Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Spine Blog 8 - Darkness

January 9th - the race will start at 7am. Sunrise doesn't happen until 8:20am.
We run through the day, and Sunset happens at 4:18pm.
We run through the night - and on January 10th, Sunrise doesn't happen until 8:20am again.

Foggy Morning on the High Peak Marathon a couple of years ago
Hopefully, I'll be finished by the time the sun sets at 4:20pm on January 10th, but there is no real guarantee. At the very least I'm going to be running through 17 or 18 hours of darkness.
I am no stranger to night runs, and certainly no stranger to headtorches, having been a course tester for the Marmot Dark Mountains event, doing the High Peak Marathon and other night based races. I haven't, though, competed in an event with quite such a long time in darkness before.

Headtorcher on Bleaklow
Although I have a pretty decent headtorch and spare batteries, I don't really know exactly what the burn time is going to be on it. As a runner, we don't tend to run until torch batteries run out - it is more of a "go for a run in the dark, make sure the batteries are charged beforehand, and make sure they get charged afterward" kind of thing. In the Spine Challenger, this isn't going to be an option.

The Silva website gives an estimated burn time at 10 hours on the lowest setting, and 2:30 on the highest. So no, I'm not going to be going around spraying light everywhere. 5 hours of extremely bright light might be useful for a bit, but for the rest of the 11 or 12 hours I'll be stumbling around in complete darkness. Not so good.

We can only hope for a night as good as this
Having said that - is the 10 hours burn time actually useful, or is it really 5 hours of decent light followed by 5 hours of insipid illumination that would really only be useful for letting mosquitoes know where I am in the summer? Also, once the light is being used for running, its quite unlikely that I'm going to be just using it on low mode.
Looking for signs, checking I'm on the right path, going down hills, scaring off monsters, that kind of thing - needs a bit more than low level lighting, and I would imagine that flicking through modes is
going to significantly impact the usable time for my light.

All these thoughts are going through my head, and I had a bit of a non-scientific experiment
involving the torch and a stop watch to see just how long it takes to run down. I was fairly impressed to see that it stayed on for 9.5 hours, way above what I was expecting, and pretty close to the advertised 10 hours. It was telling me it was low on battery for about 2 hours before it suddenly just went. None of this pansying around getting dim, just run, run, run, run, dead.

Good to know.

A few mates have recently done some overnight runs and races, and have been testing kit during those, which is a thoroughly good idea and makes me feel quite unprepared. (or at least, under-prepared), still, getting a better handle on just how long the light is going to last will give me an idea if an extra light is needed for that time when the last batteries die and it is still a couple of hours to sun up....

Remind me why you're doing this again?

Glossop Mountain Rescue Team helping out in the aftermath of Storm Desmond
The Floods that are happening at the moment - those guys in Mountain Rescue Buoyancy Aids on the front pages of newspapers and news sites- they're volunteers. They don't get paid for their time.
The kit all costs money. The water training courses costs money. Those floaty boats cost money - and for the last few flood calls we as a team have attended, we had to borrow one.
It's not paid for by the government, we are not part of the fire service - it all comes from donations.

There are 4 of us from Glossop Mountain Rescue running the inaugural Mountain Rescue Spine Challenger Event. We will run 108 miles from Edale to Hawes alongside other members of rescue teams, and the Spine Challenger event.
We are raising awareness and funds for our individual MR teams - without the support of people like you, our ability to respond to Mountain and Flood rescues would be severely curtailed.
Please visit our Just giving page and help us out. 

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Spine Blog 7 - a continuation of distance? conundrum

Its got to about 4 weeks out now. Not long to go at all. I'm continuing to be a little wary of the tendonitis which basically scuppered my training throughout November. I'm really really aware that if I go out and do a very heavy long run now, there is a chance that I could end up with a reactive tendonitis that would pretty much rule me out of the race altogether.

This may well be something that I wouldn't normally think about, but is also a bit of a problem that I find with runners and cyclists in my physiotherapy practice. Being a few weeks out from the race, or the big event - a niggle appears and the immediate thought is just to "run through it".
Maybe this is a good thing, maybe this is the worst thing you can do.

In all honesty, if the race was this weekend, I reckon I might just be able to muddle my way through. It isn't actually the fitness that I am worried about. It shouldn't be for anyone else really. If you're worried about fitness in a 108 mile race, you shouldn't be doing it. You should be doing a much, much, much shorter race.

The question is, at this stage, will a 50 mile training run get me in better shape for the Spine Challenger? I don't think it will. I suspect it might break down a few muscles, it might make me stronger in the head - which is really where it needs to be, but will it make me any fitter? I'm not entirely convinced. It'll probably just take too long to recover from it to do any real good.

At this point, I'm going to try keeping fit with a series of shorter runs with all my kit - making sure that I know where everything is, making sure the clothing systems work, the lighting systems work, that I know where my batteries are, and the food, and the water etc. And, perhaps most importantly, that I know where the heck I'm going.

Yes, of course fitness is ridiculously important here, however, headspace is so much more of the issue once you get going. After 50 odd miles, its not really going to be a question of are you fit enough, it's going to be a question of is your head in the right place, have you got your nutrition sorted, and do you know where you are, and where you are headed.

That being said, the longest I've ever run before is 55 miles, so who knows, maybe I'm talking nonsense, we'll see what happens on January 9th.


