Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Isle of Wight Fell Race Series 2016

In Terry Pratchetts Discworld, the Witches of Lancre and surrounding areas believe that you can only bring a Witch up on solid rock. "You can't make a good Witch on Chalk". In much the same way, there are a number of people who probably say, you can't have a good Fell Race on Chalk.
Tiffany Aching
Claire pic of me - before the stitch....
proved the Witches wrong. I reckon Ryde Harriers might have a good go with this series as well.
Its been about 15 years since I first heard of the Isle of Wight Fell Race Series. Given that I was born and grew up on the Isle of Wight, and still didn't know about it until I had moved away should give you an idea of either how unpublicised it is, or in fact, how little running I did as a kid.

(the latter is the more true).

Finally, 2016 was the year I got to go home and run 3 races in 2 days.
The basic premise of the series is that there is pretty much one hill on the Island that is big and ugly enough to make a decent hill race, and it is that hill, St. Boniface Down, which provides the amusement for the 3 races.

Saturday starts with registration, a bit of a wander around, and making sure I know where the final sprint will occur on the races, and where each of them goes in terms of the first part of the hill- the races all go through the town of Ventnor before heading up the hill.
Number got and pinned on, time wasted and wandered around Martin and I made our way to the start of the first race which is on the Seafront. All 3 races start from the same place. The atmosphere at the start was a little odd for a fell race. There were about 4 clubs with massive turnouts who all stood around in very separate groups, no mixing or conversation between them. It almost felt like a Crosscountry meet rather than a fell race. But then, maybe I'm a bit more used to seeing people from relatively local teams wandering around taking the mick out of each other and renewing old acquaintance rather than seeing running clubs from London trying to psyche each other out.

So the allotted start time came and we all gathered on the front. The first race is an AS, (short race with a fair amount of climb for the distance). The weather was sunny and there was no kit requirement- brilliant. Nice to see some common sense being used. Unlike most races, there was no pre-amble, there wasn't even a "ready?", there was just a horn being blared and everyone lurched forward with a surprised expression as they tried to start their Garmins.

The route took us round and up through Ventnor, up one of the steepest roads on the Island (tulse hill), and up onto the hill. I managed to keep in the top 20 as we headed up through the town, and got ahead of one or two more before the single track onto the hill started. Uphill along a footpath and some stairs, I began to think that I might overtake a couple more once we hit the open hill, and I was right.
A lot of the guys had gone off hard and were paying for it as the climb steepened. Yes, it was a walking hill for the majority of us, but I have no illusions that the strong guys at the front ran the majority of it. Breathing hard I topped out ahead of 3 more guys and ran around the flatish loop being pursued by them at great speed. (or at least, what felt like great speed). Then came the downhill where I just let go and enjoyed myself, stretching out away from the guys I had been with for a while and overtaking another 3 and getting a final one in my sights for the end.
Down the same path as we came up, round the corner and then I began to open up for a final sprint downhill as I overtook the next one... to find out I had reccied the wrong road! Instead of being a madcap dash downhill for 200m, there was close to 800m of flat and downhill road to go.
Oh dear.

I kept ahead of the one I had overtaken and we closed in on yet another, gradually bringing the distance down, with me thinking... this is a lot lot lot longer than I was anticipating, down to below the level of the finish - the final 30yard to the line was an uphill drag. Round the final corner and a sprint to the end taking another place in the process. 11th overall. Not too bad considering I wasn't going full beans.

Martin was in about 100th place, and pretty happy with that, so we sat around for the next few hours, ate lunch, had an icecream (should have had a beer really, just for the look of the thing). A number of the Overners decided to hit the sea and generally do the tourist thing, which is all well and good, but we had a nap.

Race 2 started at 3pm. Quite late on, considering the first race barely took 20 mins to finish. This race was a BM. A bit further (12km, to the mornings 4km) and with just over 400m of ascent. Again, there was no kit requirement, but also a warning that there was no water on the way around. Once more, Martin and I went to the start, where we met up with Jeremey and Pam from Totley who were happily mooching around, Pat having been first V60, V50 and V40 lady that morning in the AS.
The race started soon enough, in much the same way as it had this morning, except with the addition of a "ready?" before the hooter.
Off up the same roads through Ventnor, a little slower than in the morning, it has to be said. Up onto a different path this time, and up a slightly steeper hill - again more overtaking until I was in about 12th place, running with the same 2 guys from the morning. Not too bad, I was thinking. Keep it steady.
The route wended its way to the top of the Down and down across the back of it. We ran pretty much as a three, it was pacey, I had the best of them on the downs, they had the best of me on the ups. Not only that, but Claire, a Glossopdaler who happens to live on the Island was there to take photos and cheer us on (until her voice gave out). Thanks Claire!
Unfortunately I decided I was going to push it a bit on the way out to the halfway mark and ended up overstretching... As the distance between me and them got larger, so did the stitch. Dammit.

