Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The Great Number Debate.

This blog has been a while in coming- about a year to be exact. If I had run the Trigger last year I suspect I would have got on about it a whole lot more.
As it is, it has taken me a year to get around to running a long fell race in grim conditions to properly get a bee in my bonnet again, and chatting to other racers, its an issue which gets on their goat as well, but no-one really seems to do much about it except moan quietly at races while pinning numbers on.

If you are a fell racer, then I am sure that you are aware of the new safety rules that were implemented last year. The one I have most issue with is the number on chest rule - that is, your race number should absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt be worn on your chest. No exceptions. And if you do not, well, various things have been mentioned, up to and including being banned from races.

The reason for having race numbers on your chest is an intelligent one when you wear your vest, and the race is in good (benign) conditions, and the guys at the checkpoints need to know where to look for your number as you zoom past at a rate of knots.
Numbers on shorts in this case can be a little troublesome as the marshals aren't so good at reading numbers on legs that are moving fast - especially if the number could be on a right leg, or a left leg.

So far, so un-controversial.

However, when running a race like the Trigger, where bad/cold weather is likely, or indeed last years Long Mynd, or Sedburgh - where I was wearing a waterproof AND big mitts, (yes, I know, I'm southern), the whole "race number on vest, or you don't run" thing was a bit of a bugger.
Let me illustrate with a photo.

Here is a photo of me, ascending toward Black hill trig during the Trigger a couple of days ago. What number am I? 
No, thats right. You can't see. The Pennine runner over my left shoulder (Dave Soles, if you're interested), has his number on his chest as well, and because he is a hard nut, he isn't wearing a waterproof. 
I had my waterproof on for the duration of the race, and just about managed to not go hypothermic. 

However, when I got to a checkpoint - at the top of Black Hill - nice and exposed, with a vicious wind whipping along, ditto for Higher Shelf trig, and again for the Checkpoints on Kinder, I had to take off my mitts, fumble around with the zip on my jacket, realise it wasn't going to work, hoik my jacket up from under the waistbelt of my bumbag, get cold hands and torso while slowing down enough for the marshals to read my number before having to try and get clothes back to where they were. 
So the times when I was closest to getting colder than I needed to were on the most exposed parts of the course, where I had to prove who I was. 

Now. Let me illustrate this point with another photo. 
 This was the Old County Tops 2013. It was pretty damn grim all day. Al and I (in the centre) kept our waterproofs on all day. I challenge you - as a marshal, to tell me what number Al is in the Blue top, and what number Julien is (in the red top- on the left).

Despite the fact Al is wearing his number "illegally" on his leg, goodness me, you can see what number he is without any kit faff, without any exposure to the elements, though you might need to ask him to slow down for a sec to record his number... you'll have to do that with Jules as well - because you CAN'T ACTUALLY SEE HIS NUMBER.

Hang on a sec. Another pic.
Me and Jules running the Fra's. What team are we in - oh, hang on a sec, you can't see my number because its on my chest. Its on Juliens chest, and you can see it because he gets hot running up hills and always ends up taking his waterproof off.
Had I had my number on my shorts... you'll never guess what, you could probably quite easily tell what number I was.

And a final picture for your delectation and delight:
Me and Al again - pre leg 4 on the Ian Hodgeson Mountain Relay 2013. Again, I have my number on my chest. Al is "breaking" the new rules. What team number are we? How can you tell?
Its because the number is clearly displayed on my chest.

Hang on, no its not. Its because Al has it pinned to his shorts.

For goodness sake.
FRA people. I know you have your reasons for having a fascist (edited through respect to a friend who objected to the use of the word) dictatorial hold on us as runners, and that should any of us deviate from your lovely rules then we will be expelled from racing forever, but really, show a bit of fricking common sense for once.
Numbers on chests might be fine and dandy when the race is short and in nice weather. Its fine when you are a UKA runner and are running around a track, with cover just a short trot away from anywhere on the course. Its fine on a 10k, or a marathon, and its fine when we don't have to faff around exposing ourselves on the top of hills.
However, when the weather is grotty, and hey, we live in the UK and the races we run are fairly often not run in the nicest of conditions, we're probably going to be wearing windproofs or waterproof - and the reason for that is so that we cover ourselves so that we don't get wet or cold. Just like Mr Winterburn suggests in his fantastic Hypothermia article. (and while you're at it, tell me how many of the people on the photo you can identify by race number.... yup - only one of them... and I think I've hammered home the point enough here....)