As ever, a plug for Glossop Mountain Rescue - I'm doing this, the inaugural Spine Mountain Rescue Challenger as a part of Glossop Mountain Rescue, and raising funds for the team. We are all volunteers and give our time freely to help those in need in the wild places around the place we call home. Our patch includes Bleaklow, in essence, 250square km of high bog, and we are using this challenge to specifically raise money for the less glamorous aspects of MR.
The medications that go out of date and need to be replaced. The MOTs for the Landrovers. The replacement waterproofs that get worn out by team members. The radios that get mud and waterlogged etc. We rely on donations to keep our charity going.
Head on over to the justgiving page to find out more.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Spine Blog 6 - Food

mmm. Chewy.
Time is rapidly running out for getting kit together, practicing with it and making sure that everything fits nicely for a long run in the cold.
As much as you practice being on your feet, navigating and working your way up the Pennine Way, the one thing that simply cannot be forgotten, but is so often left until the last minute, is the food situation.

Soup and a roll?
The race is continuous. The Challenger edition - 108 miles has a cut off of 60 hours. If you're going for a time that is on the slower end of this, you're looking at a decent amount of time on your feet. Even if you intend on doing the whole thing in one hit and taking somewhere around the 30 hour mark, there is still a significant nutrition issue to consider.

Considering what may or may not go right or wrong, how do you keep yourself fueled for up to 40 or 50 hours? On the one extreme, just stuffing your face with gels and liquid calories isn't really going to be conducive to getting through the whole thing. At the other end, sitting down for sandwiches and soup every 4 hours, and then meat and 2 veg at the end of each day isn't exactly a strategy that is a viable option for most of us, simply because of the sheer amount of weight that you'd have to carry.

moonshine. Not recommended
The answer must lie somewhere in the between. (thanks, Nic for the line).

The whole idea about nutrition (and I say this not at a nutritionist, but rather, as a competitor with a basic concept of what the body needs), is that it enables you to finish the race without throwing up (and losing a load of calories that your body needs), without carrying so much food weight that it makes it impossible to carry your bag, and with food that you are able to face even after 30 straight hours of running and eating.

HPM food stop
No, this isn't just a running competition, or even just an endurance competition. This is also an eating competition. Who can create the best food, and be able to eat and stomach it continuously all the way to the end of the race. Mess this one up at your peril. Its a lot harder than just putting one foot in front of the other. I've written a blog about feeding in long races a while ago so you might find some more useful information there.

The homemade way
So what is my strategy?
Same as always. Find what works for you and stick with it. I suspect I'm going to be going with a combination of Traidcraft Geobars, knock off Mars and Snickers from Aldi, pitta with LOADS of butter and various fillings (tuna Mayo...mmmm), and a few select bits and pieces from the ever excellent Feedzone Portables.
As for drinking, I'll probably end up with 2 bottles, one with water and the other with some kind of Lemon/lime flavoured electrolyte derivative.
And a Lot of Coffee. 


As ever, a plug for Glossop Mountain Rescue - I'm doing this, the inaugural Spine Mountain Rescue Challenger as a part of Glossop Mountain Rescue, and raising funds for the team. We are all volunteers and give our time freely to help those in need in the wild places around the place we call home. Our patch includes Bleaklow, in essence, 250square km of high bog, and we are using this challenge to specifically raise money for the less glamorous aspects of MR.
The medications that go out of date and need to be replaced. The MOTs for the Landrovers. The replacement waterproofs that get worn out by team members. The radios that get mud and waterlogged etc. We rely on donations to keep our charity going.
Head on over to the justgiving page to find out more.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

How hard is it to find a treadmill to use?!

Go to any council run Swimming pool in the country. You can pay a few quid, walk through the doors, jump in at the deep end and proceed to impress everyone with just how bad your swimming is.
No test, no showing you around the pool, no induction, no monthly fee. Just turn up and swim. Fantastic.

So why can’t we do that at gyms?
I am a runner and a few months ago had a set to do on a treadmill. (don't ask.... I know the response here is "just run outside you wuss".... but bear with me here). A treadmill isn’t the kind of thing you have lying around in your house, so I decided to go to my local council gym.

It was going so well until I walked in the door.
"Have you had an induction?"
"Well you need an induction before you can use the gym."
"I just want to use the treadmill. I have money here that I am willing to give you in exchange for 25 minutes of time on a treadmill."
"No - you need an induction, which will cost £20, and then you’ll need to pay for either a monthly membership, or a “casual users” membership."

What? Really? I mean…. Really?
Imagine if I went to a swimming pool and they told me that, I really wouldn't know what to think.

I eventually managed to get into a martial arts gym that has a treadmill, paid way over the odds to use it, but heck, it was a lot easier than going through the palaver of getting into the local council run gym.

Thankfully I found a way around it (and it did not involve an induction, but it did involve a lot of words and emails), and for the past few months I have been able to go in and use the treadmill. Everytime I have gone in there has been a bit of a hold up at the reception until they can find my name on the system, which obviously has a note next to is saying “don’t argue with this person, take his money and let him use the damn treadmill”.

All was well and good, until Lynne wanted to use a treadmill yesterday. She is a Level 3 Personal trainer, a runner and knows her way around a gym. She has not had the induction at the local gym either. She went down to do a treadmill set and was placed in exactly the same position I was in 6 months ago.

In this day and age of trying to encourage people to exercise, to get out there and do stuff, there are still so many barriers to actually being able to do it. Not everyone wants to join a gym for months,
Lynne proving she knows what to do on a treadmill
flexibility is a much more important thing. Swimming pools seem to understand it, and have done for years.

In fact the swimming pool that is run by the same council that wouldn’t let us in to use the treadmill let me in to swim the other day. Charged me £4, didn’t ask me if I could swim, and I merrily went off to use the pool, which I have never been in before, and I haven’t been swimming in, ooooh, about 7 years.  

No health screening, no medical form, no taking of name or address, no paperwork. 
Here is some money, let me go swim. Thanks. 