Heading down to the dismantled railway I pulled up and let them past me. Running was becoming painful and I let another couple past at the gate. More still poured past as we went along the railway to the final ascent. The combination of shortening my stride and slowing down considerably meant that the stitch was slowly receding, but there was no question of being able to run hard or fast. Another person went past as we went over the stile to go up the hill.
And then everyone started walking.

Even at the slow pace dictated by the slowly easing stitch, I was able to re-take some positions, and continued to do so up the slope, through the wood and the stairs (some runners were doing this race in non-studded road shoes... an ok idea for some of the terrain, but certainly not for going through muddy woods). Up onto the top of Luccombe down. Ahead of me - far too far ahead I could still see the 2 guys I was originally running with. Between us were about 8 runners, and now the Down was flattening out, their road running ability was swaying the balance back to them. I battled on, only catching up with one other. Claire was there on the way back as well, and then came the final downhill.
A rather arty picture by Claires friend, Ian Dyer.
The same as this morning. I knew not to go too hard because that would just set off the stitch again, but I also knew that I only needed to go at a relatively sedate pace (for me) and I would not only keep my place, but I would end up increasing my lead on those who were just behind me.
True to my thinking, I hit the road (now knowing exactly where the final sprint was going to come, thanks to this mornings minor palaver!) with plenty of time over the guys behind me, and no-one really to chase in front. So a somewhat easy bimble to the end saw me finish in a slightly disappointing 17th. (don't get me wrong, its not like this is a disaster, its just a bit annoying that the stitch occurred because I wanted to go faster downhill... I should have known it was going to happen and held back a bit, then I might have ended up 10th or 11th. Ah well).

Home for tea etc. Then back out to the wilds of Ventnor on Sunday morning for the final race of the series. The CL- 20km or so with 487m of ascent. Martin and I were standing at the start, and who should turn up but Andy Wilkins! Aha! 3 Glossopdalers in a race on the Isle of Wight, finally, enough for a team! (not that we counted as getting anywhere near enough points, but there you go).
Again with this race no kit requirements, so the road runners were very happy indeed. Again a lot of the runners were out in road shoes, which is fine for a lot of the course, but there are bits of it where it wouldn't be such a great idea. The start was a little different, and it was very much like the start of a 10k. Flat out along the seafront for a couple of km before a right turn away from the sea and up the hill. A mass of people went out hard and I recognised them as people that I had definitely beaten the day before, even with a stitch. Should I be worried? Well, I figured it would be a decent run out anyway, and not wanting to do the same thing with as yesterday I decided to really run within myself just enjoy it. Worried? Not at all.

We rounded onto the first hill and a couple of runners went backward. Up and over the road and one of the guys I was running with the day before was in front of me... going too fast? Not sure, but just take it easy. The downhills were pleasant, the uphills were gradients that I could run, and the flats were where I really lost time on other runners. Not to worry, I was pushing myself a bit on the ascents, because that was the time I could really make myself out of breath without worrying about a stitch. Gradually a few people got overtaken, we went through the halfway point where my family were standing cheering us on. I downed a gel as we hit the dismantled railway, and then proceeded to go backwards as various flat-skilled runners proceeded to cane it past me.

Not to worry, the hill was coming soon. Having done it yesterday I knew the speed it could be taken at, where to run and where not to. I blasted up with a bit of speed, overtaking through the wood and the stairs, and onward to Luccombe Down. Another 2 fell by the wayside as they couldn't open a gate (ok, I was only about 5 metres behind them and closing, but their inability to open a gate slowed them down to allow me to teach them how to open one, and also how to get through first). Over onto the top, worrying all the time that the guys behind me were closing me down on the flat, but it seemed the hill had taken more out of them than they thought, and a final pelt down the hill to the road run in.
I knew I was being chased all the way as I'd had a conversation with someone earlier about how they loved the downhills - he was going to be quick, and he took about 50m out of me on the descent. It wasn't enough. We closed down another person on the run in and I had plenty of time to chill out before a final sprint to the end where I was *not* going to get beaten to the place. 14th overall and 13th for the series.

