Monday, 27 July 2015

Als Paddy Buckley

Post BG 2013. Planning ahead already.
Al has been planning this one for a while. The day after he finished the Bob Graham, we were helping him hobble around Keswick and happened across Needle sports. I caught him surreptitiously looking at the PB map, which eventually got bought, despite the still raw blisters on his feet (which meant I had to drive his car home for him).
Fast forward a couple of years, and Al has been out in Wales a goodly few times, reccying the various legs. We've been racing in North Wales a lot this year, and a few people have been out helping with the reccying as well.
The date was set for the end of July for various reasons - but unfortunately clashed with the Glossopdale Away Week, where a lot of prospective supporters had already decided to head off to. Unperturbed, Al had decided on the weekend, and it was going ahead, like it or not.
A small, (but perfectly formed) band of people gathered together, Tim C, who would run legs 1-2, Mark O, who would do 3 and 5, Me - legs 3 and 4, (and/or 5), Zoe and Pennine Robin - on legs 4-5, and, perhaps most crucially, Lynne on road support EVERYWHERE and at any time (her blog on the day can be found here), and of course, Al's family (Mum, brothers, sister-in-law and nephews) for much needed moral support at road crossings etc.

Logisitics were sorted out a few days prior to the off, with vague timings being worked out. Al wasn't particularly worried about what time he was hitting particular peaks, and the most specific timings were the road crossings. With only 6 specific times to work on, we wouldn't constantly be clock watching, and would have time to enjoy the spectacular nature of what Al was doing.

Nothing ever goes quite right, and on the day Mark was not able to get to support - I was definitely down to do leg 3, so there wasn't too much re-shuffling of plans. Al set off at 6pm with Tim C for company, at which point everyone dispersed to different places for food etc. Lynne and I drove over to Ogwen for the first checkpoint via Capel, where I dropped Tims car off. At Ogwen it was pretty horrendously midge-fested, so we hurriedly sorted out the van so that I could get a bit of kip in the back, and Lynne organised stuff for a little later on. Al had given himself a decent bit of time on this leg and the expected arrival time was 10pm. Considering he was fresh, we were expecting him to arrive at some point around 930. Lo-and-behold, at about 8:50pm, Lynne saw figures running across the top of Tryfan, a radio call came in from Al on the top to confirm they were there, before starting their descent, his bright green top standing out well against the slowly darkening hill.

We got out the brewkit, all the bits Al might need, food and coffee etc, and as we were prepping up, Als Mum and Brother arrived, not long after that, Al came barrelling into Ogwen carpark looking pretty good. He slurped down some coffee and electrolytes changed shoes, and as he did so, Tim came into the carpark, looking a bit knackered. Bad news - he was feeling decidedly under the weather and didn't think he'd make it over the next leg.
One thing to do - a quick change into running gear, check I had enough water and lighting, make sure that Tim was ok, and not actually really bad, and I was ready.
Al and I started out on the ascent to Pen-y-ole-wen as the sun was properly setting. 10 minutes into the climb, not even that, and Al was moving badly - cramp had hit. Not a good sign. We thought it would go soon enough, but after 3 mins of not really being able to walk, it was obvious this wasn't going away. Al looked worried, this might be the end of the attempt... not great at all.

I told him to sit down, which he did with difficulty, and then massaged the cramping leg. After about a minute of 2, it seemed to settle down. I was worried it might cramp up again, so told him to stand up slowly and begin to take it easy, walking. He did so, it stayed ok, and then he picked the pace up - no problems, no issues. Thank goodness for that, the climb, and the attempt continued.
Pen-yr-ole-wen goes up a long way. We had reccyed this leg together a months back, and were pretty confident of it. As we hit the top, the view across to Anglesey was spectacular, as was the view up the valley, where we could see a couple of headtorches making their way up a buttress on Tryfan. Rather them than us.
Headtorches went on as we got to the top, and things were going well as we mooched across the skyline to the Carneddau. We picked them off in good time, and continued on and around, with night closing in around us. Only a couple more peaks on this leg and we would be heading down to Capel - it really is a good leg to run as there is enough path to actually get some speed up, and you feel like you're running.
Al picked a great line off the final hill (much better than the one that we did when I was with him last time), and ridiculously quickly we were down by the road. The leg had gone fast, no problems were encountered, and we were moving well. Apart from the minor cramp scare at the beginning, things were looking good.