In exactly the same gym I can go and use the bouldering wall which is semi-famous for its tendon shredding holds - again, pay and play, no questions, no issues. 

Letting someone who doesn’t know how to swim into a pool, where they could quite happily drown, or letting someone who can run into a gym to use a treadmill.... which seems objectively more dangerous? 
Surely council run gyms should work to the same principles as the council run pools. We should be encouraging people to get out there and exercise, not putting barriers in the way.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Spine Blog 5 - Gear

Yes, I am still in the process of recovering from Achilles Tendinopathy. I haven't run for the past few weeks - but to be honest, there is a better blog about that which I have written and posted here.

At this point, I'm really hoping that the previous work that I have done, all the distance and ascent that has been covered in the period of the last year or so will stand me in good stead for the Spine Challenger. I figure that I know I can run 50 odd miles pretty off pat. Hopefully anything beyond that is really more of a mental challenge, dragging my sorry body along for the second half of the race.

Whilst working through injury, I'm keeping up aerobic fitness through other means - cycling and rowing, but nothing, of course really mimicks the pain and length of running. That is simply going to have to be just something I just get on with and trust my base.

For the time being I have been settling down with the kit list, making sure I have what I need, and if I don't have it, then begging or borrowing something that will help me make do. At the same time, I am making sure that if I DO borrow something, then I use it and get to know it in the time that I have before the race.
No point in running with kit, especially emergency kit. that you don't know how to use.

Trying to keep the weight down as much as possible, this is where I'm up to thus far.
Bag- OMM 20 Litre
Roll Mat - OMM duomat (nicked from another OMM bag and forced into the 20 litre)
Sleeping bag- Mountain Hardwear Speed 32 (borrowed from a lovely running partner)
Cooking gear - Alpkit MiTi mug, crux folding stove and small gas canister (borrowed from a lovely climbing partner) (not yet borrowed, but I have a pocket rocket and Ti-pan on standby just in case
Bivvy - SOL bivvy bag
Torch - Silva runner + spare battery
Waterproof - OMM Aether Smock
Waterproof trousers - Montane eVent trousers
Knife- I still have yet to source a lighter one than my swiss army knife
Shoes- probably inov8 Orocs, or maybe terraclaws, depending on the conditions. would love to try out some new soon to be released shoes... but the chances of getting hold of a pair of those are vanishingly slim.
Gloves... crikey, don't talk to me about gloves, we'll be here all day. I suspect throughout the course of the event I'll go through 2 sets of fleece pile Montane Mitts, a set of Primaloft mitts. 3-4 pairs of stretchy fleece gloves and a pair of eVent overmitts. And maybe even a pair of "waterproof" sealskins lobster mitts.
2 buffs
a fleece ronhill hat
GPS - garmin oregon
the lightest spare tops and bottoms I can find- to be honest, they're going to be the helly's that I have in a cupbord somewhere.
ski-goggles (not sure if a pair of wraparound oakley type protective glasses will do?)
extra, warm layer - Montane Verso
Spikes - Kahtoola Microspike

all wrapped up in large numbers of Alpkit waterproof bags.
There will of course be an awful lot of food going in there (something I'll cover in a later post), a couple of water bottles and a kitchen sink, but thats the bulk of the items.
I'm playing around with the idea of having a chest pack as well. In previous longer fell races, I have been fine grabbing food and stuff from the smaller waist pockets in the OMM bag, but on a longer endeveour such as this, it may well be a sensible thing to have a larger pouch which is accessible on the move.
We'll see if I can get a hold of one of those. 

Now I just need to start getting a few more miles on my feet in the lead up to the event. It's what, just about a month away now. This should be interesting.

(this isnt a complete kit list... its just what I have cobbled together at the moment.... there are still some outstanding bits and bobs to get, so please don't shout at me that I've forgotten to include such-and-such... I probably know). 


As ever, a plug for Glossop Mountain Rescue - I'm doing this, the inaugural Spine Mountain Rescue Challenger as a part of Glossop Mountain Rescue, and raising funds for the team. We are all volunteers and give our time freely to help those in need in the wild places around the place we call home. Our patch includes Bleaklow, in essence, 250square km of high bog, and we are using this challenge to specifically raise money for the less glamorous aspects of MR.
The medications that go out of date and need to be replaced. The MOTs for the Landrovers. The replacement waterproofs that get worn out by team members. The radios that get mud and waterlogged etc. We rely on donations to keep our charity going.
Head on over to the justgiving page to find out more.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Spine blog 4... Shoes

Beyond the current tendonitis issue, I've been thinking about practicalities of running up the Pennine Way in January. From painful prior knowledge of racing the Trigger (run on the day after the Spine starts, from Marsden to Edale), I know the flagstones across Featherbed moss can be icey and treacherous. Not only that, but pretty much the whole way up the Pennine way is fairly grim underfoot. Even with a pair of mudclaws on, last year I was slipping and sliding across the flagstones, ending up with a rather magnificent gash down my left leg. I still have the scar now.
The result of running on the Pennine way in January. Nice. I still have the scar. 

Dobbed shoes have caught my eye in the past, simply because they are cool. 8 years ago on a cold and snowy visit to the Lakes, Rob and I discussed how if we lived somewhere like that, where it was icy every winter, dobbed shoes would be a no brainer. 
So far, most of my running has been primarily off road... not on paths, but on sheep trods and open moorland. Chunky mud plugging grips have been absolutely fine. If I have ever needed to use microspikes, paving slabs and loads of ice have been involved. The kind of terrain that I am pretty much expecting to find in January on the Pennine way. 
Spiky bits that'll probably get used. Kahtoola Microspikes. 

