Monday, 18 June 2018

Trail Marathon Wales 2018

Coed y Brenin - a place that I typically think of as mountain biking territory, mainly because I spent some time there a good number of years ago thrashing around the bike trails... this was before the "new" visitor centre was in place. (and that must have been there a good 7-8 years... right?).

A number of Glossopdalers had entered either the trail marathon or the half, we didn't really mean for it to be a particular club weekend away (as evidenced by the fact we were all over the place in terms of accommodation), but it was great to have so many of us bimbling about the event centre.
As a trail marathon it is fully signed, totally on trail (ie. fire road or single track) and had a load of drink and food stations. There was no need to carry anything, unless you were a little unsure of the "food" that was being provided. Having never tried any of the gels from the sponsors (torq), I thought it might be a cunning idea to take stuff that I was used to, and so packed 3 High5 gels into various pockets in my t-shirt and shorts.
Water was not going to be a problem, partially as it was raining and partially as the course seemed very generously stocked with stations.

The trails were mostly hard packed with some sections of slightly muddy bits, so the best shoes I had for that were a pair of battered old x-talons, so I wore them.

We were started by a bloke with a gun- as in a rifle, who appeared to be aiming it off into the forest on the other side of the hill- where the 2nd half of the marathon went (I half expected to see the victim as we trailed around mile 20...)  and the pace was quite tasty for the first hill.
The ups were pretty much exclusively on fire-road, and I worked my way into 3rd place by dint of the fact I didn't want to be caught up behind people on the single track downs.

As we motored along the tracks the guys in front (a New Balance athlete and a Salomon athlete) disappeared into the distance I settled into a nice pace alongside Gwyn Owen from Eryri. We chatted and generally passed the time as we carried on through the forest. He was most definitely stronger on the uphills while I left him for dust on the more technical single track downs. This worked well for the first half of the race as we basically followed the Half Marathon trail laid out by the trail centre.

It was passing the feed stations that we stopped, had a quick drink and retied shoelaces etc. that Gwyn learned the faster guys were 5 mins ahead... (the information came in welsh, hence why I got the information 2nd hand). Every time we passed a drinks station there was a cup disgarded about 300m further on, evidently from one of the 2 runners ahead of us. Now this might be perfectly normal behaviour on a road marathon, but in the race briefing the organiser was totally and utterly explicit in saying NO LITTERING under ANY circumstances.
If the rest of us are beholden to that, then so should the guys at the front of the field who are sponsored. Gwyn and I were pretty unimpressed by that, it has to be said.

We carried on, mostly together, but occasionally passing one another on the more challenging ups or downs, I was beginning to feel the pace, considering that although I've done some long stuff recently, it has mostly been walking AND running, not just running AND then running some more... still, I held on and we eventually came past the Sting in the Tail- the offroad uphill leading back to the trail back to the trail centre and the halfway mark where we started passing the half marathoners who were on their way out.

Down past the trail centre, across the river and over to the other side of the road and we were onto the second half of the marathon, I was beginning to feel it, especially on the right hip flexor... a bit of a pull, but nothing horrendous. Maybe I should have stopped at the half marathon mark? I was in 3rd/4th so hey, might as well carry on and see what happens.
As it happened, Gwyn took the opportunity to open up and basically put a massive gap on me on the road. There was no way I was going to respond, and going up through the trees I could see why -I was beginning to be caught up by 2 runners, Gwyn obviously wanted to keep ahead of them. Personally- with a bit of a pull on my leg I was perfectly happy just to motor on at whatever pace I could to see how it went.

All was fine, and I was enjoying the rain until mile 17. Bang. Stitch.
It starts as a minor pain in the abdomen and within about 15 steps goes from a niggle to a searing stabbing pain that simply cannot be ignored. It's like having a needle jabbed into your stomach and wriggled around and the only way to stop the pain is to stop and/or put pressure into it.
Once it goes- after about a minute or so, the best way to mitigate against it is to run at a pace low enough that you don't re-aggravate it, or run in a bent over stance so that you don't stretch the abdomen... running uphill in a bent over stance is fine, so I can shuffle my way uphill, but as soon as I get to anything remotely properly runnable and try to open up, BANG, stitch. Swearing and walking and pressure to the tummy.

The race as a race was over, but I certainly wasn't going to just stop and give up. It's only a stitch and as long as I run well within myself I'll be able to finish. So I limp along very slowly, trying not to aggravate the pain, though it keeps coming and going.
One by one people start to pass me, which would normally be galling, especially if I'd had blown up because of not eating properly etc. But now there was a simple air of resignation.
I walked into the next feed station and one of the marshals was quickly on the radio "control, we have an injured runner..." to which I replied fairly indignantly "I'm not bloody injured, I've just got stitch.".
Had a drink and carried on. At which point, 300m further on, I found ANOTHER paper cup. Considering that I was no longer being particularly competitive I picked it up and ran back to the aid station to put it in the bin - getting passed by another runner. Ah well, whatever.