Coming down into Capel, I ran on ahead to let Lynne know Al wanted coffee and a change of shoes. We were a good half an hour or so up on time, though with the biggest challenge of the night to come. Lynne had been there for a good few hours now, and had been a little concerned at being there on her own. However, she had made up a fantastic little checkpoint, with torches, food and drink and the whole lot laid out nicely.  Change torch batteries, reload with water, and extra water for Al, pick up the map for the section, check compass (they don't ALWAYS point north).... and double check Al has everything he needs as well, before heading off onto the hill. At this point, we were still about 30 mins up, but this next leg was going to be the crux.

Past Plas y Brenin, and off onto the trail up to Moel Siabod. To be totally honest, there are wide swathes of this leg that I haven't done before, and Siabod is one of those on the list that I still haven't climbed, so it was a new experience for me. In the dark. With gathering clag on top. Not to worry, we have maps, and compasses.

The drag up to the top of Siabod was long - runnable if it is the only hill you're doing for the day, but we had a fair way to go yet. It was the middle of the night, and darkness was everywhere. The only human we had seen since leaving Ogwen was Lynne, at Capel. At one point we nearly took the wrong line, but quickly averted disaster by heading uphill some more. Topping out, compasses set, we were finally able to put our running legs to good use, and ran down the fence line towards the next top.
From this point on, tops sometimes had names, but more often than not, had numbers and were simply a slightly larger hump than other humps around it. And the vast majority of the terrain was bog. Not just a bit of bog, but from ankle to waist deep bog. Proper bog. Not really conducive to running through at the best of times.

For a number of hours, we trudged through this stuff, eating, drinking, talking, falling over, getting up, ensuring that we didn't miss the right hummock which was a "top", though a couple of times we went up a hill that was not the right one, wasting energy and time. There were a couple of navigational moments, the first of which was a "I don't remember THIS bit... it shouldn't be a cliff like that" - we got down and around it ok, and found ourselves in the right place, and another "that looks like a top we should be on... haven't we already done it?" lack of sleep was really getting to be an issue, had we thought we'd hit that one already? Well, its best to get up it and make sure. Al headed off up to the top, while I made sure of exactly where we were on the hill. Yes, it was a top, Yes, Al bagged it, and Yes, I worked out where we were.

On and on, towards the Southern-most part of the round. Finally we were able to move at something a little more than walking pace as the ground firmed up, the heather became less, and the dawn began to light up the sky, which raised our spirits considerably. Not only that, but we were on the second of my 2 page map of this leg. 4 hours gone, and an awful lot of walking and swearing, finally we seemed to be getting somewhere.
The descent to Clogwyn Brith was long, but decent. We still hadn't been rained on, which was the constant threat of the night, though the terrain was really starting to take its toll on our legs. Into the quarry, and the climb up to Foel Ddu. In front of us, we could see the masses of the Moelwyns and across the way was Cnicht. They looked formidable.

We stopped for a short while on the climb to Foel Ddu, the distance was beginning to tell on Al, and although we had had some bad places in the night, even though it was now dawn - and a spectacular dawn it was too, he was beginning to flag. To be honest, I was flagging too, but nothing a bit of food couldn't put right.
(more food-- eugh), and the long, torturous climb to the top continued, and across to Moel yr hydd. I stopped to take a couple of photos, as the light on the hills was splendid, Al went on ahead, and it was a fair old while before I was able to catch him up again, and then came the lowest point of the whole thing, the ascent to Moelwyn Bach. Al's legs were killing. The pace had slowed to a crawl and he was beginning to
doubt his ability to complete the whole round. Time was bleeding away even as we moved forward. The line we were on is the race line from the Moelwyns race, and it's bad enough then, without having done a massive amount of ascent prior to it as well, but slowly and surely we made our way to the top.

Dawn. 4 more peaks to go.
The jog off was ok, and then the climb to Moelwyn Mawr ensued - I've only ever come off it this way, rather than climbed, so it was an interesting reversal, even if it was a slow climb. We dropped off the top and then kept to higher (and boggy) ground around the quarries - even in his sleep-deprived state, Al knew
exactly where he was going, and we came to the bottom of Cnicht, not exactly in good time, but we were there. Al knew he was going to end this leg about 30mins behind schedule, and was a bit despondant about it. I told him that the 24hour thing wasn't a problem - as long as he finished it, he'd never have to do this bloody leg again - at which he perked up a bit.
I picked a line up Cnicht, and as we began climbing, the weather came in. Sheets of rain washed over us, but thankfully, the visibility remained pretty good. Al toiled up behind me, as we wove our way across the hill, and popped out nicely within easy reach of the summit. Drenched through, we got to the top, and began the massive downhill to the carpark.