I do indeed have microspikes, but there will be times where there is not enough ice to warrant wearing them. Heck, I certainly don't want to be having to wear them for the entire 108miles, so something with a little more grip on the ice might well be useful. Especially if it has enough grip to be used across the bogs as well. 

I've always wanted a pair of Icebug shoes. They caught my imagination years and years ago when I had absolutely no use for them at all. I still don't have a pair, and now they seem to very firmly be aiming themselves at a mass obstacle race market... Fair enough, that is where the money is these days. Also, it appears that Icebugs are quite high volume shoes, so someone such as myself, with smaller feet, might have some issue with them. 
Salomon do a couple of pairs of dobbed shoes which look very cool. The Spikecross look like a pair of speedcross with dobs, and the Snowcross look like a pair of Spikecross with an integral snowgaiter. I've never had the opportunity to put a pair on, and, to be totally honest, am not about to drop £280 or £320 on a pair of shoes, no matter what. Sorry Salomon. Cool shoes though. 

So I have stayed true to my fellrunning roots, and was able to get hold of a couple of pairs of Inov8 Orocs to try on. (Thanks Pete Bland at the FRA relays). I'm normally a 7, but having spoken to a few people a bit more experienced at long long ultras, they were saying that I should really be looking at a pair of shoes that are a bit bigger than my normal size, to account for foot swelling, and also to account for bigger, and indeed more socks that Im probably going to end up wearing. 
Inov8 Orocs... look at them dobs. Phwoor. 

I have a minor issue with longer shoes than I am used to. Back when I had a pair of  size 7 Baregrips, they were actually a touch long, and I kept tripping up because I wasn't used to having that extra tiny bit of shoe at the toe end of my foot. It wouldn't be good to keep tripping up on a 108 mile race, and anyway, in the winter 2 pairs of socks in size 7 Inov8s tend to be fairly ok for me.

I tried on a pair of 7s, then the 7.5s. Then I got a pair of 'waterproof' socks to go over the normal ones that I had on and tried them on again.... Yes, the 7.5s had a little more space, as you'd expect, but the 7s were still comfortable, the right length, and not particularly stifling. 
Yes, after a good few hours in the saddle my feet will not be feeling the same, and no, the fit certainly won't be quite as comfortable, but in this case, I'm going with what I know. 

Recent training... before the achillies tendonitis thing

The Orocs are the same upper as the x-talons that I have raced in for the last couple of years, and have run multiple miles in back to back. They are the "precision" last, which, again, my foot seems to work well with. The soles have a bit of a different grip to that which I am used to, but thats kind of the point. Hopefully the rubber will be decent, the dobs will provide a fair amount of grip on pretty much everything I come across, and the size will be about right. 
Having not used these before, I'm not totally confident about how much to use them prior to the event. Will the dobs last 100km? 500km? Will they end up coming out of the rubber? Should I run just generally across the moors in them to help soften them up? Should I practice running up and down the Pennine way in them to get used to the feeling? 
Ah, decisions, decisions. One thing is for sure, I'm not going to be wearing them around the house!

As ever - I should say Why I'm doing this.... basically, I'm running the Spine Challenger as part of the Inaugural Mountain Rescue Challenge. Members of MR run 108 miles to raise money for their teams. 
As a member of Glossop MRT, I, and 3 others are raising funds for the less glamorous aspects of our team. Vehicle servicing, replacing out of date and used medication, stretcher maintenance, the kind of thing that ain't cool, but without which, we would fail to be a functioning team. 
If you feel able, please donate here, and feel free to re-tweet, re-post and generally get the word out. 

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Spine 3 - Injury

In the run up to the Spine I was meant to be posting lots of jolly happy stuff about all the gear that is going in my rucksack, and all the exciting training that has been going on. I even had a post ready about shoes (how highly exciting, I hear you say).

However, that has been overtaken by a rather more pressing need - to fix myself.
Not ACTUALLY a picture taken while I was out. I was concentrating on running, rather than getting my phone out for photo ops every now and then. If you're trying to work out where it is on the PW, you won't have much luck. I think it was taken in Wales. 

I was out on a weekend of running up near Settle over the weekend, and had some pretty "good" weather, if you want to call it that (sun, rain, wind, hail, more hail, sun, wind, rain etc). I decided to run with my full race kit on, or as full as I can get it at this point. Hopefully I should be able to pare the weight down a little before the race, but have yet to secure some lighter bits and bobs.
Lynne kindly picked me up at Airton

To cut a long story short(er) I did a decent distance on Friday, followed by a decent distance on Saturday before noticing that some of the stuff in my pack wasn't packed optimally, and I was developing a bruise on my back. Not only that, but my left achilles was feeling a little sore. So I decided to call in air support (well, Lynne in a Rover 25), and got a lift back. The extra (planned) 30k on top of an already sore back and achilles probably wasn't going to do me any good.

Sunday morning was a bit painful to walk around the hostel. The achilles was in a fair amount of pain. On investigation, there was quite a swollen bit of tendon just below the level of the ankle.
Too much weight for too long without enough build up. Reactive tendonopathy.

So my training this week, and indeed for the next few weeks, has been severely curtailed - at least in the running sense of the word. For the past couple of days I have been resting completely, even walking hurt to begin with. At this point, going down stairs is no longer painful, so that means that the tendon is beginning to get back to a state in which I can begin to rehab it properly.

For those interested in the progression I'm going to follow, its basically taken from Jill Cooks excellent recent research. (Here is a link to a BJSM podcast with her) Starting with long isometric holds (shorter holds if the tendon is particularly reactive), and progressing to weighted heel raises. Once they are painless, progressing to a graduated return to running.