The rest of the second half continued in much the same way. Mostly shuffle running, a bit of walking and swearing and generally wishing there was more single track. The vast majority of the latter half of the marathon was fire road- which suited the more road based marathoners down to the ground, me, not so much.
Passed another feedstation, found another cup, ran back to the station to put it in the bin, another runner comes past... I'm pretty much past caring about placings now, but the guys ahead of me dropping litter- that is NOT on.

In the final mile or 2 I get passed by a guy who must be V50, good effort, and then in the final mile I notice a couple more people who seem to be taking things quite seriously and are putting a lot into it. Not wanting to be too easy a target I figure that the final mile isn't too bad, and once I'm finished, it's done, so I pick up the pace a little to keep ahead of them- and in the process pass the older guy about 100m from the line. From there it is an easy jog to the end, finishing in 3:46ish and 13th place.

Generally speaking a decently organised event, well marked with a decent amount of drink stops. To be honest, to me it was more like a road marathon but in slightly nicer surroundings. If I was to do it again, I'd probably just do the half - the slightly techy stuff was much more fun than bashing out fire-roads.

There are some pretty nice pics at sport pictures cymru, but I'm not going to post any as they don't allow reproduction without permission.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018


I thought it might be good to write this in order to get a few things out of my head. Having re-read my previous blog about completing the Ramsay Round, it might have seemed like it was a bit of a negative experience. After all, pretty much the whole account was taken up with a litany of suffering, pain, agony and general "I don't want to be here"-ness.

Now, that is not to say that it is not a true record of the feelings experienced at the time and in the few days after. It is also not meant to stand as a warning to others about just how hard the thing is (it is very hard), but was more intended as a reminder to me about the level to which I had to raise myself in order to get through the experience. All that being said, the experience as is stood may well have felt like a negative at the time, but the overall outcome should certainly be seen in a much more positive light.

In recent times I haven't really pushed myself to the point of failure. Every race I have entered, every challenge I have done, pretty much, there has been no doubt as to whether I might finish it. (Ok, so I didn't go through with the TDS - but that was injury- to enter that while unable to even run a mile would have been sheer folly, we're talking about unable to finish because of something other than injury).

The Ramsay has been the only thing that I set out to do which had a greater than 50% chance of failure, not just at the beginning, but, in fact, for the majority of the time we were doing it. Had we gone the easy route, and just run the OCT, it would have been a fairly challenging day out, we'd have been slower than in previous years, but there would have been no doubt of completing it. For us, it was not a place where things were really being put on the line, and the only risk was that we might not be as fast as we had been previously. (we'd have also got a finishers t-shirt... but don't worry Chris, I'm not bitter about that at all).

The Ramsay was uncharted territory in terms of not knowing ANY of the route, and also in terms of not knowing if I was physically or mentally capable of getting round. Only now, a few weeks later am I coming to terms with the sheer amount of willpower that was needed to just keep on going. The round didn't make me physically stronger, it certainly didn't make me any faster, but it has re-inforced the understanding that I can go through a lot more and endure more than I initially realise.

While it is true that no matter how much muscle power you have, if the will is not there, the thing won't happen, there are so many more sides to the equation. Equally, willpower alone won't get you round. The ability and discipline to keep eating is fundamental to the success of this kind of endeavour. The faith in your equipment, and the knowledge that at somepoint in the past, you have done enough work to get you through this is fairly fundamental. However, each of the physical pieces of the puzzle can fall apart and the war of attrition can quite easily be lost if the glue that holds it all together starts to un-peel.

That glue is essentially, just sheer bloody-mindedness and the stubbornness born of many hours of moving across moorland and mountain having run out of fuel an hour ago and realising that home is another hour away at best. It is the practice that happens when you're trying to get back to the car through stair-rods of rain and mild hypothermia, dreaming of haribo and nutella filled sandwiches, washed down with coke and a hot chocolate, trying to stave off the mother of all bonks with sheer imagination. It is the knowledge that comes from knowing that the pain that you feel is temporary at best and not doing damage. It is knowing that at the end of the day, you put yourself here, so you get out of it. If you can still walk, walk.

I won't say the experience has totally changed me, but it may have been a turning point, a realisation, a revelation, it has re-inforced my belief in myself, and for that, I have to thank Chris for pushing/pulling/cajoling/blackmailing me into doing it with him.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Jura Fell Race 2018

Jura Fell Race, a week after the Old County Tops is always a bit of an ask. It is even more so if you haven't put in a decent block of hills in the months leading up to it. Add a lack of hill work to a somewhat last minute Ramsay Round instead of the Old County Tops, and the Paps of Jura present a bit of an obstacle.