Slimy rock, wet slate and alternately hard and soft paths made the going treacherous. It's a long, long way down that hill, and for the most part, Al took the lead. I think I must have been suffering as there was no way I could keep up with him for a while - he ended up about 50 metres ahead before I told myself to get a grip, and was able to catch him up.
Still we went down, and I was beginning to think that Al was taking the Mick - that actually we were going to end up at the bottom of a hole somewhere, until eventually, dripping and knackered, we hit the road. Just a couple of km to the final stop, I found something extra in my legs to stretch out and get to the changeover point a few minutes earlier than Al, with his request for Strong coffee.
Along the road - it has a couple of nasty little kickers, I managed a decent pace, and all but collapsed into the chair provided by Lynne, under the cover of a National Trust building. The smell of Bacon butties and coffee hung in the air, Zoe and Robin stood waiting to pace on the next legs and Al came jogging up the carpark.

Again, Lynne had surpassed herself. Hot food, hot drinks, shelter, seating, and everything set out ready for the off. Smiley, cheerful and buzzing around making sure that everyone had enough of everything. Al changed his shoes, gulped down the coffee and the bacon butty, and was pretty much ready for the off. Despite the rain, despite the pain, despite the fact we were 30 mins down on schedule, you could see in his eyes, there was one over-riding motivation. Finish this thing, and I'll never have to run leg 3 ever again. Off they went down onto leg 4, and I sat there with a coffee, wishing them well.

One thing really shows about the long rounds. I am fit, I am capable in the hills, and I can go out on long days. On race days, I am faster than Al, and I can keep up with him on long days out. When it came to this, I was a pacer, and my job was done. If I needed to, I could have gone out on leg 4, it wouldn't have been pretty, but I could have done.
I was at the end of my mental capacity - Al was not - still having a deep reserve. If you're going to do a round, physical fitness is not the only thing. You have got to want to get round. This goes for the preparation, for the reccying, for the planning. You have got to want to put in that effort. On the day, that fire burns hot, and even if you end up down on schedule, it is that desire that keeps you going, keeps you motivated.

Al - end of leg 4. One to go.
After we packed up, Lynne drove to the next checkpoint where I basically collapsed into the back of the van and slept for a good few hours. She organised the next stop, helped feed and cheer on a load of Marathon runners that were going through where we were stopped (I stayed asleep), and I emerged groggy, to see the mountains still shrouded in mist, praying that Zoe and Robin would want to continue onward to leg 5 as I really didn't feel like I had it in me. The bogs of leg 3 had broken me.

The intrepid 3 came in (well, Zoe took a slight wrong turn and came in a little after Robin and Al). Food was served, and more coffee - with the non-boggy ground, Al had made up an entire hour on this leg and had come in 30 mins up on schedule - a superb effort. Its not over until its over. After re-fuelling, they
The Marathon people let us use their tent.
carried on, and over onto the final leg, Al's 24 looking good. Up into the mist they went as Lynne drove us around to Llanberis - me a little more with it - I managed some conversation and map reading.

Down in Llanberis, we kicked around, had some hot chocolate in V12, and generally got ready for them to come in. The tracker on Al's bag was working well, and we could see their progress across and up to Snowdon and then across the intermediate peaks to Moel Elio. The finish for the marathon that Lynne went past where we were waiting for Al at the end of leg 4 actually finished about 30 metres from where Al was going to finish - and we got the compere to give him a shout out, and organised it so that he could finish by running through their finish gantry as well.

Al, Robin and Zoe heading off to leg 5.
A tense few minutes went by as we waited, binoculars out, peering through the sheets of rain, looking for figures running down the face of the hill.
Then... a dark figure, solo, came into view, and plunged down the hill, down past the screes, and moving well. Robin and Zoe must have told Al to just go for it. There was still plenty of time for him to get in, he had nearly an hour to go before we hit 6pm. Down and down, into the trees, and onto the roads and paths.

Lynne, me and Al's family went over to the bench where he would be finishing, and again, waited some more until eventually, and exhausted Al came into sight, crossed the road, and sat down on the bench where he started 23hours and 18 minutes previously.

It was a couple of minutes before we convinced him to jog down to the gantry of the marathon finish, to the acclaim of the compere on the microphone, and the cheers of those that had finished the marathon as well.
10 mins later, Zoe and Robin jogged in, wet through and smiley.

Congratulations to Al - despite everything that was thrown at him, despite some gnarly conditions, nav issues, being down on time, cramps, low points, and other issues, he came through in a fantastic time. There aren't a whole lot of people who have done the Paddy Buckley, and of those people, there aren't a whole load that have done it in sub 24 hours.
I believe he has some pretty good bragging rights now.

Friday, 24 July 2015

getting better.