So stop forcing us to remove that outer layer of protection when we are MOST likely to need it, and let us wear our race numbers on our shorts. Heck, even specify that it has to be on the RIGHT leg or something so that the marshals at least know which side they might have to stand on, but don't make us any colder/wetter/hypothermic than we have to be.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Trigger 2015

Trigger 2015. Or should I say, the Marsden to Edale Trail Race with a bit of Bog in the Middle?
Unfortunately due to restrictions placed on the organisers, the navigational element of the Trigger was sadly curtailed this year. No options onto Kinder, no option across it, and the enforced keeping to a trail pretty much from Snake summit, round the Kinder Plateau to the finish at Edale. Still, there were good reasons for this, so I'm not griping, merely pointing out the facts of the route.

Without the navigational element, it was a bit of a non-race for me. I decided to run it about a week ago, despite the change in route, as the distance would give me a decent day out, also, the weather promised to give it a bit of an epic tinge as well. The overall plan was to start in the middle of the field, set a pace early that I was pretty sure I could hold as a run for the entire race, and see what happened. No racing people, no responding to attacks, no trying to get away from another runner, the main aim was to run the entire race (except the steep bit up Lawrence Edge... that wasn't going to get run).

Me and StevieK
The morning dawned nicely, without any of the promised sleet, snow, hail or ice forecast to be laying siege to "destruction towers", so we were able to get over to Marsden quite happily, picking up Mark O on the way. I figured that we would be pretty early, arriving before the stated 7:45 start of registration - I was wrong, the place was heaving and we joined the queue to be kit checked. It all went pretty smoothly, having got my check done, and got my number, we took extraneous gear (ie. the down jacket I was wearing) back to the car, and hung around til the start. As I was wearing most of my gear - except the waterproof trousers, survival bag, food, map and compass, my bumbag looked ridiculously empty. But, what else would I have put in there?

It was good to see a decent amount of Glossopdale out, and great to see a good force of Pennine out and
about as well.
The start
The race was started by Mountain Rescue, and I just so happened to be standing in the middle of the pack as we surged forward. Nice, just about where I expected to be. I chatted along with a few people, Lindsay P, who, it must be noted did the Cross-country yesterday and was still up for the Trigger today, Daz
Fishwick, on his first Trigger, not having recced it - but with the cold, clear day, he shouldn't really have any problem with keeping tabs on the 300 or so runners traipsing across the moorland.

I settled into my pace, and ended up pretty much running on my own, passing Nicky Spinks, and another couple of Dark Peak runners, one of which seemed to take exception to that, and leapt on ahead of me. No bother... keep thinking, run at your own pace, respond to nothing, just keep monitoring the pace.
Slowly I began to catch up with another gaggle of runners, and it wasn't until about 20 mins in that I finally caught up with Grouse and Caity, who was going great guns, up ahead, another Pennine vest hove into view, and as a load of runners carried on up the path to the Isle of Skye road, I caught up with Dave Soles, where we had a chat about how many people were going the path way instead of the boggy way.
At which point, I pretty much fell in up to my thigh and covered both legs with delightfully coloured brown swamp gunk. What a look!

I carried on up the hill to the road - still keeping the "never walk" line.
On the path to Black Hill
Flags from the Isle of Skye were icey and vicious. More than once I thought I was going to come a cropper along there, and checked my speed because of it. Still on the beginning of the ascent to Black Hill, I caught
up with another group of 4, being led up the hill by Dave Ward. The pace felt slightly slow for my "run" (it really wasn't much of a run by this point, more of a cross between a jog and a shuffle - but still more than a walk), so I overtook, and shuffled my way off upward.
Snow was very apparent on the ascent, as was a fair amount of ice, though the air was clear - the wind was really buffeting from the right. As in really quite strong. Taking on board some food I headed toward the Black hill trig point where I had to display my number for the Mountain Rescue at the Checkpoint.

Now - a minor aside, if you will. I wear a smock. with a bumbag. And massive gloves. With my race number attached to my chest, under my waterproof, in order to show it to the guys on the checkpoint - normally the windiest, most exposed part of the course, I have to take my gloves off, pull up my nicely tucked jacket, let the elements howl around my exposed torso, while they note down my number.
Complete idiocy. If there is any reason for getting hypothermia today, it won't be down to my clothing system, but rather to having to expose myself on the top of a hill because Im not allowed to wear a number on my leg.

Anyhow. Rant aside. Continued off from the Trig point, pretty much alone, and down into the valley that takes us into Crowden. Twas a bit muddy and a bit slippy - I took a couple of tumbles there, but nothing serious, into the river and onto the track that becomes a Landy track to Crowden.
I became aware of a person catching me up- Lee Langdon - Pennine. We had a bit of a chat, and then I followed him down the hill (down the nice cut... not the horrible path) to Crowden where a number of supporters were stood. I slowed down a bit to grab a swig of water from Lynne, and had to wait a bit for
the traffic to clear before crossing the main road to the checkpoint. By which point, Lee was done and gone.
road crossing
Ah well... Keep that pace going. No faster, no slower. Run it all.