It has to be said, it was a great weekend away, (even though it was a weekend at "home" for me). The races were very well organised, and although slightly trail-y they are still pretty challenging.
Great fun, thanks to all the marshals and to the race organiser.

Results here, and massive congrats to Pat Goodall from Totley for being first V60, 50 and 40 in each of the races and the champs, and for beating the current V60 record. Nicely done!

Monday, 19 September 2016

Crosskeys Road and Fell Relay - 2016

the team. Ian, Andy, Steve and Me
It all started when one of the Hunks couldn't make it. Phil Swan was off down south for the weekend doing the Equinox run with family and friends, leaving the other 3 Hunks in Trunks, Ian Oates, Andy Burnett and Steve Crossman, high and dry with no-one for the 4th leg of the relay.
Admittedly, 3 years ago Steve and Ian did 2 legs each, but they are getting on a bit now and wanted to share the beer with someone else. And so I got the shout from Ian, would I like to be a part of the legendary Hunks in Trunks team for the Cross Keys Relay?

Considering that I'm coming back through various niggles at the moment, a short blast on the hills, not in a pack, but essentially time-trialling it (I was to be on the 4th leg), for only 4km and with the bonus of finishing at a pub with some excellent recovery beverages on tap I leapt at the chance.

Phil, although not there in person, was there in spirit as I had to borrow a pair of quite amazing bermuda shorts for the race. None of mine were quite horrendous enough, but the pair I borrowed more than made up for any deficit in racing performance.

Ian started off the day with the road leg. 2 circuits of the considerably hilly course. A drop down from
Ian at the top of the hill on the first lap
the Cross Keys, and then a steady climb, followed by even more of a climb before dropping back down to the pub. I have no idea how many teams there were in the race, but Ian kept in a solid 15th or so place throughout his double circuit, no doubt inspired by the shouts of encouragement and abuse from Steve and me.
Ian showing the effort on the second lap.
A knackered Ian ran into the changeover point and tagged Andy to head off on the second leg - the fell leg. There is only a single circuit for the fellrunners, so we didn't get to see Andy on his way around, and instead chatted to Ian as he slowly recovered before heading to the bar for a pint of well earned Gold, buying Andy's in the process as well, ready for his return.

At the sharp end of the race a lad from Holmfirth Harriers stormed around the fell course in a quite frankly ridiculous 18minutes, putting his team firmly in the lead. Andy took a while longer, but he didn't give his pint time to get warm and was soon tanking down the hill to pass on to Steve for the second road leg.
Andy Flying off the hill to hand over to Steve

Andy calmed down and supped his pint as Steve legged it out around the hilly course, chasing after a fair few teams in front of him. I was still standing around in horrendous shorts getting a lot of funny looks, but I was up next. Steves recent speed work must have been paying off as he overtook about 3 teams on his double lap.
Steve making short work of the hill on his first lap
Standing at the changeover point was interesting as I finally worked out where to look to see when he was coming in, giving me about 30 seconds to get ready for the effort. While I was doing that team after team went through. Some of them were a good few minutes ahead. Andy and I were standing there going... yup, too far ahead... yup, probably too far ahead... might catch them.... might catch them... hmmm. It was looking like it might be a lonely little circuit for me.
Change over to me... lovely shorts. Thanks Phil

Steve came piling around he corner, tagged me, and off I went. Up the road and passed the first guy before we hit the footpath. Nice. A continued upward slope gave me time to appreciate the fact my lungs hadn't yet caught up with the idea of running, and I surged into the boggy bit that Andy had warned me about, noting the dry line on the other side of the wall that apparently the locals always take. Ah! it would be easier over there!

Nevermind, there is another runner up ahead - an overtake before leaving the bog, over a stile and onwards and upwards. In the distance there are 2 more runners- a LONG way up. But they are walking, and for every step I run, I'll be closing the distance.
Hard work all the way up, and I catch the one closest to me after a decent few minutes chase, just as we crest the top of the hill. Try not to stretch too hard on the way down - stitch has been my downfall a lot recently - and further away, now going along the road before the second ascent is the other one that was way ahead of me on the first ascent... oh. and he is chasing another Holmfirth harrier as well.
To the road, and then the second ascent. Trying to keep a decent tempo up as the guys ahead of me slow to a walk... by the time I hit the top it steepens slightly and I'm walking for about 10 steps, before cresting... to a bog. Despite the fact it is well marked, I end up in a grough, splashing through mud and craziness and it takes about 20 seconds to find my way back to the better path.
Splash across the top, and before the Dogleg to turn home, I pass a guy in a harlequin top - the one who Andy and I figured I probably wouldn't catch. Brilliant... the Holmfirth harrier is a good distance away, but always look forward, never look back...

