Thursday, 30 May 2019

Supporting John Kelly's Grand Round PB

As ever, it starts with Chris Webb talking to me in a car.
John Kelly is in the UK. He's looking at doing the big 3 rounds, connecting them up by bike riding. We should go and help out on the Paddy Buckley as he hasn't got much support...

It's on a Wednesday, which, even though it is half term, means that it is a little bit of a challenge to make things work for pacers. However, I managed to clear the diary for the day and at 1am, Chris knocks on the door.

An easy drive to Capel sees us arrive with an hour to spare which is filled with faffing, coffee and breakfast. The skies are semi-clear, but beginning to cloud over. To the south it looks cloudy, and dare I say it, grim. Andy Simpson, the other pacer, turns up at about 4:10 and we mooch around in the carpark as the first few drops of rain begin to fall.
A text arrives, John has been having technical difficulties and will be a little late.
He arrives at just after 4:30, the proposed start time (the route wouldn't load onto his watch), and after a prerequisite few minutes of food prep and handing out of gear and a vast amount of water... which looking at the rain now coming down, probably wasn't going to be needed, we set out on the round.

The schedule was for a 20 hour round, which, to me, if youre about to do 3 rounds, is fairly ambitious. We had visions of him sprinting off up Siabod, but we settled into a fairly decent rhythm, as the sun rose behind the clouds and we were treated to a spectacular dawn. Maybe the best part of the day. John mentioned that he was going to try and keep his feet dry for this leg of the round.
Oh how Chris, Andy and I laughed.

Up and into the cloud and the rain, and that was pretty much the size of it for the rest of the day.
First we got wet then the wind came and we got cold and wet, and we carried on running.

John's thoughts of keeping his feet dry quickly disappeared (I was going to say "evaporated", but that is certainly the wrong end of the heat scale).

We stormed along the boundry line at some incredible pace, and reached Allt Fawr while still feeling pretty fresh. Doing this leg in the light is certainly a non-debatable point, it speeds things up immensely.
It looks quite nice here, doesn't it?

Down to the quarries via the slopey line, still unsure if this is faster than the route off the top - and straight into the moelwyns.
By now, my hands were so cold I could barely tie my laces, let alone feed myself on the run, so I stopped for a moment on the traverse to Moelwyn Bach for some admin- taking on a bagel and a LOAD of tangfastics.
Suitably revived, I caught up and on we went.

I was shivering wherever the wind caught us, but fine in the sheltered places. Down to the quarries again, and then a spectacularly good line from Andy and Me up Cnicht which popped us out pretty much direct on the summit.
Fluffed the descent a little, and Chris came a cropper on a wet and slippy stone, crashing down on his hip which slowed us down a little- but from being 10 mins behind schedule for most of the morning, we ended up at the transition at exactly that - 10 mins behind schedule.
Yeah - we kind of stopped taking photos because it was too grim... sorry.

Andy had already left us by then, we picked up another pacer as I changed tops, got another warm pair of mitts out and loaded up on food- John doing all his admin, and picking up another Pole as one of his had broken on the run to allt fawr. (don't worry, we didn't leave it there, I carried it all the way back).
Up onto leg 4, a shorter, pretty leg. Not that you could tell.
The ascent was brutal, we lost the new pacer before we even reached the 2nd peak. So it was Chris and me supporting this leg in rain, cutting wind and naff-all visability- Chris handicapped with a bashed up leg and me being handicapped by going from mild to moderate hypothermia.
Ah - a grand day out.

We were ticking off the summits, bashing through heather, generally getting rained on and getting colder as John forged up the climbs like a monster with his poles. We had real difficulty keeping with him uphill, but regularly dropped him going down, despite our diminished strength.
Across the Nantille ridge was slippy as hell and we were very circumspect. All I could think of was getting off the hill safely - there was no way I had a 3rd support leg in me.
Chris showing correct food replenishment strategies.