I chugged a gel in anticipation of the climb up Lawrence edge and ran to the dam, over and across, Lee was just ahead... and walking. Just keep that pace going.
Chris Jackson was doing some excellent water duties as well, just by the wall heading up past the shooting ground - shame he wasn't running today. On the way up towards Lawrence edge - I ran, I walked, and anything I thought "if I was training, would I run here?" and the answer was yes, the legs got going again.

Up through the heather, and you could see a line of people going up the steep line on the edge. I could do that, and follow them... but there is another line. If I take the line everyone is doing, I'll not gain any ground. If I take the other line, I might gain some, I might lose some. Not really racing, so it'd be interesting to see. Steve Watts was just in front of me and took the direct line, I took the other line, and we hit the top bang together. So nothing in it really.
We watched as the Dark Peaker mentioned previously battled into the headwind around the Edge toward Wildboar clough. Steve said.... so you've got a line up here have you? My response was something along the lines of - Not exactly - I recced it a couple of years ago, so it might not be the best.

We went up what I thought was probably the right clough, hung a right and barrelled along another clough, out of the wind, having a bit of a chinwag about racers and racing, until we popped out in Wildboar clough pretty much bang next to StevieK, who appeared to be having a bit of a walk... which rapidly turned into a run when he noticed up. Fantastic, I haven't seen him at all since before the start!

Devils Dike
So we ran up the snow covered clough together, slipping a bit, jumped across the stream, over the stile, and on upward, discussing previous route choices, and who we had and hadn't seen. All the while - keep a good pace. Not too fast, keep it real. Eat more. StevieK started going a bit faster, and gained some metres on me, no response. Just keep going at this pace. We still have a whole race to run yet! The tops were covered in fantastic snow, the wind was battering in from the west, and we made our way to Bleaklow Head, where StevieK had caught another runner, and they zoomed off into the distance - toward Wainstones - followed by Steve Watts.

Re-think... which race are we doing? Trigger. Not the High Peak Marathon. Checkpoint at Wainstones? Nope.
Ok. Different path, so I diverged and took the trod to Herne stones, cutting off a wodge of what they were doing. The snow on the ground made it a bit of a mission to tell exactly where I was, and I wasn't entirely sure I was in precisely the right place, but with the clear air, it didn't matter too much. Having said that, I think I might have bodged up the climb from Herne to Higher Shelf, considering that StevieK caught me up by the B-29, but it was the sight of Julien in clown wig, with a camera that cheered me up as I left the checkpoint and I blasted off down the moor, to the down and up into crooked clough. I hadn't decided on this previously, but with the wind blowing firmly across the clough, I figured that the less time spent on the path the better - and this minimised my distance to about 700m. I saw someone else on the same line as me, who, right at the bottom, just as you are making time gains, cut hard left... no idea where he was going, but anything he had just gain was lost from that moment.

Down and up. Legs burning a little bit- and I certainly wasn't going to run the steep climb out of the clough, so I walked out, past a photog, and ran down and across to Devils Dike, and hit the Snake.
Again, supporters out in force, I had time to catch a drink from Lynne, another gel, and a mouthful of rice cake before going to the gnarliest bit of the day.

Me, about to cross the flags
Back when the Trigger was first suggested and run 4 years ago, I thought that anyone running along the flags from Snake summit to Mill Hill was basically an idiot. At this time of year, the flags are icey, slippy, there are hidden holes, rocking slabs that weight half a tonne. Yes, its not great to run on. At that time, we had route choices, and mine was always to go across the moor. Yes, more down and up, but much much less chance of doing yourself a mischief. This year, though, no such route choice. From Snake Summit to Kinder Low Trig we pretty
much had the route dictated to us. (and for good conservational reasons).
However, as I began the run across the flags, I decided to take it a bit easy, and had gone a couple of K before I put my foot in the first of the holes I found. Ice and snow on the ground, wind howling across so hard that it numbed my mouth - I couldn't eat, I couldn't speak... Stevie K came past me, and I had no intention of chasing him, but I kept with him for a while, until I put my foot in another hole and I went down pretty hard. Stevie checked I was ok, and I motioned for him to carry on - my leg wasn't broken, or anything close, it just hurt a lot. Blood dripped down from the knee and the shin, and I carried on.
Kinder. With snow on.

It was so cold and windy that my eyesight started to get affected- I was seeing double, and feeling a bit sleepy - not sure if I  had lost a contact lens to the wind, I just screwed up my face and carried on, at that same running pace. StevieK ahead of me, and Steve Watts catching up. At Mill Hill, if I turn right, I can be at home in about 20 minutes. Its all downhill.

I turn left, and with Steve Watts, ascent Kinder Corner, slowly catching up with StevieK as we round the top, and head to the checkpoint. Directly after the Check, StevieK asks if I'm ok again, and the three of us run down to the edge path, the final hours work or so before the finish, agreeing that the sooner this is over, the better.