Yes, I do have a better picture of my calf.... but I can't find it, and this is the closest I could get. In fairness, this bloke does have less bits of blood and cuts on his leg, so it might be a nicer image to look at. He's also holding it in the wrong place. And its the wrong leg. But never mind. 
In the meantime, I am going to ensure that my aerobic base stays high with judicious use of a rowing machine, coupled with quite a lot of strength and power based weight training. Yes, it is a little concerning that I'm not getting massive miles in, but at least I know the route, I know I can run, and the most important thing is not to aggravate this injury to the point that I have to start rehabbing from the start again.

In the meantime, if you want to sponsor me- or indeed any of the other 3 from Glossop Mountain Rescue Team who are doing this, we are raising money for the inglorious aspects of MR. Campaigns for new Land Rovers etc are always nice, and if you want to buy us one, please do go ahead, but at the moment, its those little niggly things that wear away the bank balance.... replacing used and out of date drugs, replacing team kit that keeps us dry(ish) and warm on the hill, radios that break, stretchers that need to be maintained and checked up etc etc.

Click here to go to the justgiving page.


Monday, 26 October 2015

Eryri Marathon 2015

So the final weekend of this 4 weekend racing spree through october (yes, I know its nothing in comparison to the likes of Daz fishwick), was the Eryri Marathon. Part of the Glossopdale club championships, I had entered this quite a way back in the year, put it at the back of my mind, and figured that Id work it out at some point down the line.

Training for a road marathon is certainly not something to be sniffed at, but put in a couple of hard relay legs and a fell race in the weeks leading up to it, and try to plan long distance training around those is quite a thing to do. It was only really about 6 weeks ago that I got my road shoes out and started practicing pavement pounding with a vengeance.
To be honest, I was absolutely certain I could run the distance.... On a trail. Its the minor issue of doing it on the road that was worrying me. First go out, I was nigh on hobbling home with calf muscles burning after just 7k. The second time out, after 13k I was hobbling for 3 days with calves that just didn't work. Even up to about 2 weeks ago with a planned 30k run cut short to 24k or so because of a bit of a niggle in the knee was a cause for concern.

I haven't run a road marathon since 2010, and that was London, which I finished in 3:45. This was to be my first as a Glossopdale Harrier, and all things considered, might be interesting.

 We travelled to Wales and registered on the friday. I took the opportunity to have a quick recce of the 2 footpath sections, totaling about 3k of the entire route. The weather wasn't great, and I ran it in x-talons, noting that as long as it didn't get any worse in terms of wetness, then road shoes would be fine for the whole thing. After meeting up with a few of the guys at the Snowdon Ranger Hostel, we ate, drank, chatted, and finally got our heads down. Morning of the race is always the same. But here, in Wales, it was absolutely chucking it down. Buckets and buckets of the stuff. It was also pretty cold.

All the chat about road shoes from the previous night evaporated, and the trusty xtalons came out. They might have done more than 1000k already and lost most of their grip, but they're still game for a wet, and partially muddy marathon. I was hoping that I would be able to keep pace with those around me til the last 3k, when the grip would really give me an advantage. The minor issue being, could I manage the prior 39k at speed, on road, in fell shoes?

 Everyone was having clothing dilemmas. How hot was it going to get? Would the rain continue all morning? Would it stay this cold? As we're going up to the top of the pass would it get colder, what with the breeze? Decisions, decisions.
 I met with Paul Skuse and Vicki H in the race HQ, and also managed to catch up with Jim and Sharon from Helsby, but it didn't take long for the clock to tick down and we had to wander through the rain and the cold to the start, just a bit beyond the Castle at the beginning of Llanberis.
Al was also there, as was Nick (in his stockport colours), and we were soon joined by Caity, Chris and Neil. Everyone still in their disposable see through macs, listening to the starters announcement, waiting...

Then it was macs off, stand in the pouring rain for just a few minutes before we were given the off. I started and locked my watch a bit before the gun went, as is my habit... It stops me having to faff at the start, and worry if the timer is going or not, and it stops me from worrying about looking at my watch obsessively through the race as its not actually on race time. If I'm not running as hard as I can, then I need to speed up. If I need a time in my head to speed up then I'm obviously not going fast enough.

 The gun goes, caity, who was stood in front of me shoots off like a rocket and is already 5,6 people ahead of me within seconds... These road marathons start quick. It takes me about 300m to catch her and ease into a decent running rhythm, and then the endless road started. How fast do you start a marathon? In a fell race, you know there are hard ups and downs that will break up the pace, make you run faster and slower.

Admittedly this marathon has some ups and downs, but nothing quite on the scale of a fell run. Start at a speed and see what happens. In the second km, Rob Grantham, winner of the North Wales fell series appears at my side, tapping out a decent rhythm and we run through nant peris together. It became apparent that he wasn't slowing down, and the pace was a bit too hot for me, especially as the first climb up Llanberis pass was fast approaching, so I let him go, and eased up a little.
Just down from the PyG

I fell into step with a guy wearing raidlight mitts, and we ascended the pass pretty much stride for stride. People passed, we passed others. Eventually he pulled away a little, and I went over the top by the Snowdon Carpark through the drinks station, still clutching my windproof, thoroughly looking forward to the downhill section. I passed a couple of guys on the way down to the Pen y Gwyrd hotel, and was really happy to see Lynne standing at the side of the road shouting encouragement. I ditched my waterproof and ran on down onto the bridle way.

This section was a bit stoney, and I was a little disappointed not to be gaining as many places as I thought I might, considering my footwear choice. It was still raining, but there was that niggle in the back of my mind if I'd chosen the right footwear. Even now I was feeling it a bit underfoot, having not worn road shoes. No time to worry now. Back onto the road, and there was a gaggle of us, all pressing over to the left. There were a few cars on the road, but by no means was it a normal amount of traffic. With numb fingers I extracted a geobar from the pocket in my shorts and ate that, wanting to stave off a crash as much as possible, and the next few miles passed in a bit of a blur of keeping up with people, not being dropped and wondering which corner was the last one before Beddgelert.