 Down off the hill and into the forest, down to the carpark and the welcome sight of the support vehicle. Damian Hall was waiting there to support on the next leg - John got his stuff together, another layer, and off they went as Chris and I looked forward to some Coke and a hot meal at Siabod Cafe.

In summary, it was a fast, fast first leg, though the wind and rain really made it more difficult in terms of support, navigation and personal admin. The vis was horrendous, and personally, if I ever got around to doing a round, it would not be in these conditions.
Even with mitts and hand warmers, I was not in a good place- "hard man of the mountains" I am not... (and perhaps I need a new waterproof... the OMM Aether is getting a little long in the tooth, it certainly doesn't seem to provide the same kind of protection as it did a few years go, despite reproofings etc).

Good luck to John with the remainder of his Grand round. As of now- 930 the next morning, he finished his PB in just under 24 hours, got a couple of hours kip and is now on his bike on the way to the Lakes for an attempt at the BG. He has an 18 hour schedule on that, which will be interesting to see.  

Monday, 27 May 2019

bloody irresponsible fellrunners

It doesn't happen too often, but I giggle when it does. You're running around some godforsaken fellside in the cold and the fog wearing a pair of shorts, a tshirt and a bumbag and out of the mist looms a single, or more likely a group of heavily clad walkers. You know the type. Goretex tops and bottoms, boots made of something dead, 40-60 litre packs, mapcases fluttering in the wind.
Instead of a cheery "hello" which most people tend to use for greeting, you'll get a "bloody irresponsible fell runner... out in these conditions wearing nothing at all. You're the reason Mountain Rescue Teams get called out.".
Typical irresponsible fellrunner

Which is the funny part.
Looking at Edale Mountain Rescues stats from this last year of 151 rescues, 1 of them was a runner. (51 were walkers...)  - and can you believe it, I can't find the webpage now.... Ah heck, lets just look at the stats for the whole of Britain actually. (this time I DO have the site!) in 2017 there were 1468 rescues across all areas. There were 34 Fellrunning incidents - with 27 subjects. So 2% of people picked up by MRT are runners. Right.
How about hillwalkers? Well there are probably a lot more hill walkers in the UK than there are fellrunners, so that's going to skew the statistics, right. True, but 1119 incidents were for the hillwalking fraternity - with 1061 subjects. And that doesn't include DofE - they're in a stats box of their own, so you can't blame them.

So, excitingly, as a fellrunner I'm somewhat less likely to need to callout MRT - or indeed have someone else call them out on my behalf. Which is partly what makes me giggle.

There was a bit of an argument on facebook a while back about wearing shorts in the hills, and about if you broke a leg, how hard it would be to put on waterproof trousers. The guy talking about this was essentially saying that if he was out walking, wearing trousers, it would be really easy for him to put on waterproof trousers in the event of him breaking a leg, whereas a runner in shorts would be in a totally different situation.
ah, the 2 litre bumbag. What could you possibly fit in there?
I had to beg to differ - if you're lying on the floor, screaming in agony because you've just broken a leg, I'd say that it doesn't matter WHAT you're wearing, it is going to be just as much fun putting on a a pair of waterproof trousers with a broken femur. But I kind of digress.

So what to actually carry?

If you're a walker, you'll have a hard time believing it, but in that tiny bumbag (or, more likely, a race
vest, these days), you can get a fair heap of stuff. There have been a number of reviews on this site over the past few years, but they have tailed off recently. The main reason for that is because I've got a load of kit that works, and hasn't broken yet. No-one gives me anything to review, so its all bought, and I like things to last.

So what's in there?
SOL bivvy bag. It's still going! (that's since 2013)
OMM aether Smock - It's still going! (blimey, I bought that in 2014)
Berghaus vapourlight Hypertherm - It's still going! (I got that before the Spine!)
Montane Prism Mitts - They're not exactly still going - Im on my second pair.
Extremeties Tuffbags- waterproof overmitts in case it gets really grim
A whistle
a headtorch (petzl reaktik+- make sure you know how to lock it)
emergency gel

Ok- so in this picture there is no Aether - it's the Berghaus Hyperlight Smock. Still taped and waterproof though.

