Sunday, 29 March 2015

Lads Leap Fellrace, 2015

Having a race on the day after clocks have gone forward/back is always a bit of a risky business. It seemed that no-one had forgotten to do the relevant thing with their alarm clocks, and as far as I know, no-one turned up an hour late today.
To be honest, if I suddenly realised I was late for a race on a day with weather like we have had, I would have stayed in bed. It's been raining in Glossop and the surrounding area for about 3 days solid now, and the ground has turned into a delightful quagmire, so only goodness knows what it was going to be like on the tops over near Robinson's spring.

Luckily it wasn't completely apoclayptic, just a bit of drizzle, a bit of low cloud, but it was proper chilly. Grim and chilly equalled pretty much the majority of the field wearing a waterproof of some kind. There were a number of comments from various competitors about how it was ridiculous that on a day like this the FRA rules dictated that we must still wear numbers on the chest - completely covered over by waterproofs, rucksacks and bumbags. Had we been able to wear numbers on the legs of our shorts,
Post race ponderings
you would have been able to see everyones numbers.
But I digress.

We attempted to warm up a bit in the time leading up to the start - my legs feeling quite tired from a long run that I did yesterday. (the reason for this being that I need to get some decent miles in over the next few weeks, and if I hadn't done it yesterday, that would end up being a week closer to some big races with no long runs in the bank).
The Glossopdale Massif was turning out for this race - it being a Glossopdale Championships counter, but unfortunately it clashed with Edale Skyline, so it wasn't quite as full a turn out as it could have been. I saw Ben Tetler mooching around the start, as was Steve "the Dark" Knight... perhaps eager to lay down a quick time like in Titterstone clee. From elsewhere, Stu Bond was in attendence, and looking strong, as was last years winner, and a fresh looking Clive Fitzpatrick. It was going to be a quick race out front.

The race was got underway by Des, as the rain continued to pour down. The route was the original (not champs) course, so involved a bit of a stampede to the Youth Hostel and over the first Stile. I was somewhere around 15th over the stile, and the first long ascent began. Stu Bond was off at the front, gliding up the hill with no apparent effort and back where I was, the positions were shifting quite a lot. Up the slippy mud, which would be a bit of a challenge to come down at the end. Maybe Mudclaws would have been a better shoe - but to be honest... my Mudclaws have even less grip than my worn down x-talons. As we climbed the hill, I became aware of a guy in a blue vest who was keeping on my shoulder... Ben? Steve? Who knows.
With a decent long run in yesterday, I just couldn't get my legs moving at anything beyond endurance pace. They felt sluggish, tired and generally unable to increase speed or power. This was todays pace then.

Nev coming in at the end
As we came to the top, the blue vested Steve "the Dark" Knight eased past me, ready to take the opportunity of a turn of pace across the top. The top, that was boggy, full of holes, water, rock and generally not exactly fantastic terrain to get pace on. There ended up being a runner between us as we went across the top - which went on for MUCH longer than I anticipated. Steve was a good way ahead, so I figured draw in the runner between us, overtake, and then try to rest before getting back to Steve.
Ankle deep in bog, and occassionally going thigh deep, caused a few challenges, but the legs held stronger than I expected. I reeled in the guy between - but not without cost. I could feel my breathing getting out of control, and Steve was still a way ahead. Down and across, and then the sharp curve left and into a massive rut, where I began to really gain on Steve, eventually passing him just before the final steep descent to the foot of the ascent through to Tintwistle Knarr. The Descent was not fun in any way shape or form. I had next to no confidence in my shoes, and just couldn't let go. I was almost ginger going down there, but still managed to keep ahead of Steve and the other guy.