 Finally the town appeared and gels were being given out at the feed station. I stupidly shunned them, having got my own gel out just prior... it saved me having to slow down, and it reduced the weight in my pocket, but maybe I should have used their gel and saved mine til later. No matter, through the town, and Dylan from Sarn Helen had obviously been keeping his powder dry for the first half as he sliced his way through the field.
The 13mile mark came and went, half way through and I still hadn't checked my time. I was looking at my Heart rate, to ensure I wasn't sending it through the roof to something unsustainable, but had no clue how long I had been out. The road climbed out of Beddgelert, and it went on and on. We had driven up this yesterday, and I was prepared for a long drag. I managed to keep up with another runner for quite a while here, and used the fact that he could go at a pace to my advantage... if he can, then I can.

On and on we went. Rob Grantham was in sight but never seemed to get closer, but all of a sudden, it wasn't an uphill struggle, and the road leveled out. I began to stretch out my legs, though various bits were hurting. Knees, ankles, shins, hips.... by the end of this I'm going to be a bit of a mess. If this was a training run I would certainly be walking by now for fear of damage and a bit of a lay off training. But this is a race. I downed another gel, my last bit of food, and kicked it up a gear. Rob was coming back to me, and although it was a decent few miles to the Snowdon Ranger, the distance flew by and we were there before I knew it. 

Neck and neck with Rob, he seemed to come to life again, and the pace quickened. I tried to hold him to it, but this far into a marathon on road... not going to happen. I held for as long as I could before thinking... theres still a good distance to go, you might need some power soon, don't run out. I was never out of touch with him until we hit the final town, the uphill section where we turned right. Final feed station and I grabbed another gel, knowing that we were in the last few miles now. Rob was powering off ahead and there was not a thing I could do about it. The main thing now was to just keep running. Whatever time I came in at, as long as my legs kept turning, and I kept running, it would be fine. If I walked, there would always be the question.... but what if I had kept running?! Up the climb, faster runners overtook me. Despite regular hill rep sessions, climbs are still a serious weakness, and I need to continue to practice.

The road narrowed, and eventually became a track. A track with a river running down it. Even now, people in road shoes were still going at the same speed as me. Have I made a massive miscalculation? Should I have been in road shoes all along? My feet and legs were screaming at me, telling me that, yes, I certainly should have been. Towards the top of the hill, through a gate, where Sikobe was standing, shouting support for us Glossopdalers, and finally the downhill.

Down the track, with 3 miles left, my legs stretched out, ignoring pain. Downhills are great, no matter what you're doing. Slowly I began to overhaul some of the guys that had passed me on the ascent. The path got worse. It got wetter, steeper and grassier. Footsteps that had shadowed me from the top of the hill faded behind me, 2 guys in front were having great difficulty staying on their feet. Tired legs would have a bad enough time just providing the braking force going down the hill, add the uncertainty of underfoot conditions, and they really didn't want to play. I zoomed past on the outside, sliding a little.... 1000k of running wears down studs on x-talons, but I still had more grip than road shoes that started with next to nothing.
Trying a bit hard on the final straight
Down through a gate, and 3 more people ahead, I closed them down, turned a corner, and we were back onto tarmac... still able to catch them, even with better traction for road shoes? Of course. Coming through on right, and hammer down the hill. This is the last mile, and no-one was going to overtake me now. A guy ahead of me was having a bit of a slidy moment on the track, but recovered himself. Still a good 70 metres ahead, perhaps just a bit too much to overhaul considering the road was flattening out.
 Down, and down through into Llanberis, a final right turn, and the finish line beckoned. A crowd lined the street, and above the finish line, the timer read 2:58.... 2? Sub 3? That's absurd, that's ridiculous.
Over the line - Thanks Lynne for the support and the pictures
At that moment I was so glad that I hadn't been obsessively checking my speed and time throughout the race. I ran to feel, and numbers wouldn't have made a whole lot of difference anyway. Stretching out along the finish straight, I gave it all to come in at 2:58:29. First marathon in GDH colours, first one as a club runner. and its sub-3. Slightly unexpected, but very chuffed.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Fra relays 2015

This year the fra relays were being held at Pendle hill. There was quite a bit of controversy for quite a few weeks and months leading up to the event because of restrictions to team numbers being entered, car parking palavers and lack of a mixed team catagory. 
As team captain for Glossopdale I had the lovely task of picking the male teams, and then shifting and patching them up as and when injury or ill health threatened to scupper us as a team, even up to the last couple of days. 
It almost helped that i crocked my ankle last week at the Breiddan hills race as it gave me the opportunity to tell people, with great authority, that if im going to be running on a dodgy ankle, they could also certainly run on tired week-post marathon legs etc. As far as I know, Caity didnt have much of an issue with the girls team, but it still felt like a minor miracle when everyone turned up in the right place, at approximately the right time.

Last minute issues included locating the club tent, the banners and also ensuring that everyone knew the race was on saturday.... Not sunday. 
Still, we all got there and all was well. 

The blokes I travelled up with were left to competently put the tent up. Being one of the first teams to arrive, we had a decent area to play with, and I went off to get the team packs. On arrival and presentation to the registrars, saying I was from Glossopdale, the lady looked down her list and asked "are you a Hunk?".

When Caity and I registered the teams, we could write down whatever names we wanted on the SI entry list. In somewhat high spirits, instead of the usual "glossopdale men, ladies and v40" we instead thought it would be a much better idea to enter teams as the Glossopdale Hunks, Babes and Old Gits. Unfortunately we did not have the opportunity to enter a female v40 team, so didn't get to enter the Glossopdale super-babes. Which was a shame. 
I didn't really expect to see the names written on our race packs. (I was hoping....but you can never be sure).