Up to Kinder Corner with the Steves.
The whole of Kinder has a layer of snow on it, and we know the path well, taking shortcuts where we are able, and avoiding tripping hazards as they appear, we make ok time to Kinder Downfall - spectacularly throwing water in the air,  - and creating sheet ice over everything that we want to run across. I took the
lead, and managed to get around to the next path without too much issue, swiftly followed by the other two, and we run down toward Red Brook - an area where the path seems to fade before my eyes and I end up taking a lower route... its not quite right, and I look back and up. StevieK is 20m higher up the hill, so we carry on to a likely looking spot, and thrash up through vegetation and snow until we rejoin the path, a little
way behind him.

All along the edge path we trade leads - me - I'm just keeping to that pace. No responses, no surges, just that steady metronome, and by the time we get to Kinder Low trig point, I head Directly East, thankfully with the wind now behind me, it pushes me along. There is no-one beside me, and as far as I know, no-one behind me. I don't bother to check.
This is the part of the route that I genuinely have no idea about, so I head east, making it up as I go along.
That looks like a trod in the right direction - I'll follow that.
This looks like a path, and heads past those rocks, thats about right, I'll go along there. And so on and so forth until I reach the flagged path that takes me to Grindslow Knoll - which I follow.
No point in having food now, just keep that beat. Keep that steady flow, and run.

The final drop off the knoll, I get a little wrong, but recognise my mistake before it becomes a catastrophic navigational error. I cut back and forth before getting the right line, and sledge down the hill.
2k to go, and I hammer down the last grassy part of the slope. The steady tick-tock nature of the run has served its purpose well, and now it's time to get home... I reckon I can do this in sub 4 hours.
Down the path and hang a right, onto the road, and pound down the road.

How long is this bloody road?

Ah, there is the end.
I round the corner, finish, and have my number clipped off me.
10th. 3:55 or so. A gash and a lump like an egg on my shin.

A pretty epic day.
Well Done to those in the top 10 that beat me - Neil Northrop- Dark Peak, who won, Adam Perry - Helm Hill - 2nd, Simon Harding (are you still Macc?!- 3rd) and, in no particular order - Jasmine (1st Lady),
Conrad, Spike, Mark O and a couple of others that I didn't recognise.

StevieK and Steve Watts came in behind me, closely followed by Lee Langdon, Dave Ward and that Dark Peaker.
I didn't really hang around at the end as my leg started to swell up like a good'un and figured it needed a bit of a wash and some tender care at home. Glad I didn't wear a pair of running tights, I'd have ruined them.

Thanks Muchly to Lynne who ran around and supported me all day, giving food and water etc. It would have been a lot harder without her.
And Thanks for digging grit out of my leg. I think its all gone now.
Well done to all those that completed, or indeed, even attempted it. Twas a Gnarly day out there.
Tis but a flesh wound.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Well, it didn't quite happen

The main thing I said at the beginning of last year was that I wanted to get at least 10 English Champs points
throughout the year. Having never done an English Champs race, I had no real inkling of what that meant.

As it happens, its pretty hard for someone of middling fellracing standard, and by mid season I had revised the score to a rather less ambitous single point. It came right down to the wire, and I came in in the late 40's at the last race of the season- Sedburgh. The exact placing was either 48th or 49th depending on whether you count Female runners as being in the same race. I do, so therefore, 2 points it is.

Beyond that, I didn't really have any specific goals in place, apart from continue through university and just keep running. I kept a tally on the amount of ascent I was doing throughout the year, vaguely planning on trying to get more than last year (88,000m), and by December 31st, the scores on the boards were 110,000m, or thereabouts, which I was pretty happy with.

Over the past few days I've been sitting down with a calendar, a white board and a pen, and working out which races I can and cannot do this year - work commitments unfortunately rule out at least one weekend a month, and wednesday nights are pretty hard because of Mountain Rescue training/meetings. I've come up with a decent list, but which doesn't actually involved any of the English Champs this year.
The focus, instead lies around the club championships, where enjoyment is actually more the key, than actually winning (though I'll still be going as hard as I can in order to try and stay ahead of Chris and Caity, and try to beat Mark of these days....), and also the North Welsh Championship.

Funnily enough, there really aren't all that many Lake District races on my board, simply because they clash with other races that I want to do - or that they fall on working weekends.
Well, a year away from Lakes racing, and away from the English Champs won't do me too much harm. I'll still be getting in a decent amount of competitive racing, and although there are about 30 races planned, I'm sure I'll end up getting drawn into a few others.
That being said, 30 races would be my busiest year ever, and considering its my last year of Uni, and training is stepping up a notch again, well, this could be an interesting one.