Rach - still smiling at the end
Over the stile and into the wood, and the long uphill drag. Before I've even gone 40 metres, Steve appears next to me. The speed we go up the hill is not terrific, but neither is it slow. I can't give away any distance, because as soon as I do, thats it. Game over. I'll never catch him again.
All that exists in the world is the sound of soggy running steps up the hill, and laboured breathing. On and on. He leads by a step, I lead by a step, back to neck and neck. Crikey this is hard... but we push each other up
the hill as hard as we dare - and there are runners in front of us- they are still running, but we appear to be closing a bit.
Up out of the wood, and onto the single track. I take the lead and hope I can keep the pace up, but am completely unable to up the pace to even give me any breathing space. Over the stile, and then... oh - its an uphill bog to get back to the top. Legs like lead, bashing through the undergrowth, and trying not to get sucked into a hole. I manage to lead Steve for quite a while, but as it steepens toward the top, he makes his move and again, eases past, gapping me before I can even think about anything.
Onto the top and back to Lads leap, there is a gap of 20 metres, and not one that I can close.
Across the stream, and I come off the steps toward the top, and Steve has 40 metres on me.
What happened there? We have a long flat boggy section and a final decent downhill before the finish.
Lynne showing a clean pair of heels

I desperately try to keep within sight of Steve, but he is having none of it. He is probably more aware of me
chasing him than he is of the guy he is rapidly catching. Through puddles, ruts and bog, we hammer across the top. I saw him fall at one point - but was up so quickly I barely gained anything on him.
Then the downhill came - if anywhen, this was the time when I might catch him.
Down the first steep part - he went like a stone. Crikey, I'm going to have my work cut out here... Over the stile and I've cut his lead down a fair amount, and he overtakes the other runner. Over the next crest, I do the same, but Steve is still going like the clappers. I really need to open up here, and manage to burst down the hill. Closing bit by bit, taking slightly less muddy lines in order to maximise the grip on my wasted x-talons. Then, at the Pennine Way, just above the last stile, I catch and pass him.
But its not over yet.
The marvellous geoff and andy O finish crew

Over the stile, and across the slippy bridge by the Youth Hostel, its the last 100m, and I'd damned if I'm going to let him have it now. I can hear his footfall over my right shoulder, and give it everything I have. holding on to the gutbusting feeling, and hoping that I haven't gone too early. We career down the final slope and into the campsite where I crossed the line barely a second in front of him - with marshals shouting at us about our numbers.... Well, if it was on my shorts, they'd have been able to see it.... so we went about undoing bumbags, and unzipping tops to show who we were. Which took a while (instead of, for example, just pointing at a number pinned to a leg... but again, I digress).

GDH babes post race analysis
Not long after us, Al came over the line, followed by Ben, and then Skusey, who put in a marvellous sprint finish... no idea if he got that bloke at the end.... and the rest of Glossopdale came in at varying stages after that.
Unsurprisingly Stu Bond won today, definitely on form, that man. From Glossop- Lindsay took a prize for first FV45, and the girls took home 1st ladies team (Linds, Rach and Lynne)- which was a great boost for Rach and Lynne.
I'm very much of the opinion that doing a long run the day before a short race tends to a)fatigue your legs and b) slows your leg speed down quite a lot so that speed just doesn't come easily. However, the long miles need to be done, and as long as they don't clash with my target races, they'll get done.

A great morning out, and on a day where most of us would have struggled because of the weather.

Now... recovery.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Ras yr Aran - 2015

Third race in the North Wales Fellrunning Championship, and the competition is hotting up quite a lot. This is the first race that is not a Short this year, and so we go onto the Medium length.
Ras yr Aran is a lovely race up what looks like quite a forgiving hill - a bit of a ramp, you might say, from the southern end of Llyn Tegid. It then follows the ridge line to the trig point, which has a lovely bit of scrambly type stuff on the "summit cone" as it were, before reversing the whole lot back to the start. An out an back with fabulous views (if you get the year with the sun, as we did this year), about 900+metres of ascent and descent over about 10 miles of mud, bog, grass and generic fell terrain.
Sounds like good fun.

Al, pinning up
Glossopdale were better represented this time around, with 4 of us making the journey to Wales. The 1pm starting time meant that we had to be a bit careful about when we ate prior to the run. Lunch too early, and the run would really take it out of us, but lunch too late, and risk a bit of a bad stomach episode during the race.
We got there pretty early (ok, ridiculously early, despite stopping off for a leisurely coffee on the way), and Al, Zoe and I went out to recce the end of the course - which turned out to be a good idea. Although it was well marked out, there were a number of stiles (and a double stile) which had to be negotiated in the closing stages of the race, so it was good to see where they were.
Al and I also jogged a bit further up the hill. The sun was out, but there was a decent wind blowing, so we
Zoe reccying the double stile
weren't quite sure if it was a base layer day, but by the time we started up the ascent, the wind died down, the temperature rose, and it was pretty certain that today was going to be a vest only day.