After getting back to the tent, which was in some state of upness, the maps, numbers and dibbers got distributed, cups of tea were had, and we started getting ready for the relay. Leg 1 runners, Ben, Caity and Andy B started warming up, and I realised that considering the start was about 5mins from the tent, the tent was about 7 mins from the changeover point, kitcheck was also needed prior to me starting on leg 2 and leg 1 would probably only take about 35 mins, I should probably get ready. 

Faff, of course ensued, and after a while, Mark and I made our way up to the changeover area, where all and sundry were warming up ready for leg 2. We have both raced on this hill before, and know there are some considerable ups and downs, but we haven't actually raced together all that much. Last time we raced as a pair was this time last year, and last time we competed against each other was at the Holme moss race in august. I was pretty sure it was going to be ok....

The first teams came through, big names hurtling down the in lap to pass on to just as great names on leg 2. We're only running against British fell running champs, mountain running champs and all the rest of it. Always good to be rubbing shoulders and comparing yourself to those at the peak of the sport. 
First Glossopdale in was, as last year, Caity. The girls team of Cheryl and Zoe got the drop on us, and it seemed like an age before Ben came dropping down the hill like a stone to release us from the starting area. 
Mark went off fast and hard and my legs and lungs really didn't like it. Uphill for the first 500m and I was barely hanging onto his coattails. Various things like asking him to slow down, or just pulling him on the back of the vest to get him to relax the pace a bit went through my mind. To be honest, I wasn't close enough to grab him, nor did I have the breath to say anything, being run ragged at the very beginning of the course was not entirely on the plan. 

We passed a couple of teams on the outward leg, our own ladies team among them. The first hill hit, and we scalped another, with Eryri coming past us for good measure. 1st checkpoint, over a wall, and we were directly behind a couple of teams. The ground rose steadily and way ahead of us was a gaggle of other teams who had set off a good 2mins in front of us. 
In my head I was thinking "no Mark, don't overtake this team, my legs don't work" 
No stopping him at this point, and ignoring my silent pleading, he forged on passed a team, then another, and another, with me following doggedly in his footsteps. 

Crickey this is hard. Heart still hammering, legs not really responding, going uphill at speed is still my absolute nemesis, and still Mark set an unforgiving pace. By this time, barely a word had passed between us as we ran in companionable silence. Well. Kind of. Conversation would have been severely limited to single word sentences, at least on my side...
Up through bog, and the group in front of us appears to be getting closer. Only about 3 teams between us and what looks to be a Pennine vest. (Friendly local rivalry and all... It would have been nice to catch them up, considering the amazing runners they had on leg 1). 
Mark was still leading us on, but I was finally feeling a bit better, a bit more in control of lungs and legs, and was happy to be led on the charge through another couple of teams, the gaggle in ahead of us now getting tangibly closer. 

Onto a path, and a dive down the steep side of Pendle hill. Careful now, if there is anywhere that I'm going to go over on my ankle, its here... Careful... Carefu.... Oh, there it goes. My left foot hit a rock, and the ankle twisted slightly. On a normal day it would have been an 'oh, that was lucky, I didn't totally go over on my ankle'. Today was quite a bit more sore, going over on an already tender ankle was not what I needed, but it could have been worse. I took it a little more steadily down to the bottom of the hill, now with Mark in my wake, and was able to get a slight breather as he dibbed the checkpoint. 

The 2 Pennine teams were now only just in front of us, 30seconds or so... Which on a climb seems in touching distance, but in fact, is not. Mark and I climbed the hill steadily. It wasn't as fast as I would have liked, and we barely gained anything on those in front of us, while a team came through and past. 
2 more teams, who had obviously set off too fast were now paying for it and we caught them, but the Pennine group remained elusive. I chugged a gel, and we hit the top, turned, and followed the crowd back down the hill to the next checkpoint. 
Single track, bracken on both sides, and very difficult to overtake anyone. I tried, but there was only ever enough space for one person in a team to overtake, leaving the other half to be frustrated behind the overtakee.... Not wanting to be separated from Mark, I slowed down, and we passed through the dib point together. 

Left, and up the clough. A number of route options were being taken here, some staying high, others crossing the clough early, some late, what to do? Most important was to make a decision. Neither of us had reccied the route previously, so it was a take it on sight type thing. We stayed on the true right bank for as long as possible, walk/running along the contour. Others broke right to cross the stream earlier, but we stayed true, and ended up coming out of the clough and hitting the path ahead of one of the Pennine teams, and bang at the same time as the other. 
Another quick route decision saw us not bother with the path, but strike out directly across the moorland, across tussocks and bog for a good while, before finally coming to a fast runnable track that would take us all the way to the top of the hill. 

Finally I was feeling good. The gradient was runnable, it was excellent underfoot, and everyone else seemed to be slowing down. I ran well within myself, stalking the teams in front, and accelerating past them when the path provided the opportunity. Unfortunately Mark was having the same trouble as previously... Limited chances to overtake, and if the opportunity is missed, its a while before you can get past. As we arrived at the next checkpoint, there were 6 of us together, but I was at the front, and Mark was 5th in line, but still in easy communicable distance, so we weren't breaking any rules.
No trouble. Regroup, through the gate, and onto the flagstones into a headwind. 
Mark and I swapped leads up the final part of the hill, taking over as the other tired. Pennine were in close pursuit, and we topped out together, time for the final plunge down. 