On warm days with no chance of rain I'll swap out the Aether for a Berghaus hyperlight smock (technically its waterproof, but I wouldnt like to be out in grim weather in it) which is lighter and more packable.
Very very very very occasionally I'll pack a pair of waterproof trousers- Berghaus Paclites, or, if I'm actually going to use them- Montane eVent trousers (yup... they're still going as well).

Which, all told, I'm not sure what else you'd have in a rucksack- maybe more extra layers? more food? a thermos flask? Who knows. Maybe they take it for when they inevitably have to sit down and wait for mountain rescue?
Ok, that's going a bit far, sorry about that.

A quick note on some of those items above- The Aether is still being made, as are the Sol bivvy bags and the Prism mitts. The Vapourlight Hypertherm appears to have been discontinued, which is a shame- but there are other products around like it (even if they aren't quite as light) such as the Montane Fireball, inov8 thermoshell etc. It appears to have been superceded by jackets with hydrodown, which Im sure are fine, but I haven't needed to buy to try out.
The Hyper light berghaus "waterproof" is now called the hyper 100 shell, and is now a 3layer waterproof!
Now I'm getting into other stuff which was not the point of this blog in the first place... looks like I might have to write something else with a bit more detail as to what might be good this year....

Anyhow. The point of this blog is simply to say, if you see a fellrunner out and about with just shorts and a tshirt on, carrying what appears to be a bumbag or rucksack too small to carry anything in, be nice, say hi. Don't moan about the fact they'll be the ones calling mountain rescue, chances are, they ARE mountain rescue. 

It isn't the runners you want to be worried about, anyway... its the walkers wandering around with guidebooks following terrible route descriptions and hand-drawn paper maps that are getting shredded in the rain - but that's another post away.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Old County Tops 2019

What a day out. 35 or 38 miles (or whatever your gamin tell you it is) and 3000 odd metres of ascent is generally going to be seen as a bit of a tough day out no matter how many times you've done it. I had been asked if I was ready for it, the answer was "yes, I can do the distance, it is the pace that might be the trouble".
Chris and I got around in 7:29 a couple of years ago, and ideally we'd have liked to have done it faster this year. I'd been concentrating a fair amount on the bike for the Dirty Reiver, so my running mileage has been a bit low in these past few months, which might turn out to be a bit of an issue. Having said that, we did a 21 mile recce a couple of weeks ago which was fine... but was then followed by being laid up in bed with cold/flu for a day and generally feeling pretty rubbish for the proceeding 2 weeks.
The 2 weeks leading up to the race.

Up at 4 for the drive to Chris's house and then onward to Langdale. Weather fairly decent. Good cloud coverage, no rain, not too much in the way of sun - it looked like being a decent day for a run.
We started at a ridiculous pace. I mean, ridiculous. Up over Silver Howe at a rate of knots- this is the bit that we always forget is there- the leg softener before the real hills begin.
The first thing I noticed was that I couldn't breathe through my nose as my sinuses were still blocked. Not so good. Then my hamstrings felt as tight and painful as ... well, I've never known them to be like that at all, ever. In the first, what, not even 4 miles in the race and my legs feel deathly and I can't breathe properly.
And we're going at what feels like a heck of a pace. (it might not have been, but having to breathe through my mouth, with a constant stream of snot coming out of my nose, it really felt like it).

Down into Grasmere we're playing around in 2nd/3rd place (definitely too fast), and then the climb up to Dollywagon where we dropped a couple of places. Up to Hellveyln, still not feeling amazing into the mist, Chris *says* that he feels like he is suffering and really doesn't look like it.... this might be a long day.

Down off Hellvelyn and my legs don't feel like theyre on all cylinders, but we still get down in good time, along and across the road and up to Wythburne- a long drag which might end up being a real hard point of the race. I decided that I might not be taking in enough food, so started to take in a bit more food (at this point, I'd drunk through more water than I would normally take on in a whole race- partially because my mouth was so dry from not being able to nose breath, and partially because of the rising humidity).
I felt awful.