We registered in the Eagle Inn, a lovely establishment, if you ever end up in that bit of the world, and hung around waiting for the race to start. Lindsay from GDH had also got to the race, coming down from a hen do last night, so it was a pretty good effort on her part.
A good crowd of us had gathered at the start, and the usual briefing was given, ensuring that everyone knew not to head east from the top- its a long drop.
There was an echo of Pipedream with a slight false start, which slightly screwed up my recording of the race, a minor issue, but has a good learning point in that I should just start the watch before the start and let it run, rather than attempt to start it as the gun goes.

The start goes along quite a fast road and path, and the guys at the head of the race went off like a box of springs. I kept up for a short time, but Felipe- who came a narrow second in Pipedream was heading off up the hill at quite a pace, so I continued on the same pace that I was going, and see what happened. The key to this race, was probably to keep a speed that I was pretty sure that I could keep up for the vast majority of the climb.
As we headed up the first part of the ramp Dave from Merionydd was just on my shoulder, and a couple of Amblesiders were just behind him. The sun shone down, and I wondered a bit about getting sunburnt in Wales in March. Just about there I realised that my watch hadn't actually restarted at the beginning of the race, so I flicked it on, and locked it. At least I was now recording....
Selections were taking place all around as we went over the crest of the first top, and down to a slight bog before the next ascent. Thinking about it, a descent now means that right near the end of the downhill at the end, there was going to be quite a bit of a climb. Good to keep in mind, but right now, back to the up.
Up to the skyline. Then carry on. 
Continual, grinding. Dave went past me, his marathon training is obviously paying off, at least for the long hard pulls up hill... the short sharp reps that I have been doing are not quite what was needed today, and my legs and lungs were really telling me - the last couple of weeks of exam prep and moving prep, coupled with a reduced training volume seem to have taken its toll on me.

Dave continued on at a superb pace, and caught up with a couple of guys ahead of us. To keep a pace up like that... well done.
By now, the guys that run up hill were pulling away from the guys that were walking, but I was attempting to keep running, and there were more and more times when I just wanted to walk. Jez from Buckley was right on my shoulder, but behind us there was no-one. We could see people in front of us, but as the sun beat down, the wind started to increase, and the going underfoot became more rocky, we became very much a pair of runners in our own world.

Although there was bog on the ground, we passed a number of small snow patches, which had to be run across. (even if they weren't directly in our way, I think I still would have run across to them...) 

The world spread out across to our left and right, and the run became a walk, and then a run again. The gradient got worse, got better, and all the while, we went up and along. At one point I remember going around a hump in the ground, as Jez went over the top. Which was fastest? Neither. We got to the other side at exactly the same time, exchanged a couple of words, and continued.
At some point I realised that I was going to need some kind of sustainance, or else the rest of the ascent, and the rest of the descent was going to be really gnarly... It took a while to get the gel down, but it was a welcome gulp of sugar and water on what was turning out to be quite a warm day.

At the bottom of the rocky, scrambly summit bit, the guy winning the race - no longer Felipe, came over the stile just as we went up. We scrambled, we ran, we walked, and more guys came past us - Dave fighting hard for 3rd place.... (I really need to get my uphill sorted!). Across rock, and past a couple of walkers, and we came upon the summit - the trig point.
Jez got there first, touched and started down, and I swiftly followed.

Downhill has always been a bit of a strength, but the way down the rock was slippy and treacherous, so we pretty much level pegged off the top, passing the runners that were on their way to the summit. It was quite good to see that they weren't too close behind. As long as I could keep the pace up on the way down - not something that I managed on the way up, but maybe I can keep it on the way back down. For about a mile across the tops, we ran together, still. One ahead, then the other. We were catching on the guy in front, and all of a sudden, it was 2 guys in front, and one of them was wearing a waterproof, and moving very slowly. Felipe had perhaps gone too hard on the way up, and was paying for it on the way down.