I've been getting a bit better recently,and proved that to myself recently with a couple of pretty good results. Its not magic, I haven't got a new pair of shoes, and it certainly isn't simply because I've been bashing out high mileage, or just gone racing, there has been a very specific and targeted approach to my training over the last few months.

The first thing that springs to mind is hills. Specific hills, at specific speeds.

But that's not entirely it.

There have been long runs, long miles on the bike, short, hard treadmill sessions, intervals on a rowing machine, serious amounts of recovery, massage and sleeping, decent food and ridiculous sessions in the gym.

I haven't abstained from alcohol and I certainly haven't raced at every opportunity.

But what I have done, is sat down with paper and pen, worked out what my weaknesses are, worked out, very specifically how to combat that, and, perhaps most importantly, gone out there and pursued a plan.
Day after day. Week after week, month after month.

For the first year of my fellrunning experience, I ran a bit, I raced a fair amount, and I got relatively decent results. The second year I raced a little less and pretended to train a bit more specifically. I got a little better. The third year, I thought about targetting a specific race, and training specifically for it - Old County Tops. It went pretty well, and we came 7th. Results tailed off a bit after that as my training went out the window.
Last year, I targeted the English Champs.To be honest, I really thought that I'd do a lot better than I did, and that kind of gave me another boot up the bum.

As proved by my second year of racing, you can analyse and plan all you like. If you don't have the willpower to follow through and actually do the damn training, then it all pretty much means nothing. Even if you DO do the training, results don't necessarily follow on from them. You just have to do the best of your ability, and see where that lands you in the big melting pot.

If you want to improve, there's three things you can do about it.
Analyse your performance.
Plan what you're going to do to get better.
Do it.

The last part of that is the most important, and indeed the most challenging.

If that's too complicated, just go running and enjoy yourself. Don't necessarily expect to get a whole lot better, but at the very least, you'll enjoy what you're doing.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Holme moss fellrace - 2015


Glossopdale Championship race- Holme moss. Never actually done it before, so an "A" long race around the Peak district should be quite amusing. The Moss race has a bit of a reputation as quite a challenging one, with some tough underfoot terrain and climbs- which although aren't quite Lake district like in their ascent, are pretty steep.
A decent turnout from the club meant that it was going to be quite challenging throughout the pack, no matter how fast you intended to run. The route was well marked, and the weather (although hammering with rain in the morning) turned out pretty well - though with a fierce Westerly that blew throughout the race.

On the start line Mark O was there, as was Ian Mills from Pennine who beat me by a substantial margin in the Welsh 1000's back at the beginning of June. There were also a few fast looking lads out as well, and of course Chris J (who had also run Snowdon yesterday... but is so experienced at double day racing that he should never be counted out of the running).
To the start with Lucy
Kits checks were done on registration, and the start was a decent km up the road from the eventual finish. After a short speech - be sensible etc. we were sent on our way. Despite being pretty close to the front as the horn went, I immediately had to dodge through 3-4 runners who ambled away from the start line at quite a relaxed pace, despite having pushed their way to the very front... whatever.

Ian and Mark set out their stall early and took the lead, stretching out along the track - just a little too fast for my liking, this was going to be a long race, so it might be an idea to keep a bit in reserve. That being said, if they get too far ahead at this stage there would be no way I'd catch them up. Split second decision - catch up and hold on or let them go.
I stretched out and caught them up and we ran along at a fair old pace, me wondering at what point everything was going to fall apart... certainly not yet! Another runner in Black joined us, and we surged up the track, hung a right and onto the moor toward the first descent. Lynne, Lucy and Martin were there cheering us on, and I felt a little incongruous being in the lead group of 4 - but we hit the descent, with quite a bit of time in hand on those behind.

Down and up, all pretty much locked together, and my lungs and legs hammering away thinking... burning
too many matches, going too quick, not even a quarter of the way
Mark pushing the pace
in. On the ascent, Ian started to pull away from Mark, who was in front of me. Not wanting the "elastic" to snap, and let him get away, I put on a little surge to get back up, and Mark and the other bloke followed me up. The run out to Holme moss was beginning, and we ebbed and flowed across the landscape. Bog, mud and grass. Occasionally it would seem like Ian surged, and I had to work a bit to catch him, and we all worked pretty hard out into the headwind. The course was marked fairly well, and it was the final ascent to the car park at Holme Moss where Ian went again... always on the uphills, and I struggled to keep with him - he gained about 10 metres on us, and it wasn't until we hit the short road section to the summit that I managed to pick my legs up again and get right back to his shoulder.
7km in, and I'm in 2nd - in the top group of 4? What on earth is going on? My legs were pretty knackered, but still going well. I was ready at any point for them just to give out and my speed to fall to half of what it was, but they seemed to keep on going.