Along the tops and back to the final descent I can feel the distance closing, the descent begins and I make the easy overtake, over a stile, down the narrow path to a stile and the final glorious grass descent. No pain, no stitch, overtaken 6 teams, feeling great.
Andy and Ian were shouting at me from the bottom, so no time to hang about. I hammered to the bottom, passed the dead sheep, and nearly stuffed up the final stile, but no stopping, just a sprint to home and 11th place overall.
Recovery beverage. Jeez. I didn't realise how nasty the shorts were til Ian sent me this photo. I must apologise to everyone at the event!

Sun. Good company. Good beer. Lovely little day out. Thanks for the invite.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Non-racing. Recovery.

Its been a while.
"where have you been? - developed an allergy to racing?" was the question asked of me at Shelf Moor- where I wasn't racing.

No, this year hasn't been the most productive in terms of racing. I had a couple of them booked in, the cash had been spent, and places got  - months in advance, only for me to fall foul of a couple of niggles that encouraged me not to do something silly.

Been doing a bit of this instead.
Yes, the Spine battered me pretty well at the beginning of the year and took me out of running, let alone racing for a good few months. I got fit enough for Jura and Bryce Canyon, and also had Borrowdale and Nevis in the pipeline, however, it wasn't to be.

A badly twisted ankle (3 times in about 10 minutes) on a training run put a complete kybosh on my offroad training leading up to Borrowdale, and I didn't fancy running part way around the Lake district just to go over on the same ankle and have to walk back. I'd much much much rather DNS than DNF.

I did enter Cracken Edge, and again, went over on my ankle - as I had been doing regularly on training runs. Each time it has got less severe, and I think I'm just about back to normal now. However, I did end up with a hip flexor strain after stretching out just a bit too much at the end of Cracken Edge, meaning it was pretty sore to run on for a while - even slowly.

A week of walking a climbing in Skye has helped it get back on track, and I've been steadily building
back up again in terms of distance, and attempting some kind of speed as well. That being said, its the stretch and load of the speed work which is the worst - and until that and the stitch which I seem to be developing recently have been sorted out, I probably won't be gracing the racing arena much.

But why?!
Well. I enjoy running. I know I can get away with a certain amount of distance and speed and be able to run and train the next day and the next week. I can consistently get out and be happy, and while I might not necessarily be improving, I'm not losing fitness due to injury.
Were I to go out racing in the state I am in at the moment, it has to be said that I would probably end up overdoing things, stretching too far and ending up not even being able to run for a few weeks, not even training.
From experience -the beginning of the year, that isn't a good place to be in.
I'd rather be getting out and enjoying myself regular-like, rather than lurching from race to race with my excuses trailing behind me.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Bryce Canyon 50 mile June, 2016

A bit out of the ordinary, this one. Despite the inevitable length of this post - first, a short backstory.
In November, Sam Harrison mentioned the Bryce 50 miler on the FRA forum, asking if it was a nice place to run and if the race might be decent. Lynne, who has been there before said "yes". She then went on and convinced herself to do the 50k version, and me to enter the 50 miler.
When its cold and dark, and you see the lovely pictures of people running around a surreal landscape in the heat of the summer months, you immediately think its a brilliant idea.

2 months later, it seemed like as we had entered the race, it would probably be a good idea to get some flights, a hire car and book a hotel for the night after the race, and that was pretty much it.
June came around, and we headed off to Utah, I'll spare you the details of the packing, the organisation and the flight, and also the days leading up to the event, but suffice to say we had a brilliant time - managed to get in some recces and get an idea of the lie of the land, get used to the altitude (it starts at somewhere around 2300m above sealevel and tops out at about 3000), and the heat (the coolest it got was maybe 19 deg, and the hottest parts of the days were hitting about 32).

So yes- what about the race?