Now THAT is a beautiful view to descent into 
As a 4 we crossed bog and turf, and came to a slight downhill section, where all of a sudden Felipe sprang away - which surprised the guys behind me. But after about 500m he pulled up, and slowed down a lot. Considering the terrain, I just ploughed on down and onto a rocky horrible bit. I fleetingly saw a fabulous line off to the left, and hoped that the guys directly behind me were just following me blindly rather than making intelligent decisions about the way down... and that I was a better runner on horrible rocky terrain.

3 minutes and a bloody leg later, it seemed that the others had not spotted the nice line to our left, and that I
Bloody leg
was indeed a slightly better descender than those behind me. I was all on my own, running down a fabulous hill, with glorious visibility with not a soul in sight.
I just ran, and ran and ran. The guys in front were a long long time gone, and the ones behind, no idea. As for the route - yes it was an out and back, but there were places where I really didn't recognise where we had come up. Nothing for it but to run on down the hill, following the best line I could see in front of me at the time.
The descent went on for a long time, and I was being careful not to over stretch myself. The worst thing to do here would be to get a stitch from excessive over striding, and there were certainly no places to be gained, only places to be lost.
Down to the final few kilometres that we had recced earlier,
Double stile
 and still, just spectators to see. I jumped across the double stile, down the hill, and round the crazy double back, and the final few hundred metres on the road. I eased down to the line, it must be the first race in quite a while that I haven't had to turn on a full on sprint at the end. I don't know that I even could have done, but there you go.
Once again. 6th.

I am nothing if not consistent at the moment. 
Dave had come in pretty much at a dead heat in 3rd, a fantastic job. Al was top 20, Zoe was second Lady home, and Linds was 3rd V40 home.
2nd Lady!
All in all, a decent day out, with fantastic weather, and a great atmosphere.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Training for Fell running

"You just can't train for them hills".
Said one of our running club, after a bit of a disappointing race in Wales.

To be honest, I must beg to differ. That is what training is all about. Find something that is hard. Practice it til it becomes easier. What I am interested in is what different people do in order to get better. There isn't really a formula for success which if you apply it to anyone, it will make them into a champion, but if you look at enough people and the way in which they train, a pattern might emerge, and you may get a better idea of what might be involved in becoming a better fell runner.

Yes, some people may find training a bit of a "cheat" way of getting faster- or at least, focussed training, but perhaps the best thing to remember is perhaps what Billy Bland said.
"Its not the will to win - but the will to prepare to win".

So with that in mind, I've delved into a couple of books, done a bit of research into running, and mountain running as well, and this is what I've come up with so far.

Starting with a blatent rip off of anything I could find in "Feet in the Clouds".

Kenny Stuart, 5’5’’, 8st - on a good day
Kenny - photo from Woodentops
A gardener by trade. He trained theoretically under a Cerutty/Lydiard system, comprising of a large endurance base, but also included fartlek, reps and intervals. When he was at the top of the game, he was averaging 70 miles a week “on the road, in the dark” - not something that a lot of fellrunners around my neck of the woods would either enjoy, admit to, or indeed, do. He rarely reached more than 90 miles a week and had a huge rivalry with John Wild, perhaps spurring him on to greater things.
Post fell running, he was going above 100miles a week and began feeling flat and stale and ended up tired all the time- eventually stopping running altogether, 

Billy Bland 10st 7
A sheep farmer. At first he was hitting 40-50 miles a week, but progressed to 70-100 miles a week. On the fell. No-one else ran that kind of training distance on the fells. He apparently had no specific target, just a "run til you drop" attitude. He realised that the better he got, the more he could train. That being said, Billy
never really imposed as much on short races than he did on long. Even Joss said of him -“no-one trained as much as billy”. 
His training was typified by hard miles on difficult ground and he had no truck with coaching or reps.

A sheep farmer. Typical evening run 12 miles. Wasdale, highfoot, yewbarrow and pillar. 
I'm sure there is more info out there on Joss's training, but I just haven't found it yet. 