We grabbed a water at the summit, and headed onto the moor, and went in the wrong direction for about 10 metres before the hive mind settled back in, and we diverted in the right direction, hitting the glorious descent into Heyden Brook.
Photo from Go to his page and support the cause!
I love going downhill, but was still astonished when I overtook Mark, and found myself at the front of the

race as we went past the photographer. The only other time I've ever led a race before was in the first 500m of Wormstones when I thought everyone was going a bit slow. But now I was ahead, and a decent way into the race. Thats just insane. That never happens.
Again - photo from Mozzienet - me leading the race for the first time.

Not only that, but I splashed through the stream at the bottom and started to climb the other side, and realised I'd gapped the other 3 by about 15 metres. Whaaaat?
Steve C
A long way to go yet, and I'm not amazing on climbs anyway. I expected to be caught and overhauled. Caught I was - eventually, but still topped out at the front. Nothing for it but to keep running. I wouldn't have stopped running in training, so why stop in a race? Ian, Mark and I pretty much level pegged across Tooleyshaw moss, following the flags all the way across the sensitive environmental site, past westend moss, and the lovely descent down into Crowden.
Ian and Mark took the path, I was just behind them and took the racing line- which is lovely in the winter when there is no Bracken. Today, it was higher than my head - but although it was high, the places where I was putting my feet were fine, and I burst out at the bottom and over the stile with a decent 5-10 metres advantage.
Down past Nev, who was supporting, and the Mountain rescue chaps who were helping out, I used the
slight distance advantage to grab a cup of water, and then went on up the track - Mark nipping behind a gatepost for a waterbottle that he had obviously stashed previously.

Sharn descending
My legs were going. I figured that I might manage to stay with the leading group to about Crowden, but then the speed would probably tell and I'd be left behind. The 2 steepest climbs of the day were coming up, and then a decent distance was still to be run before the end. Time to Gel.
Through the gate, across the bridge and over to the flags to the climb. Through some horrendous tussocks and bog and, what...? I'm in the lead going up this hill as well?
Calves burning, legs crying to stop, run the runnable bits, walk the non-runnable bits - fully expecting to be passed at any moment. Try to keep the power output as high as possible. Up and up. Calves just won't shut up, but pay them no heed.
To the top, and still, no-one passes me. We 4 trundle along the top, looking for a decent line to descend into Crowden Greatbrook, trying to recover from the uphill, and mentally preparing for the next one. The marshals are visible, high up on top of Laddow, but we have to descend and re-ascend to the same height before we get to them.

A line of runners
Dive down into the valley. Tussocks. Rocks. Bracken. Wayward sheep. This is proper ankle turning territory here, so no hell for leather descents. Mark takes the best line, and is first through the stream, and then the bracken bashing starts in earnest. Mark says "this probably isn't the best line, you know". Damn right it isn't, but I'm unlikely to find a better one just off the cuff. Ian says he recced it previously, and no matter where you go, its pretty horrible.
We must have spent a couple of days in there. Thats what it felt like. Bracken and bilberries, and a lot of bushwhacking. (others evidently took MUCH better lines than us... ie the ones who said, "bracken? what bracken?". I hate them).

Out of the horrendous bit, and still ascending. We hit the scramble, and started to chat. The bloke in Black was Matt, and was more of a road runner, running (or at the time, climbing) for Barlick. I noticed Ian trying to steal a march on us and stretching away up the steep bits, so put in some effort to claw him back.
There was something of a party atmosphere at the top of Laddow with the Jackson clan being well represented. I grabbed a quick drink and hammered after Ian, who seemed intent on getting away. We descended as a 4, with the distance between us never more than about 20 metres.
Still in the top 4. When is everything going to give out? Its been feeling hard since the beginning, but somehow I've managed to keep my legs going.

Ian (wrong place for the narrative, but nevermind)
The Pennine way up to Blackhill. Finally the wind is slightly behind us, and I'm tracking Ian, footstep for footstep. All of a sudden there is movement and Mark eases past and into the lead. "feeling strong Mark?" I ask. He immediately makes about a 5metre gap on Ian. I can close that.
Surge past Ian, right behind Mark who is going strongly, but as the gradient continues, he falters, what else is there to do but go past? I ease past and carry on up - and up ahead, there are 2 people. Glossopdale
hoodies. Jude and Simon in just the right place with a bottle.
Again, I'm in the lead - which feels good, but horrendous at the same time - grab, drink, throw back to Jude, carry on, trying to put in a little surge as we head up to the trig point and another checkpoint, and then off the Pennine way onto an area of SSSI - again, follow the flags and as we head back down toward the mast at Holme Moss, I can't help but exclaim to my fellow runners "what a blimmin brilliant day for a run!".