Registration was the day before, based at Ruby's Inn. A couple of tents had been set up on the grass, there were hammocks, pizza, tacos, t-shirts etc. and a whole load of people socialising. The ultra trail running community in the USA is obviously a massively social one and everyone seemed to know each other. I felt a little out of place as I don't have a beard, tattoos or retro looking sunglasses...
Lynne getting her number
However, we registered, picked up a t-shirt and beanie, grabbed a pizza, dropped off our drop bags (there were 5 stations where I could get stuff shipped to) and generally soaked up the atmosphere before returning to the campsite for an early night.
Drop bags
Kicking back in Hammocks
Taking in the atmosphere
Perfect race prep
The 50 miler starts someway south of the finish, down a beautiful valley which is reached by an unmetalled road. To get to the start for 6am, we had to be at Ruby's for 4:30am to catch the shuttle buses, which meant a 3:45am alarm call. When the alarm went off I have to admit that there was a momentary "really? I think I might just stay in bed" thought that went through my head, before everything else just kicked in.

We struck camp and Lynne drove me to the pick up point (her pick up was in the same place, but a couple of hours later, so she was just going to nap in the car til then) where we hung around with a quickly increasing number of racers in the dark, waiting to be told what to do.
Waiting for the buses
Soon enough we were packed onto the various transport, and on our way. The journey down the road was fine, the moon was setting over the ridge we were about to run along, and no sooner had it set than the pre-dawn light started.
Milling around waiting for the start

The start was a little chaotic as we were meant to have been dropped off about half a mile away from the beginning of the singletrack, to allow the racers time to spread out before plunging into terrain where overtaking is a little more tricky. However, the message was not passed along the drivers, so some of us were dropped off in one place, and the other lot at the trailhead. I was one of the lot that had to walk the half mile to the trailhead, but that really wasn't a problem, it was nice to get the legs moving after having been crammed into a bus for the last hour or so.
It was fully light as the start was explained to us, and the race director apologised for the fact that there was now a whole 50 metres before the singletrack instead of a half mile, and that we should probably sort ourselves out accordingly.

I started behind a line of particularly athletic looking specimens, but ahead of the vast majority of the pack, figuring that even if I started out at a pace that was too fast, before long we'd be back on a forest road where I could slack off the pace a bit and fall back to an appropriate speed. As it was, the guy said GO bang on 6am, or was if 630? I have no idea, and we surged off into the woods.
Perhaps surge is too strong a word. We ran towards the woods, and I was a bit astonished to be the 5th person on the trail as we hit the single track.
Starting dash

Although it was light, it wasn't bright enough to have sunglasses on yet, nor really bright enough to take photos. We ran down the single track, twisting and turning through the trees. At some point I overtook a couple of people, and a couple of others overtook me, because as we hit the first rise of the day on the forest road there were 3 people ahead of me, and only 1 of them had been ahead of me at the beginning of the forest.
Morning hills
Behind us, the sun was rising above the horizon providing some amazing shadows. The ever-so-slight chill of the morning was beginning to lift and the promise of a hot day tinged on the skin. Above us, the sky was massive and blue, with barely a cloud to be seen. It was going to be a good day.
Glorious sun rise
Views like this.... and only been going for an hour!

The first few miles beyond the forest single track that we plunged into at the beginning were mostly uphill on forest roads. Big wide tracks that were very runnable. I was keeping my speed to what seemed like an intelligent pace, and concentrated on taking photos and generally having a bit of a look around me.

So yes, I was in 4th place, and fairly comfortable, chilling out and enjoying myself. The track became single track, then double track again. It was comfortably cool, and as you ran around the corner to see a new view, the coolness of the air hanging above the creeks and streams washed over you, a lovely refreshing coolness that revitalised everything.
Woodpeckers were drilling into trees, and it was beautifully still, it was just me running and wondering if I was going too fast, too slow, or what was going to happen with the rest of the day.
Single track through a meadow

Very quickly I passed the first aid station. I'd been going for 50 mins, turned a corner, and there it was. My number was taken- it was pinned on my shorts and the officials appeared to have absolutely no trouble reading it whatsoever- and I ran on without even breaking my stride.
Aid station 1
The day was slowly getting warmer, and I began tucking into my food. We were unable to get hold of my normal race food, so had been experimenting with the various offerings in america for the past week, and so tucked into some type of random oaty energy bar thing.