Nothing to do but plough on and up. Around the bog and upward to the contour around and down to Stakes pass... the descent was hard. The legs felt empty, and as if to prove it, Chris was faster than me down the hill. That NEVER happens. I was aghast! Bad stomach issues, legs not working, and even the thing that doesn't desert me - the ability to go down hill- was gone.
Up and over to Angle tarn and my hip flexors are coming close to cramping, so much so that my abs are now working to flex my hips, meaning that I'm coming dangerously close to cramping abs (which is hilarious, if you don't know, so long as you aren't the one experiencing it).
Angle Tarn. The place to pull out if you're going to do it anywhere as it is a simple jog down the hill to Langdale.
It didn't even cross my mind.

Tangfastics and ANOTHER waterbottle refill (?!) off up to Esk Hause and Scafell Pike- which was crazy crazy busy. This took quite a while, but we were still moving forward. Chris was being a real gent and not bashing off up ahead leaving me trailing behind. The teams around us were moving well and even sneaky navigational lines weren't gaining us any time. (to be fair, they might have stopped us losing time though).

Top of scafell pike and a fairly decent line off - (though there appears to be a better one... needs reccying again), and then the descent where Chris was quite happily bimbling along next to me. (the indignity!) Legs really not happy, abs holding so hard that breathing - hard at the best of times through the nose was now being restricted at the lung level as well (nice). Add to that feeling sick from the taking on of so much water and food... this is not turning out to be an easy day.

Fill up the bottles (AGAIN) and out across Mosedale, a nice easy jog (for Chris) - feels hard to me, and down to Cockley Beck where Phil, Caitlin and Josie Swan are cheering us on from the side of the road (What a lovely support team). Cockley beck food stop- egg sarnie and a glass of squash, and off up Grey Friars.
I'm hanging now.
Chris later said this is the place where he really felt he could forge on. Unfortunately for Chris, this was where all I could think about was not making my steps so small and slow that I didn't stop altogether. The team we were with at this point, went on to claim 4th. I ended up going slower and slower, but the agony ended as we topped out and headed across to the Old Man of Coniston. Well, I say that the agony ended, but really, it just continued in a different format.

Across to the Old Man and back was fairly ok, punctuated by me having to remove a stone from my shoe. (I did think I was being a bit of a wuss having to do that, until I saw the offending stone was actually the size of the end of my little finger). Not the greatest line off and down to 3 shires stone (but we did get a flypast from an Apache), more water for a parched throat, and off down the road.

Blea tarn came and went, with support from a hugely enthusiastic Alice Willson (who, by rights probably should have been a little nearer to a hospital, having been due to give birth the day before), and then the final trundle down the Langdale valley to the end.

7th overall and 7:41(ish).
Missed out on a mug by a place, but to be honest, I was going as fast as I could given the circumstances. A few lessons learned - when you haven't quite got over a cold and still have sinus issues, breathing becomes a lot harder (and thus if you're mouth breathing, thirst becomes a real problem... even if you don't actually need to drink).
I can ALWAYS eat tangfastics, and I wonder if the sour taste helps stave off cramp (as I was on the edge for quite a lot of today).
Nothing trains you for running, like running.
What was up with my hamstrings? I have no idea.
Even going off too fast, I was still able to keep moving... stopping was not an option. .
Despite all these things, feeling shocking for a good portion of the race etc, we were still only 12 mins off out previous best time, when I was feeling good. Interesting food for thought in terms of the ability to keep going at an even pace when in a dark place. 

Still, the nice thing about the OCT is that is it ALWAYS a stonking day out in the hills, covering a lot of ground and a lot of terrain. The challenge is part of the reason we do these things. 
Thanks to Achilli Ratti for organising such a stand up event. An old school fell race, and long may it stay that way.