Footsteps behind me all the way, yet no-one overtaking. Very odd. Can't slow down now, that'd just be silly, so the pace stays the same. Across the great trods of Great hill, we get back to the Mast, the road, and the final 7km of running. Have I gone out too fast? Can I hold on? If it all goes wrong, how far away is 5th?
No drink at the station, straight over the road, with footsteps in hot pursuit.
Down to the moor which we had come across at the beginning and just keep running. Legs getting tired and making mistakes now. Tripping over things, over shooting others, not taking the best lines, but still, unfathomably, ahead. We go in and out of several cloughs, and Mark and Ian don't seem to be so close any more. Just Matt, who is a step away from me. Final descent before the final ascent and I grab another gel. The final ascent feels like I'm running through treacle, even before we hit the steep part.
The first bit, I'm ok, but then lactic builds, my legs scream, but I can't stop. Matt surges past me. Actually surges, and runs some of the uphill.

I have nothing more than the plod that I am currently managing. Within a few short seconds, Matt is 30, 40 yards ahead, and there is nothing in me to respond. Struggling to the top of the hill, I permit myself a glance behind - No-one.
No-one? What?!

Final 2km - a long straight road, and Matt is 300m in front of me. Time to pick the legs up and make sure that no-one else passes me. With this much lead I should be ok - but only if I retain paranoia!
The track stretches out forever, and at the same time is a blur. Finally, I can see the finish - Lynne, Lucy and Martin are there shouting me on, and I lurch the final few metres to the finish funnel. Thank goodness I didn't have to sprint finish - that could have been interesting.
Top 3

Mark came in 3rd, and Chris - 8th - ridiculously impressive considering he raced Snowdon not even
24hours previously. Which means that we came home with the Team prize as well.
Ian from Pennine was 4th, and I'm sure the results are up in the ether somewhere.

Thanks muchly to all the marshals (more than 50 of them), to the GDH support network who I really didn't expect to see out there, and to the race organisers etc, for making a thoroughly decent day out.
My legs don't work now.

Oh- and congrats to Steve Crossman for finishing his first Fellrace in goodness knows how many years - you didn't pick an easy one!
post race kit check

GDH team prize

1st 5

Post race GDH chillout lounge
Caity and Nicky coming in

Steve C

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Tal y Fan fellrace- 2015

Another foray into North Wales for the 7th counter in the NWFRA championships. On this particular occasion, the field wasn't going to have too many superstars in it, seeing as the English/British champs race was on the same day - on the Isle of Man, so a strong contingent of Fell runners had gone off over there. It being a saturday in July, a lot of other things were going on too, which drew runners elsewhere- Wasdale was on, and a myriad of other smaller and less well known races around the country.

However, the village of Rowen was having their carnival, and the fell race was on.
Al and I arrived spectacularly early in order to sit in the sun, have a coffee and stroll up the start/finish road section and to recce the final 3 km, to get an idea as to the route finding. The map involved a fair bit of path swapping, and could prove to be a little complex.

By the time we had got back down the fayre was on the way to starting, so we had another coffee, chatted with the race organiser and faffed for a bit before going to pay our £4 entry fee, in return we got a small number with no sponsorship logos to attach to us where we liked.
Kit for the day was reduced to a very sensible map, compass, whistle and waterproof jacket.

Runners began to arrive, with a number of people who looked pretty fast. Some Eryri guys also arrived - these boys are always going to put on a decent challenge as well.
Pretty soon the start area was filling up, Jez and the boys from Buckley had arrived (with the trophy from last year!) so Al and I caught up with them, and tried to get some of their knowledge about the course. Jez was wearing a pair of trail shoes - without much grip, everyone else I could see was in fell shoes. Whether Jez knew something about the race that no-one else did... Not sure.

After being counted through to the start, the race was started in good time by the "bloke on the microphone" with a countdown from 10, and we surged through the field. Jez and Rob Grantham leading the charge, with a couple of the Eryri guys up there, Karl from Ambleside and Mark Davies were making good headway, and I was somewhere in the mix as we went out of the field, through a small estate and turned right through the village and onto the hill.
This first up is entirely on the road, after 500m you pass the "25%" sign and know you're in for a fun one, it steepens and the people around me began to thin out. Jez, Rob and Karl were up ahead, and others that had surged forward were definitely beginning to come back to me. By the top of this road climb, it was only Jez Rob and Karl ahead of me, the road flattens, before rearing up even more, to the true 25% part, twisting and turning its way to the YHA and the roman road.