Killian Jornet
Pro athlete for Salomon. His training philosophy is pretty much - just run. If you are going to count something, don’t count miles, count metres of ascent. (he is very much focussed on high mountain running though - and apparently an average week foe him is 10,000m ascent). When training for a race, stay
focussed on the distance/height gain for it, and practice specifically for that.

Gordon Pirie
Ok - so not a fell runner, but a running great who worked ridiculously hard for his wins. The basic premise was to workout the distance you wanted to run, and how fast you wanted to run it. Split it into 400s and run each 400 as close to the pace as you could. You then reduce the rest intervals until you can combine them and you're running consecutive 400s as fast as you need. Gordon did legendary rep sessions- as in 50-100 reps of 200m at a time.  

Arther Lydiard
Legendary coach of New Zealand runners- I'm certainly not going to be able to write down everything that has been written about him, but the basic idea is do massive mileage - base endurance of 110miles per week, and then use periodisation in order to peak for certain races at certain points of the year.

Maffetone- the man credited with helping Ironman Mark Allen win a load of World titles at in his mid-to-late thirties advocates increasing Aerobic capacity ONLY - no speed work or threshold work at all until a couple of months before a race- so running at about 65% HR and never, (I mean NEVER) going above.

Noakes- The man that brought us The Lore of Running - In his 4th edition, he still advocates a base of Aerobic training at no more than 75% max HR, followed by a 6 week sharpening hill sprint program before competition. According to him, any mileage done between 75%-85% is just junk. 
It's too intense for easy training, and not hard enough for hard training, and will just end up in burn out. 
He also advocates strength training to improve muscle recruitment - but not muscle size.

The problem - or perhaps the great thing - about fellrunning is that we all come in different shapes and sizes. Not only that, but if you really want to, you can pretty much race every weekend of the year, not worrying about training as such, but just blasting around race courses as hard as you can. However, I think at the top end of the sport at the moment, there is a bit more thought going into training and racing.

From what I know- rumour/chats and general hearsay, this may (or indeed may not) be what the top guys are up to at the moment.
Sheep farming. (you know who I mean).
Cyclo-cross racing in the winter months (Jebby and Si Harding)
Track sessions (there is a reason why Andi Jones was so good at the Snowdon races- he can run incredibly fast on a track, and although he can't descend, hell he can climb better than most of us).
Large amounts of Road cycling - (Will Neill, Tom Brunt, and probably a load of others)
Orienteering- otherwise known as fast map reading, interval training and falling over practice - Oli Johnstone, Murray Strain, Nic Barber (yes, nic, I'm including you in this as you're still faster than me).

I'm sure there are more, and when I think of them, or someone else tells me, I'll add it on.
Yes, I might be a little obsessed with training, but when you are blessed with a complete lack of running talent, such as I was, you've got to take what you can get.
As far as I can see at the moment, I need to buy a sheep farm in Borrowdale, and get a CX bike.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Salomon Fellraiser- 150km Review

Fellraisers. Yes, they've been used.
I've been wanting to try these on for quite some time. I used to race in a pair of Salomon XA pros a very long time ago, and despite their small amount of physical grip, they seemed to grip to anything and everything.
Inov8s somewhat took over as my preferred race shoe in the intervening time and have become a tried and trusted shoe and sole unit for me.

However, when Salomon created the Fellcross a couple of years ago, my interest was piqued (despite it looking like a football boot), but £140 was a bit on the steep side for me to pay for a pair of shoes. (Perhaps more on that in a later post).
Fellcross... sorry... stock picture
Since then, the Fellcross have gone through 3 versions, and the little brother, the slightly less expensive Fellraiser came out.

Exciting times, a Salomon shoe dedicated to the fells, and at a price point that is similar to (some) inov8s? Seems like a goer.
Still, I had to wait until I had broken the majority of my other shoes before being able to justify buying a new pair of shoes, so finally, I have myself a pair of Fellraisers.

When I took them out of the box, they looked smart enough - as you would expect. A quick look at the grip revealed a decent deep tread with quite an aggressive pattern. Something that resembles a cross between the
Well. It LOOKS grippy
x-talons and Sportiva Crosslites - but certainly not as deep as Mudclaws. To be totally honest, I should have taken a picture there and then, but was far too excited and just put them on and went for a run.