Getting a sub-4 at this race was generally going to be quite a hard thing to do this year, however, coming off of the Ramsay last week with ridiculously few blisters and no real injuries - just fatigue -meant that I was slowly coming around to the idea that I shouldn't just pootle around, but I should give it a good go, and see if it was possible to get that sub-4 glass.
If you don't try, you'll never know... right?

Before the first Pip Feeling it.
So it was that I lined up in Craighouse a week after the Ramsay with a couple of splits in my head which would mean that I was on for a sub-4. The plan was to go out hard and just see what happened.
Through the bog and up through the first couple of kilometres I was really feeling it. To be fair, the most exercise I had done since the Saturday previously was ride my bike the 5 miles from Fersit to Craighouse, so had little inkling of how my legs might feel. Jasmin P was just ahead of me through the first bog and up through the early foothills - she was with Dave Ward, so it was a pretty decent bet
that they were heading for a sub-4, best try and keep up with them then.

Unfortunately me keeping up with them was not something that my legs were particularly enthralled about and slowly, metre by metre, they eked their way away from me, until I got to the first Pip,
Going round CP1
where Lynne was marshalling a minute behind them, and just about holding onto Spyke who had come past me about 10 metres beforehand.
Far too early to say if it was possible, but certainly early enough to know if I was way off the pace... it was astonishing to see that I was bang on for the split.

However, the amount of energy that felt like it was being expended in order to keep this pace up was a lot higher than I hoped.

Off and over to Pip 2, I caught up and passed Konrad who didn't look like he was having a good day, and ended up climbing to the top of this one a way off Jasmin etc. sharing some of the wind chill with Dave Blund from Dark Peak. I had no idea on the next few splits, only vague ideas and memories, so just went as hard as I dared. Over to the final Pip, and down towards the first Pap, through the bog.

There goes the sub4 crew
The heat was really something, but I had enough water for the time being. Up to the top of the Pap, it felt hard, and it really felt like I was leeching time - but not as much as going down the other side. My right knee hadn't had a chance to get stronger since last week (of course....) and the downhills were evidently going to present a bit of a problem... I was kind of hobble-running down the scree, and ended up upsidedown scraping my leg down a load of rock - which also didn't help.

I have no idea.

Hot. Somewhere.
Things started to get slower along the bottom between 1 and 2, and on the way up 2 the figure of Matt Huxford appeared, hunting me down. I was trying to work out a clever thing to say about me being Adam Yates and blowing up on a hill, while he was Froome- comfortably cruising past.... but in the heat of the moment I genuinely totally forgot to.
He caught me up at about the time where you can kick out on the plateau to the left and go up the steep ground before taking the ridge to the top, so we kept each other company through there.

Looking back to ...pap..1?

Hux overtaking me on 2

Jules and Harshan were taking photos at the top - I still had water so carried straight on, Matt must have stopped for water as he didn't appear to be following me closely off the hill. Again, more knee pain, but only muscular, so it was simply a put it to the back of my head and mince down the hill in the quickest way possible.
thanks Harshan for the picture.
By this time, there was still a vague possibility of that sub-4 - anyone behind me was certainly not going to get it, I was on the teetering edge of possibility. Not wanting to be beholden to the watch, I switched the screen to read altitude rather than time and just put my head down.

Onto the final Pap, rearing it's head up, the mind prepares for a long, hard climb which basically will go on forever. Despite being a lot faster than Matt downhill, he had the legs for the ups, and he easily caught back up with me. We were surprised that the ascent actually took so little time (well, I was, I have no idea about him), and we took the final descent together, finding a pretty decent line or 2 down to the final trod that takes you across to Corrie Beinn... ("the other one").

The face of the enjoyment of fellrunning

Top of Pap3 - ??

Trying to keep up with Hux up Coire Beinn
My legs were pretty much toast by now, and after grabbing a glug of water from Matt, I let him head off ahead, thinking that he might manage to get that sub-4. Half way up the hill I took a glance at my watch - switching it to time for a moment.... not a chance for me. I needed to get up this hill and down to 3 arch bridge in 15 minutes in order to make it feasable for the final 5k to be in time... never going to happen.

Despite that, I chucked in a gel and managed to keep up with Matt to the top, though he then vastly out paced me down through the bog towards the bridge. Down through interminable grassy bog on and on, and it was noticable that my legs weren't cramping. It may have been that I just wasn't strong enough to go fast enough to make my legs cramp today. How odd! oh well.
The heat was bearing down on us, and just past the river on the final off to the road I caught Matt up again, having a bit of a sit down and a rant/sulk about the heat and general not-particularly-happy-to-be-here-ness. So I carried on running, hoping that he would do much the same. We were both out of water, but Lynne was going to be at the bridge with a bottle and some gels, so the best course of action was to get there as soon as possible.
the happiness of the road

We stumbled down to the bridge and managed not to cramp going over the bridge. By now all thought of a sub4 was gone - we'd have to do a sub16 min 5k which was not going to happen.
Gel was shared out, water was drunk and thrown over us as we battered our tired way down the road. Matt thought he had heatstroke, I figured it was *just* heat exhaustion, so carried on throwing water at him.
5k of this
The final 5k stumble/waterfight carried on for a while, and there were only 2 walking stops for us, and we finally crossed the line in 4:10:56, 11 mins outside of target time, but hey, it was a fantastic day out and my legs carried me over the pips and paps to good effect. 
you can just about make us out - coming into the finish
Hux modelling this years tshirt. and a beer.