Karl came back to m, and the 2 people just behind me as we went around the steep bends and we passed him, but Rob and Jez stayed quite far ahead, and I came off the road section and onto the Roman Road in 3rd place.

Roman road was a fun and undulating footpath, which was pretty relentless, though much better running than the road we had just left. There was hard breathing going on behind me. I looked up and saw 3 runners in front of me - 3? No, that can't be right - indeed, I recognised one of them as a runner who had set off 5 mins before us and seemed to be running the race route as well - keeping up with Rob at the front as he started the climb towards the top of Tal y Fan.
Trying to look cool, calm and collected as we go along the Roman Road. Thanks to Lou Beetlestone for the photo

To the end of the Roman Road, a sharp right over a stile with 2-3 runners hot on my tail, and again, an up. On grass and rock, through gorse and undergrowth this time. The trod steepened, and the front runners were now a decent distance away, though it seemed that 3,4,5 and maybe 6th were close together - never looking behind I had no idea who was there. Head down, and keep running, thinking of training sessions where you have to keep running... well, this is a race, if you don't allow yourself to walk in training, why on earth would you allow yourself to walk in a race?!

Up through the Gorse to a stile, I managed to get a little distance on the chasers by keeping plugging away, and the hard breathing wasn't so apparent behind me as I crested the stile. Up again, and to a wall, and a decision - go over the next stile and right to the top of Tal y fan, or stay on this side? I looked up and could see Rob on this side, so began making my way up the steepening hill. Run/walking was made a necessity because of the slightly rocky terrain, and half way up I looked to my left.... Jez had gone over the otherside of the wall and was climbing up that side... oh. Am I wrong?

Breaking a cardinal rule, I glanced behind - a string of runners spread out behind me on the same side of the wall as me and Rob.... well, if we're all wrong, we're all in the same boat. Full speed ahead, and off to the trig point at the top, a hello and thanks to the marshals, over the stile, and....

A descent into Bleak moorland....
From studying the map I knew vaguely which way to go, but could see no discernable track, or even a target to aim for. The runners ahead had disappeared from sight - below a crest - and I stopped in my tracks for a second, digesting the view and thinking... ummm..... before plunging down the hill in (hopefully, vaguely) the right direction.

A trod opened up, and I followed that until it petered out, and then it was bilberry plant bashing and rough descending for a short time before hitting the more or less open moorland. Jez, in his blue top came into sight, roughly in front of me where I expected him to be, the ground turned into a carpet of mounds, heather and bilberry plants, and there was nothing to do but to simply beeline across them. If there was a trod, I completely missed it, and hammered across the terrain with abandon - closely followed by another runner.
Route finding here was amusing, particularly as there was no specific place to aim for, it was more or less run in a direction and see where it pops you out. Trods and paths were not helpful as they criss-crossed the area going in totally the wrong direction. Luckily it had been relatively dry in the time leading up to the race, and what could have been a spectacular bog, was a somewhat drier - but equally spectacular bog.
It wasn't until about 300m before we hit the big path that a small trod appeared which we picked up and ran along to the hard right and down to the Mountain Rescue clad bloke who was marshaling at the stone circles.

From now on it is paths all the way. The guy behind me turned out to be Hugh from Eryri, and although I had tried to distance him across the rough terrain, he was having none of it - and may well turn on the gas as we hit "smoother" trails. We basically ran neck and neck along the trails, downs and ups - with some fabulous views of Conwy bay and beyond, making our way through the myriad trail turnings (no flags here, this is Wales, you know!) past the bloke on the drinks station in apparently the middle of no-where, more undulations... we had to get back up to the same level as the top of the road climb - thankfully, the climbing wasn't nearly as steep, and it was runnable the entire way. Through some gates manned by marshals, and we were coming into the final 1/3 of the race.

A gel went down - and I commented to Hugh that it tasted pretty rank - to which he responded that he couldn't eat them as they made him feel sick. So I offered him my second gel - which unfortunately he declined.

Through a field, and along a wall, and finally we hit the point where Al and I had recced to. The final uphill drag - into the wind. I got over the ford first, and hit the slope in front, and Hugh tucked in behind me. My pace measured out so that I could respond to a surge - and features got ticked off as we passed them. My target was the crest, as soon as we hit that it was downhill all the way. We had run pace for pace the whole way around, and if I couldn't shake him on this uphill, it was going to have to be on the thrash downhill instead. Shouldn't be a problem.
As we ran for the top of the hill I fished around in my bag for a pair of gloves - not because it was cold, but because I'm paranoid about descending with bare hands - a trip and grazed hands will mean I can't work for a couple of weeks. Gloves not in the sides, not in the bottle holder, oh. No gloves. They're on the bonnet of the car back at the start. Bugger.