A note on sizing- especially if you are somewhere around size 7. There is always the conundrum if 7, 7.5 or even 8 might fit best. Shoe sizes are so ridiculously subjective, I've started looking at the Japanese sizes now - which come up in centimetres, so at least you have some idea of what might be going on. (though Salomon do have a sizing guide on their website, with sizes corresponding to the length of your foot... Apparently I am about 25.5cms which correlates to a european 41.3 in salomon sizes... whatever.

The fit is as I remember the XA pros to be. Comfortable and nicely enclosing. They don't feel like an inov8 - they feel almost a bit more plush. A clubmate mentioned that after running and racing for a number of days, back to back in inov8s, it was really nice to put on some fellraisers, simply because if felt like running in a pair of shoes made for comfort, with a toebox that doesn't feel restrictive... which is what it seems like.

On running in them, yep, nice. No problems. I went straight out for an 8 miler on the hill, and had no issues
with blisters whatsoever.
However, since wearing them, my language has got a lot worse. (note... there is a post script on this....)
The speedlacing system, which I have got on with very well on various Salomon shoes is a complete pig on the Fellraisers. Yes they do up well. No they don't come undone. However, the loose end of the lace, which is meant to tuck under a flap in the tongue of the shoe just doesn't stay there. I've tried all manner of tricks, and cheats, but it just won't stay. On a recent run the lace didn't stay tucked for more than 5 steps each time I stopped and remedied it, and to be honest, I was close to just throwing the shoes in a river. I don't know if it is an issue with Fellraisers in general, or with my particular size, or what, but as I say, this is the first time I've come across it as an issue.
Contragrip. Please Salomon, make something good for wet rock!

Grip- the bit that everyone wants to know about. Before buying them, I was told by another clubmate that they are good in mud, but treacherous on anything like wet tarmac. I took it with a pinch of salt, and thought that he was being a little overdramatic.

First run out, they seemed pretty good at going down a damp road, and once I got onto the mud and peat of the moors, they were fine. As good as I would have expected a roclite to be. I was a little ginger when descending, they just don't give the confidence of an x-talon or a mudclaw - and was quite glad of holding back as I had my first experience of them on wet rock.
Treacherous is pretty much an understatement. Think rollerskates on ice. In fact, think high heels on ice. When recceing a route (in the sun) but over some wet rocks, there was not a bit of grip that could be discerned from the soles of my shoes. The only thing that I could be absolutely sure of was that wherever I put my foot, it would end up slipping. Running on wet rock? No way. It's bad enough walking on wet rock.

Not only that, but bizarrely, on my first run I was coming back along the side of a hill, when I slipped and took a proper fall. "odd", I thought - must have hit a rock. And then proceeded to do the same thing within 20 seconds. No rocks in sight.
Just moss.
So Fellraisers aren't really able to cope with moss either. - Which, quite frankly, is mental when you think about it.
I think that considering the terrain that these shoes work on - and the terrain that they don't, they should perhaps be a heads up for a name change. I haven't used these in the Lakes yet, and with the amount of stone and rock, (which is inevitably wet) that they have up there, I don't think I am likely to.
These shoes work well on the moor, and as such, maybe they should be called Moor-raisers. It doesn't quite have the same catchy feel to it, or indeed, a link to a film, but its a bit more honest.

So overall - a nice comfy shoe, looks grippy, and copes with mud, but use it on wet rock at your peril. I know that nothing really works on wet rock, but these are worse than quite a few other shoes that I've used in the past.
As soon as someone works out a rubber compound that actually works on wet rock, that doesn't wear out in 2 weeks and also works in mud, that person may well end up very well off. 

Ok - Post script about the lacing system.
While taking the photos of the shoes for this blog I had a bit of a search around the tongue section... when you roll the lacing "holster" all the way back, there is a little hole which I hadn't noticed before. (That's what happens when you always wear a pair of shoes in the dark).

The top taggy bit of the speedlace fits in there nice and snug, and when you turn the top of the holster over.... hey presto... all done up with no flappy out bits. So maybe this is the way in which you're meant to do these shoes up, without the tag forever falling out. I'll have to try it out on my next run.