Monday, 21 May 2018

NOT the Old County Tops

Kit Faff!
How to start? I've been a bit off it for a while - well, since the 4 Inns actually. Looking back at my diary its been about 7 weeks of sniffles, general fatigue and stuffiness. Not what you would call a decent training block. I've been meaning to do some serious hill training since January, and in that time have done a single session. Just the one. To say I was a little worried about doing the Old County Tops with Chris would be a minor understatement. Especially when he declared that he reckoned we could go faster than last year.... I was basically imagining being in a lot of pain for about 7 hours as I got dragged around the Lake district by someone a lot stronger and in better shape than me. I knew I'd be able to do it, but it might not necessarily be fun.

Rewind back to February when we entered the OCT. Chris said... to be fair, I really want a crack at Ramsays round this year, and if it comes to it, and the weather looks good on the OCT weekend, I'm going to have to bin it and head to Scotland.... so I figured that would be fine - and basically hoped that he'd forget about it.

Food prep for the weekend
I lacked fitness and basically resigned myself to a hard OCT. Then Tuesday arrived and a text. "how about we bin the OCT and head to Scotland"? Oh dear.
My fitness was probably good enough for 7-8 hours on the hill... but a round that might be up to 24 hours long? Now that is a bit of a different proposition.

Now if you don't know, Ramsay's Round is about 100k and 8000m ish of ascent going over the Grey Corries, a few hills to the East of Loch Trieg and the Mamores. There is a 24 hour time limit, and the ground underfoot is.. well, it isn't a picnic, by any means. Chris had already done both the Bob Graham and the Paddy Buckley in sub 24 hours, so this was the last of the big 3... he wanted to get it done, and my fear was that in my current state, I'd be an anchor holding him back, and might be the reason why he didn't make it. I made this abundantly clear to him, but, as Chris does in these situations, he breezily dismissed my concerns talking about "long term fitness".

And so I agreed.


The next 3 days were spent feverishly borrowing a map, looking at the route (here's a tip, look at the
1:40 vs 1:25
1:40k map, it makes it look a LOT easier than the 1:25... that is truely terrifying), getting tips from John Ryan who had recently completed a round in 20 hours, and asking around for ANY support that anyone could provide, cooking, and generally getting gear together.

Unfortunately, this weekend is pretty much the busiest in the fellrunning calendar. Everyone at Glossopdale Harriers was racing something, everyone we knew from Carnethy was off doing something else, so it looked like a pretty much solo onsight attempt. At the last moment, a guy called Pawel from Lochaber AC got in touch saying that he had been on the Mamores on the wednesday, and would happily help us out on that section if we wanted.... a true godsend. Someone who knows a bit of the ground! So we decided that we would do the round clockwise - mainly because we could get the objectively dangerous Grey Corries out of the way while still vaguely awake, and run the "runnable" Mamores at the end when we were tired... (ha).
This just goes to show how little we knew...
Chris had been up Ben Nevis once before. I had never set foot on any of the hills in the area.
What could possibly go wrong?

Nope- I didn't get round with a lot of grip
Friday came and we headed up to Scotland after work, the plan being we would go to Fort William via Loch Trieg to stash a drop bag there, and then start from Fort William at 2am, meeting Pawel at the foot of the Mamores at 4pm. We figured that since John Ryan had got around in a mere 20 hours, we'd be on for somewhere around there as well.
We got to the Youth Hostel at around 1am, sorted our stuff out and had a quick 20 mins lie down in the back of the car before putting on our shoes and getting on with it. Yes... we started it after having already been awake for about 18 hours.

I put on my mudclaws... and thought... oooh, they feel a bit tight. They might have more grip than my semi-dead x-talons, but if my feet are going to swell, I'd rather have less grip and better fitting shoes.... so went with the old semi-ungrippy x-talons instead. I'm sure it'll all be fine.

2 am came, we clicked our watches on and set off up the Ben.