Legs working harder, we crest the top, I close my bumbag, and without pause, start to head for the stile, we go over the stile, me still in 3rd, him in 4th in close order. I wonder how he descends... have I got my work cut out here? At least this bit had been thoroughly recced and my legs carried me down the hill with wild abandon.
Past the rock, past the bracken, down, down, down. Grinning like a loon, I crossed the boundary into the next field, and could see the marshal, cutting left I thrashed down toward them, through a section of bracken, cut right onto the final bit of track before the sharp turn left - nigh on 180degrees onto the road section.
Downhill plunge, with Hugh in close pursuit. Thanks again to Lou Beetlestone for the photo

Through that gate, and onto the road and because of the direction I end up in, I can't help but see Hugh lagging behind by a good 10-15 metres, breathing hard.
I've got him.
From here its 1.2km back to the start, nigh on all downhill, all on tarmac. Stretch out, take the 25% downhill a little easy, stretch across the flat to the slight hump - 12 strides and over it, and blast down the final downhill.
The only sound is my slapping feet on the road - no pursuing noises at all. Excellent.
Into the village, past the pub - 400m to go or thereabouts. The people outside the pub are cheering, so I say thankyou, down to the turning, a sharp left, through the estate and a right onto the field - and finish with a load of people in the fayre clapping me in. 3rd - and first non-V40.
Best result ever? Perhaps.

Rob came in 1st, beating the V40 record, with Jez second. Hugh was not far behind me in 4th.
Al - the other Glossopdaler in the race was a very happy 10th.

For my troubles I won a pot of local honey, which I will be digging into with wild abandon, and also a rather delightful painting of Tal y Fan in the snow.

What an excellent race - the first leg sapping uber-road-climb, flatter parts, steeper parts to the summit - a bash across no-path-land, hard running along paths, and a final madcap descent both offroad, and then on.
"Runnable" pretty much the whole way. Also, it being a welsh race, sensible rules that take weather and conditions into account, numbers you can wear where you like, and a fantastic atmosphere. Brilliant.

 I'm waiting for some photos to upload, and then I'll put some more up.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Volunteer. Give something back.

On a run recently I was thinking about how many of the people in my running club are currently, or have been a member of Mountain Rescue.
Currently there are 5, and as to how many have been - I honestly have no idea, but there are a good deal more.
Not only that, but a number of those that are not a part of MR are active in terms of conservation, fundraising and other bits and bobs for things to do with the hills.

When I lived on the Isle of Wight I was generally too young to be a part of the RNLI. To be totally honest, it never really appealed to me. Stick me in the middle of a cold, windy moor or mountainscape, and I can probably get myself home. Stick me in the middle of a cold, windy seascape, and I'm unlikely to be so happy.
So when I moved to Glossop, and I had the opportunity to volunteer to be a part of Mountain Rescue, I have to say that I jumped at the chance. Whether or not I had the required skills to be a part of it was always a doubt in the back of my mind. However, if people like me, like you, do not put their names forward for testing, well, MRT would have no-where near as many volunteers as they do.

The concern about "am I good enough?" was, and is always there. However, keeping on top of hillcraft, first aid, fitness and strength all help me to be not only a better and more efficient member of a rescue team, but also make me a better runner. One that is more able to make intelligent decisions, and also a runner that is more confident in what I do, and my ability to not be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It is often not something catastrophic that happens which makes people call out MRT, but rather a catalogue of small errors which, combined, end up making a bad day, turn into a life threatening one.

The point of all this?
If you run on the hills, if you are a regular hill goer, fabulous. However, have you thought of joining, or indeed, supporting a Mountain rescue team? If you look at MRT and think "oh, I could never do what they do", in terms of navigation, or knowing where they are on a hill, or being prepared, maybe you should think a little about exactly what you are doing on a hill.
If you only find your way around with the grace of god, and the batteries in your GPS, think about learning how to map read properly. The amount of people out there on the hills that don't really know what they are doing, especially when the weather turns ugly, and it gets dark, is a little frightening.
You'll enjoy it more if you are more confident in your own skills and ability to know where you are, and how to get off the hill.
Yes, accidents happen, and that is what MRT is there for. Its not there to pick you up when you get lost. If you're on a hill, you shouldn't be in a position where you are lost anyway.

Learn the skills to the point that you *could* be MRT.
And then use them