I let my legs take me as fast as they wanted to go. The line wasn't the best line, perhaps not the fastest line on the hill, but I made it work. Mark was suffering from a stitch on the way down, but was able to keep in touch, and we passed the gate at the bottom a with a few seconds advantage. Now, just the final section home, just a kilometre or so. This final part of Pendle hill reminds me of cross country when I was a kid, I think its just the terrain underfoot rather than anything else. Mark and I close in on the finish, hammering down hill as hard as we dared, coming in barely a few seconds before the Pennine Open team, having made up a good 2 mins on them. 
I know we don't have a chance to beat them overall, such is the strength of their club, but to regain some of that lost time on our leg felt really good. 

To cool down we headed back up to Pendle hill again, via a steep climb, and came down via leg 4 and were in time to see the lead teams final leg runners battling it out up the hill on the glory leg. 

Overall we came in 36th, the Old gits were 94th and the Babes came in 107th. It was a superb experience to be in the finishing field as our final runners came in, the rest of the team clapping and cheering them on. I couldnt actually cheer, myself, because I got quite choked up, actually. It was great to be a small part of such a lovely bunch of people. 
Even if we did take a ridiculous amount of time working out how to take the tent down....

Thanks muchly to the organisers, well done to Calder Valley for the overall win, and 2nd ladies team as well... What a great day for your club! 
And well done to Pennine v40s, a well deserved silver medal in the category. Superb effort! Well done. 

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Light insulation - Montane Fireball Verso 2015

Montane Fireball Verso - packed up
This time last year I wrote a quick blog about the different options in terms of Fast and Light insulation layers, looking at price point, amount and type of insulation and general packability. This was basically to workout which one I wanted to buy. To cut a long story short, last year nothing was purchased, I made do with what I had.

This year saw the introduction of a number of new insulated tops, a lot of which are reversible, following the somewhat trend setting Inov8 Thermoshell. The idea of this is that on one side you have windproof material, on the other is a wind permeable material and sandwiched between them is a layer of thermal insulation. Most often this ends up being one of the permutations of Primaloft. Extras like pockets and wrist cuffs etc are put on and off each jacket to give options across the market, but ultimately they all seem to want to do the same thing.

My choice was ultimately swayed by price, and perhaps the only reason why I chose a Montane Fireball Verso over the Thermoshell, or the Berghaus Vapourlight Hypertherm reversible and the other options out
there was price. I was able to get the Montane for quite a bit less, so I jumped at it, knowing that at some point this year, there are going to be some grim nights in which I'm going to be running, and a layer like this is going to be quite a necessity.
size small - 237g

The question is, just how warm are these jackets - for running in, and as an emergency warm layer, does the whole reversible thing work, and  is there any point in buying one?

First Impression

Well, I got the "shadow grey" Verso- because the Black ones were out of stock. The first thing I thought was... how do I tell which side is windproof, and which is the breathable side? It certainly doesn't have a massive sign telling you that on the material.
Baffles sewn in - the Hypervent side out - breathable fabric to the fore
One side has baffles sewn into it - and a chest pocket, the other side is baffle-free, and has no chest pocket - it also has Pertex Quantum written on the arms. Aha, a clue.

The windproof material is on the side without the baffles, so theoretically, with that side out, it should be a slightly warmer jacket - the heat building up on the inside will be insulated by the primaloft and the wind shouldn't be able to permeate the fabric to whisk all the heat away, making it a lovely warm micro-climate.

Pertex Quantum side out - windproof.
The opposite way around, with the permeable fabric outer-most (hypervent), should still be warm - like wearing a pertex jacket, but with primaloft on the outside. The heat build up should be regulated by the fact that the wind can blow through the primaloft meaning that although you stay warmer, there is still a wind cooling effect.

Although the 2 options here may seem a little odd if you just want a jacket that keeps you warm as you sit down to make a brew on the hill - you have to remember, this is not what this jacket is made for.
Think fast and light.
As far as I can make out, it is for cold days when you need a certain amount of insulation and element protection, but if using it one way out is too warm, or indeed too cold, you can turn it the otherway out and hey presto - a solution without having to carry another layer.

In this Jacket, the Primaloft used is the new Primaloft Silver - which some people believe is basically the new iteration of Primaloft Eco (Primaloft Gold being, apparently the new iteration of Primaloft One), having said that, Primaloft now have a dizzying array of types of insulation, and to muddle your way through them would probably take too much time, and by the time you've worked out which one is best for your use, it'll be summer again. There are indeed various Clo ratings, but to be honest, I'm just going to get out there and see how it feels. 
Mobility in the top


I'm generally a small in most jackets, and the small in the Fireball Verso is a really good, snug fit. I can get it on over a running top, and it would go over a waterproof as well, but it might require a bit of coaxing. Most likely, if it was that cold on a run, I'd stop and put it on under a waterproof. The fit itself is a good reason not to put on too much weight over the winter - or there is no way I'd get the thing on come January.
Long sleeves and thumb loops

Even though I have the small version, the arms are a decent length, and come right down over my hands. The thumbloops are in the right place, both ways out, and do a good job of keeping my hands toasty.
The only pocket
The pocket is a decent size - you can certainly hold more than just a bar in there, though there are no handwarmer pockets - as previously mentioned, this is very much a piece of clothing for moving in, rather than sitting still. If it was going to be used as insulation for sitting around waiting for a kettle to boil, I'd really rather have something with a little more puff to it - or another layer on top. Equally - it could be used as an emergency layer for getting you off the hill when you have to slow down and need a bit more warmth than just a running top, but I reckon you'd certainly want to be kept moving with it on.

Having said all this, I've really only used it a couple of times so far. It really hasn't been cold enough to try it in anger yet, but its getting colder, and I'll be out and about in it as soon as its got to a decent chill.