We decided that going around on a 24 hour schedule would be the best - John Ryan had indeed had a fast round, and most of the people that we knew had gone around on an Anti-clockwise route, so their schedules would be totally different to ours. Best to find a general schedule and see if we could stick to that. The minor issue being that if we dropped behind it, we would be behind on a 24 hour target. Not a good thing.
The only GPX track that we had was that of Johns recent Anti-clockwise round, so we knew where he had gone - but that meant if we followed it to a T then we would be climbing his descent lines and ascending his descent lines - not the most optimal way to get around - so it was a guide at best. Along side that we had a map and a compass - and on leg 3 - we had Pawel.
Chris... the calm before the storm

Straight up the Ben we went - at a ridiculous pace. I told Chris to tone it down a little - knowing that I was the weaker one of the pair and didn't want to blow out too early. The schedule said that we needed to summit the Ben in 1 hour and 30 mins. As we marched on up the hill I did a couple of calculations. If it takes about 30 mins to descend Ben Nevis, then on the race, that means to get a 2hour time, you have to get up there in.. 1:30. Hang on. Are we going at Race Pace?! We seemed to be - or near enough. I know that the Nevis race starts in a slightly different place, but still - 1:30 to get up Ben Nevis at the beginning of a 24hour round seemed a bit suicidal.

Up we went in the dark, passing 5 other walkers on the way, path, rock, and then snow on the ground, along with cloud all around us. We marched on as quickly as the terrain allowed us and had to rely on the hand over headtorch technique of navigating in fog at night in order to workout where the top was. Apart from a minor issue of losing footprints in the snow and being unsure of the summit and coming a tad too close to the edge for comfort, we got to the top about 7 mins down on schedule.
My heart didn't exactly sink, we had a little trouble in the dark - and figured that once it got light we'd catch up on the time - not too much of a problem.
Coming onto the CMD arete. maybe?

Compass came out and off we dropped to the CMD arete to find our way across to Caern Mor Dearg. This lovely bit of hill was fantastic, there was just enough light to appreciate the spectacular situation we were in, though it was still full on headtorch levels of light considering the terrain we were on. However... my right knee started to complain a bit. The FIRST downhill section and my knee hurts? Really? Come on.... I decided not to tall Chris- it'd just sound like moaning- and resolved to keep an eye on it for the next few hills.
Over and across to the summit as fast as we could, hit the top - 5 mins down on schedule... then turned the wrong way, dropping north for 100m before realising our mistake -the terrain off to the side we were meant to be going looked like an absolute sheer drop, which is why we (I) made the mistaken assumption that we couldn't possibly be going down there.... however, we went back up, looked carefully, and then committed to the ridge line.

It was getting a little lighter now, and there was a fair amount of cloud in the sky. Could free summits? Sometimes... but mostly not... across and over to the monster that is Aonoch Mor... a big old down and up - something that would become a bit of a theme throughout the day. Over and up to the top of the Mor, and by this time we were moving as quickly as possible- and yet - still 10 minutes down on schedule. crikey?! how fast do they think we can move? We'll just have to keep going and try to nibble back some minutes for the rest of the leg. We're BOUND to be up by the time we reach Loch Trieg.
Sunrise- just off Aonoch Mor

As we headed south back to Aonoch Beag the sun momentarily showed itself across to the East, and provided some fabulous views. Headtorches were no longer needed as we bashed on up to the top. and around the edge to the descent which- to a week ago had been too snow clogged to get up or down safely. Maybe a chance to get some time back? The hill was blissfully clear of snow, so we launched our way down the hill and across to Sgurr Choinich Mor. I was sparing my right knee a bit as every step was jarring. Considering it was probably just muscle ache, I put up and shut up, and just went at it. I can descend as well as Chris on any day of the week with or without knee pain - it's the ups I have issues with.
A climb to Sgurr Chonich Mor, and a drop and contour at the 900m level to catch the col that climbs to the top of Stob Coire an Laoigh... still 15 mins down - and we're going as hard as possible, given how long we expect to be out.
Really- I have no idea where I took this

The next section involved ridges and scree and a lot of broken ground, and a fair amount of mist - ahead of us, mountains faded in and out of cloud - and across to our right we saw a glimpse of the future - Binnein Beag standing alone from the Mamores - another down and up to contend with later in the day.
Up to Stob Coire Claurigh, and my goodness me, we're 15 mins up on schedule! The elation! We carried on a bit, with me expecting to see Stob Ban appear in a moment - and it did - a lot further away than expected. Oh. That wasn't SCC. On and over and up, and over and up, the scheduled time came and went, and we eventually topped out 15 mins down again.
I was beginning to get a bit psychologically worn by all this clock watching. If I was late, it didn't really matter - Chris really wanted that sub24, and I was the reason he was going slower than he could actually go. What if I was the reason he failed on this attempt. Not cool... despite all the protestations that he thought I'd be fit for it, things were not looking as hopeful as they might have been.
I began to hatch a plan that if we were looking likely to not be on time by the mamores, to cut him free to catch up the time and I'd bin it and head home down Glen Nevis.

