, and Zoe and John - who I didn't see all day, for about 10:37, and well done to everyone that competed and completed yesterday- and thankyou to all the long suffering marshals.
Finally, congratulations to Spike and partner from Dark Peak for winning the day in 7:10 or thereabouts. Good running sir - you have a target on your back for Jura and Ennerdale.
Carl and Tim finishing

Post race rehab

Post race Bun fight - the food after the OCT is legendary
Daz modelling the OCT tshirt

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Feeding on Long races

I've been competing, or maybe I should say, participating, in long races since about 2006. I cut my teeth on adventure racing, 8hour stints of cycling and shuffling. (I really wouldn't say what we did in those days was running). Spending that amount of time on our feet meant that we really had to get our nutrition right, Even more so when we entered the 12 and 24 hour events.

Finlay Wilde chain-ate jelly babies on his record breaking
Cullin traverse. Personally I can't stomach them. 
I thought this might be a bit of a relevant topic, considering the Long and Superlong Fell races that are coming up. 
Back then I think we might even have overdone the eating thing, but to be honest, it was a good idea. We really didn't move fast enough to worry about a little bit of extra weight in the bags, as generally it was going to get eaten anyway. 

For long, long races, Rob and I ensured that we ate every 30 minutes. Each and every half hour throughout the race, one or other of us would get out a geobar, snap it in half, and share it. It was borne of necessity. A couple of times we really didn't get food at the right time, or in the right quantity and ended up either sugar crashing, or getting so bloated we could barely move.
Geobars. The crux of my adventure racing nutrition
Note that we were using geobars, not energy gels. Geobars are chocolate, chewy, raisin crisp type affairs. They don't melt, they don't really freeze, nor do they release a horrendous amount of sugar into your system all at once. 
We worked out that if we ate every half hour from the very beginning of the race, there would be no point at which we would crash. Equally, if we waited for a couple of hours before starting to eat, there would be an inevitable bad patch where nutrition fell below the needed level for our energy output. 

Energy gels have their place. I tend to use them for when I need a serious and quick boost of energy. Relying on them long term is ok if you are fully used to them, but a bad idea if you are not. 
For us, they were too expensive a commodity to use willy-nilly on training runs, so they got brought out for serious sugar lows, or the last half hour of a race where we needed to get back to base before time ran out. One particular race springs to mind where we had a seemingly insurmountable distance to travel in 30mins. Bring out the gels and "pow" we got back with seconds to spare. 

The inevitable sugar crash that comes post gel is something that has to be managed as well, unless of course, you are finishing the race there and then. 
Nutella. Banana. Wrap. What a combo.

More recent long fell races have been an interesting feeding challenge. On training runs I try to keep the food I take with me to a minimum, in order to train for the race where I will inevitably end up running out of food. (This happened at The Great Lakes last year, where I had plenty of food, but kept dropping it before I had the chance to eat it...)
This does mean that I eat less on the hill than I normally would, and has occasionally meant that the final hour of the run is spent fantasising about haribo
toasties smothered in nutella. (Which, by the way, is not a nutritional recommendation). 

I have now got to the point where if the race is going to take less than 3 hours, the most I will take is an emergency bar of chocolate. I might not need it, but if a fellow racer sugar crashes and ends up not being able to get off the hill, some kind of energy food might be what helps him/her out of a potentially sticky situation. 
Longer than 3 hours, for me, needs a bit more of a nutritional plan, involving 30min eating intervals, and potential strategic eating of gels prior to big hills, keeping a decent level of sugar coursing around my system. 

Home made goodness
This approach, I know, does not fit all sizes. I have a friend who swears that refined sugar makes him cramp, so my strategy would not work for him.
What I AM trying out is a new type of race food for longer races. Home made savoury and sweet foods based on rice and spaghetti and other things. This is in an attempt to reduce my reliance on shop bought sweet bars and chocolates and things, and to help me get proper nutrition on the hill, as opposed to just trying to keep my sugar levels high enough to keep bashing on at the same speed as I am used to. 

We've been trying out various recipes in the past few weeks, from Feedzone portables- and its more of just working out how to wrap and pack the food for easy eating on the go, and just what to eat, when. 

As for drinking. Well. I drink when I'm thirsty. As an example of how things have changed, I used to take a 3litre camelbak with me for a 3 hour run in 2006, filled up with various nutritional powders and electrolytes. On last years Old County Tops, which took just under 8.5hours, I barely got through a 500ml bottle of water.

Water supplements. Good or bad?
One thing to remember here, is that if you are drinking, and the powder you are eating contains Carbohydrate, you shouldn't be eating as much as if it is just water. You'll fill up too much, and won't be able to eat or drink at all. The stomach only empties at a certain rate, and carbohydrates are only absorbed at a specific rate... if you take it on faster than they are absorbed, they just swill around in your stomach making you slower. 

As ever, there are a myriad of options out there, and a lot of money to be spent. I know that everyone has their favourites, but if you're out and don't want the faff of water, but do want to take a gel, the high5 ones are great. Energy and liquid in a pouch. If you're tired and thirsty enough, it almost tastes like fruit juice. (You have to be properly knackered though). 
For gels that go with water, the Gu gels are great. Personally, if I could have a lifetime supply of the double espresso ones, that'd set me up. Running along, sore to the bone, have an espresso gel, and all of a sudden, the world seems right again. 

All in all. Practice. Work out what consistency of food works for you. What can you eat, while running, that doesn't stop you breathing? What can you eat that doesn't end up with sticky muck all over you? What can you get out of a packet with gloves on? What can you eat that replaces your expended energy, without slowing you down too much to digest?

I suppose the answer maybe in this blog, but only if your body works like mine does. Otherwise, get out there and practice. It really is the only way to actually find out. 
Good luck.
End of a training run, with a distinct lack of food.
Learning what it feels like doesn't make it any easier or more pleasant