Down and up to Stob Ban, and my knee was hurting on the ascents as well as the descents now - the next down was going to be huge- about 500m of down, followed by even more up to Stob Coire Easain. I must have fallen over about 6 times by now - the grip on my shoes just wasn't enough to hold onto the soggy ground, though they worked pretty well on the rock - so any falls tended to be onto something soft, at least. The descent took a while- but we didn't lose any time, still down on time, but maintaining the same amount - could be worse.
The climb was massive, and hot, it seemed like we were going upwards forever and ever. Slowly the terrain changed from bog to heather to stone and we topped out on a wind blown summit again, 15 - 20 mins behind... ach, nothing to do but carry on.
More food, more liquid and the traverse to Stob a Coire Mheadhoin (to be fair, by this point we'd given up attempting to pronounce the names, and it was very much - how far down are we? as opposed to - what is this one called?).
the descent to Loch Trieg. Probably

Then the long downhill to Loch Trieg and the drop bag.

We had high hopes that we'd get to the bag with some time to spare on the 24 hour schedule, but it was not to be. Down and across the hill, the paths indistinct, boggy and generally hard to run down meant that we arrived to the bag about 20 mins down. I was beginning to seriously doubt my ability to speed up - this was certainly the fastest I could possibly manage over the terrain, and although we weren't losing masses of time, we certainly weren't gaining any. I was worried for Chris's chances to get around in 24 hours and suggested that if it came to it, he should get on with the mamores section without me, I'd make my own way out.
Dam wall- Loch Trieg

He was having nothing of it, insisting that the schedule would become easier as we went on.... we'd see about that.
Bag drop- secret location in the woods.

We stuffed down food, a coke, a lukewarm coffee and rammed our bags full of food as well. From now it - it was just past 10am, there would be no other food replenishment (apart from seeing Pawel) until we finished. Maybe sometime around 2am. As quickly as we had got there, we left, heading on into the sun and up the long tortuous ascent of Stob Coire Sgriodain. It's a long slog. As in a LONG slog. Not particularly steep, but the main aim of this part of the round was not throwing up all the food we had just stuffed in at the drop bag, so we took it as easy as we dared.
Over a few false summits and to the top, and then a light jog around the bowl to ascend Chno Dearg, where we caught up with a couple of walkers out for a bit of a bimble.
Chris with a couple of walkers on Chno Dearg
We walked to the top with them having a bit of a chat before dropping down the hill to the valley before Beinn na Lap.
Having never been on the ground before we took some pretty rubbish lines down the hill, and ended up having to climb up a ridiculously steep heather clogged hillside to gain the somewhat flatter shoulder of Beinn na Lap. How we didn't lose more time here I really don't know. We were both a tired and I was starting to fade physically as well as mentally.

From where we got to the shoulder of the hill to the top was a good 2-3km, and although it wasn't steep, it was definitely not runnable. The sun was out and the wind was strong as a headwind - it was hard work to get to the top, but once there, we came across pretty much some of the first actually runnable section of the round - the descent to the South end of Loch Trieg.
The only really decent runnable descent
The gradient was such that when running my knee wasn't in pain, and we made good time on the descent, blasting away down the moorland and scrubland to the track. Our next time check would be meeting Pawel, who was a good 12km away down what was theoretically a decent track - and for the first couple of km, it was. We maintained a steady pace, jogging away until we got to the turn off along the Abhainn Rath where the path became less distinct and less well trodden and walking becomes the only real possibility.
Lack of path - lack of speed.

Surely we were losing time here. Progress seemed painfully slow, the ground was frustratingly broken allowing you to run for a dozen metres before stopping to jump over a stream, or get around an obstacle. We were not moving smoothly, and kept stopping to refill waterbottles as the sun beat down on us. On and on we went until we were in the middle of a bog. A light came on in our heads... Ah - THIS bog, the one that we looked at previously and didn't want to end up in... in which case the path was to our south. Through the bog.

We struck out going south, waded across the river and eventually got to the path- a solid bit of ground- thank heaven for that.
Chris looked at his watch... dyou reckon we can get to Pavel in 25 mins?
Under normal circumstances, 4 and a bit km... easy... today? Not so much.

We ran the downs and alongs, and walked the ups - the ups were barely an up at all, more of a slight incline, but it was all about just keeping moving. Chris decided to jolly me along by pointing out that if we'd have done the OCT we would already have finished and we'd be sitting in a field drinking tea and reflecting on the day.
My reply was curt.

Slowly but surely, the lochs came in sight and we turned the corner to see the ruins at the north end of Loch Elide Mor and the figure of Pawel waiting for us.

We met Pawel 5 mins up on schedule, just about 4pm. He had Coke and Mars bars - all of which almost eclipsed the fact that to our west was the forbidding mass of Sgurr Elide Mor. We were all smiles and joy while introducing ourselves and downing vast quantities of sugar - the main thing was that Chris was in pretty decent shape for someone who had run that far and had been awake for 36 hours. I was in slightly less good shape, but now were were ever so slightly up on schedule - for the first time in 14 hours, there was a slight psycological boost.
Which lasted until we started to go up the hill.
The indefatiguable Pawel. What a decent chap.

I was certainly the slowest of the 3 of us, and instead of thinking "I'll never be fast enough to gain any time back", I was now thinking "just keep moving - don't leech any time".
In our heads, the Mamores was going to be the "easy section". Hills with paths, runnable bits, not quite as much climb as the Grey Corries.

Each step up Sgurr Elide Mor was hard, and I kept telling myself that it was the "last big climb". How untrue. Still - you have to kid yourself to keep going.

From the Top of Sgurr Elide Mor, it's a down and up to Binnein Beag- and island on its own with a semi-runnable scree descent. At the bottom of that we looked across to Binnein Mor which still had a fair amount of snow on its flanks, deciding a decent ascent line, considering the normal line was un climbable. We opted for the far right flank, followed by a trek up the shoulder.
I was starting to be physically worn down. I had been exhausted when we met Pawel, and now we had done another 2 massive climbs... running on fumes didn't even cover it... I was barely even running on vapour.

the shoulder up to Binnein Mor
Sugar, haribo, shot bloks, water. That was the main thing that was going to keep me going now. It was unbelievable how slowly we were going up the hills, because of my lack of fitness. Chris was easily cruising, and I was getting frustrated at not being able to go faster. Still, at the top of each summit, where I was constantly expecting to hear "we're down by...." he kept saying "we're up by x mins". The whole thing was now just a battle to NOT stop.

Looking across to the west were the outlines of the Mamores. It was about 6pm.
The only way off now was to go over them. On schedule, that would mean another 8 hours of effort - and I was beyond rock bottom.
By this stage I have no idea where we were- these photos are Pawels

On to Na Grugauchean, and then the out and back to An gearnach, dropping our bags to make things lighter for the small section. I nearly bonked, and on the way up Stob Coire a'Chairn there was a moment when my legs simply failed to do what I told them to do.
We were an hour from dark, about 30 mins up on schedule and I was in a bad way.

If I started slowing down any more, 24 hours were certainly not going to be possible for me. Chris was way stronger, but I was in a pretty bad place - if I told him to go on an finish without me, he would easily get round - but I'd still be up on a hill in the dark, semihypothermic and generally not in a good way. I simply needed not to stop.

More sugar. The legs started working again, and metronomically I started climbing.
All the way through this section, Pawel was just ahead of me, Chris was just behind, tapping out the miles, and making sure I was ok. We struggled across to Am Bodach - just one more out and back to go... but tiredness was encroaching as well as fatigue.
Chris looking really quite jolly- probably at the bottom of the scree chute Binnien beag
Caffiene chewing gum was produced which provided a short lived boost, though my hands were getting cold and I had been stumbling badly for a good few hours. I gave Pawel a packet of shot blokz and asked if he could be ready to give them to me one by one on the next few climbs. My body was operating on burning whatever it could get, and these seemed to be working.

Sgurr an Lubhair came and went in a blur, and then out over devils ridge to Sgurr Mhaim, where we finally needed our headtorches again. Pawel mooted the idea of a massive down and up to Stob Ban... but considering how slow I was on the ascents now, we agreed it was better to go back the way we came and keep our height even if it was longer underfoot.
Later in the evening. Waterproofs on - wind getting up, contemplating the next down and up

I kept telling myself this was the last hill. THIS was the last hill... THIS next one, that's the last one.... but no. It seemed like it would go on forever. Up Stob Ban, and the end was finally in sight, I was taking in more sugar than ever before and my teeth were beginning to get sensitive to the shotblokz- but I wasn't going to stop. For the last 4 hours I had been surviving on will power, and it was all I could do to get to the top of this thing... then a final easy summit and home.

At times like this, when it's dark, the wind comes up and chills you to the bone, and you've been awake for more hours than you can count, NOTHING is easy. I was pretty blindly following Pawel now, Chris was occasionally giving out timings, we were up, but not as much as previously. I figured that we just needed to get off the damn hill before I became a liability- and in the dark Mullach nan Coireen seemed a LONG way off. I might as well have been mainlining haribo at this point, we trudged along the ridge- the ridge that- in my head, sitting at the kitchen table- should have been so easy and straight forward- was a complete never ending nightmare.
Slowly by surely we edged our way forward through the strengthening wind. At every step I was more and more conscious that I wasn't really moving fast enough to generate enough body heat- hypothermia might well have been a real risk- sitting down and crying (which, many times seemed like a pretty decent option) was the worst option, and there was nothing else to do but just keep going.

Finally - the top, and the final descent started. "we've got 2 and a bit hours to get down" says Chris. It's about 6-7km depending on how you do it, but our legs are trashed. Our heads are spinning, and the ground is pretty treacherous in the dark. Descending 900m is normally pretty fun - but not now.

Down and down, through scree, rock, bog, trees and eventually onto a track. Looking at out watches, the decision is made to get to the road and go along that... slightly longer, but much less chance of a mistake. We can't walk past a Youth Hostel without noticing it.

2 miles of road. "shall we jog a bit?" says Chris.... but my jogging pace had disappeared about 5 hours previous. It was all I could do to maintain a walk.
On and on the road went, the danger of the hills, the weather, exhaustion, everything was all behind us, and slowly eventually, the YHA appeared.
23 hours and 21 minutes after we set off, we had returned.
The end.

I have to say that this was one of the hardest things I've done. My lack of recent training certainly had something to do with how hard I found it, and there is no way that I could possibly have got around without Chris or Pawel.
Onsight, less than well prepared and generally unencumbered by knowledge of any of the hills has to be one of the worst ways to do this round. Don't follow my example.
2 blisters. That's it.

Strava route is here

Monday, 7 May 2018

Cake race 2018

A proper summery race. Sun, dry heat, not a bit of shade, hard underfoot and generally hard running. With cake and beer at the end. What's not to like?
As a GDH champs, this was always going to be well attended by the Blue and Orange massive, and there were (or might have been) 32 of us. Ben Tetler was there, and he has been on fine form recently, putting in an excellent training block. Diggle and the surrounding hills are also his general stomping ground, so he was going to be putting in a good performance.

We started off, and I decided to be fairly circumspect in my start. Having been a bit injured from Teenager (muscle strain in right glute med) this was going to be a bit more about testing myself over 10 miles to ensure I'm not going to break down on the Old County Tops later this month. We started up the horrible rutted path on a fairly long, but very runnable climb. Although I started a few people back from the front of the line I soon found myself railing against the pace and picked myself up and past the guys in front, within about 400 metres I was in the front group with Ben and about 4 others. The pace felt fine.

Ben was resplendent in a massive beard, and he told me he hadn't really run in the heat much so far this year....Well, now might be a time to push him and see how he fairs... So I ran up with him, and as soon as he caught a glimpse of me, put a spurt on, which fairly broke him away from me and the other 3-4 guys. By the top of the first hill I'd managed to pass everyone else and had 2 runners on my tail, with Ben stretching out a lead of about 10 metres in front of us.
Down the causeway type thing onto the moor and a run up over Saddleworth. As we passed the reservoirs the hard breathing behind me gradually receded and I seemed to be very much on my own - Ben was bouncing away in front of me, maybe up to about 40 seconds ahead, so I kept my focus on him. For now it was just a fast run, but no issues as we crossed the moorland, and I could almost pretend I was just out for a nice run.

In and out of the cloughs and across the weir - dib the timing chip and down towards the Bridleway. This was the turning point... a long, almost flat bit of hardpack down to a dam. The heat was pretty intense and it was all I could do to not stop and just walk... I kept the pace as high as I dared, considering the next section of the race was back up onto the moorland again. 2nd place. Ridiculous. How did I get into this position? I've barely run for the past 3 weeks.

Hard, hard effort down to the dam, plunge down the steps, a pause as I work out where the heck the steps to go up are, and I can see Bens vest bobbing its way up the side of the dam... walking. Right. I set out to run as much of the steps as possible and was astonished when I was still running at the top, and gaining. Up and round the side of the golf course and the pace stayed fairly steady. I wasn't challenging for the lead - I just wasn't close enough yet, but was very cogniscent of the guy behind me. I couldn't hear him, there was no way I was going to look behind, but any reduction in pace would mean he was going to catch me.

Over a stile into a wood and 20 seconds of dithering looking for the path. There were a load of forestry markers that looked the same colour as the race flags... oh no! um... ah - over there... I ran over to the right, up down, over trees and through branches and found the path again, Ben had gained time on me, so there was nothing to do but try and make it back. Run every step up the hill and the banking, up to the road, down the steep groughy thing and back onto the moorland.

You could see forever.

If I could see Ben, the guy behind could see me. Only chance is to keep as high a pace as possible to make him think that catching me is either impossible, or too much like hard work. On and on and on. I was waiting for the final downhill - where we had come up at the beginning... at that point I was safe, home free... kind of. So I ran as hard as I dared over to the reservoir, and hit that final track - which was a bit longer than I anticipated. My final hard effort should have been maybe 600m... but I must have started it somewhere around 1.2km out, so was really really blowing by the time I came back in, a mere 20 seconds after Ben.
Hard run. 1:10:56. 2nd overall and 1st team. Great race - and loads of cake afterwards.