The next few miles continued on without too much worry. The ascents were very runnable in comparison to anything in a fell race - decent gradients, solid underfoot, and it wasn't too long before I caught up with the guy in 3rd place, and gradually overhauled him on the next upward grind as he opted to walk. At this point I was really hoping I wasn't overdoing it too much. The theory generally expounded is that you should run the flat bits and the downs and walk the ascents, that way, when you've been going for 40 miles, you can still move at a decent pace. I was running everything because it felt pretty good, and was really hoping that I wasn't cruising for a complete breakdown later in the day.
It was cool now, anyway... best to run while its cool and get a decent amount of mileage under the belt before the heat really set in.... right?
Aid station 2

Not too long later I came across my first 100mile racer of the day. The guys on the 100miler had set out 24 hours before us, and had essentially run the 50miler from North to South, and then turned around and ran it back the other way. I came across a lady sitting in the middle of the path looking dazed.
I stopped to chat to her, she said that she had lost her way and had been wandering around lost for a while and was she in the right place? Yes indeed. I made sure she had food, and was eating it, had water, and was drinking it, and could see the tags in the trees that showed the trail going in the right direction. She said she was ok and told me to go on... reasoning that there were 150 other runners at various speeds behind me who would be doing exactly the same thing as me, I took her at her word and carried on, making a mental note of her number and location to tell the next aid station.
Ah. Cool breeze. A single track to run on. Being allowed to pin my number on my shorts. The simple pleasures.
I mean really. You have to take time to stop and stare.
Blubber Creek Aid station

The sun rose higher into the sky and the miles ticked off. Food was consumed and landscape was gaped at. Forests, grand vistas, hoodoos and all kinds of amazing things popped up as I scooted along the trails. I hit the next few checkpoints in a bit of a dream, making sure that they knew about the runner I had seen previously.

All of a sudden I hit Blubber Creek aid station - 24 miles in, maybe after about 3:40. I felt fine and hadn't really eaten a massive amount or drunk much either. However, this was one of the places where I had a drop bag, so I filled up my 500ml bottles, one with water, the other with Nuun, (I still had another 500ml in the back of the pack as well which hadn't been touched), picked up some replacement food, and carried on.
Leaving Blubber Creek
The guys ahead of me were a good 10 mins up, and I figured I wouldn't be seeing them for the rest of the day. It was still astonishing that I was in 3rd, and was well aware that there were runners behind me, so was expecting to be caught up and passed at any time. Not really a problem I was just enjoying the day out, and taking it at my pace, taking photos and videos and generally going "woooow"! a lot.

Things were hotting up, and I was now running directly north. Not only that, the terrain was becoming more undulating and I was resorting to walking some of the ups a bit more, but still very much relishing the downhills. There were a couple of moments where I was concerned that a bit of a stitch was developing, but kept the pace down so that it came to nothing.
3 more 100 milers were passed, none of them looking particularly great. They had been going for more than 28 hours by this point, and I know what that feels like. I stayed with each of them for a few mins, checking they had food, water, and knew where they were and what they were doing, taking notes of numbers and positions for the next aid station. However, it was a long way to the next aid station.... a good hour or more at a decent pace.

Down up, around and some more astonishing scenery, and all of a sudden there was a bloke with a race number running towards me... how odd. Maybe he was a rescue guy for one of the 100 milers that I had seen recently?
He asked if I had just come from a checkpoint... well, yes, but about an hour and a bit ago.... ah.  Turns out he was a 50k racer who had missed a turning and was following the wrong streamers, and had been for the last 30 mins. Poor guy!
I turned him back, and the other person that had followed him, and followed them back up the hill, overtaking the slower one in the process.

Up a hill, and and fair few more twists and turns, and then a massive coming-together of trails. The 50 mile and the 50k, which previously followed different trails, met (this was the turning the guys had idea how), and from this point on, followed a common trail to the end.
Lynne and I knew this, and we figured that she would be somewhere amongst the slower runners in the 50k, and I would be somewhere along the faster of the 50 mile, therefore, we'd probably meet at some point along this 30k section.

As I pootled my way along, overtaking what seemed like the tail end of the 50k runners, my running solitude now over, I noticed how enthusiastic about everything the trail running community are. We exchanged mutual "Good Job" comments, and generally egged each other on. Soon enough I noticed that the runners I was passing seemed pretty decent, fit and to be going at quite a pace. As I was still (somewhat astonished) to be 3rd, I began wondering.... am I going too fast? Have I passed the meeting point of the trails before Lynne even managed to get there? She was worried that she wouldn't make the cut off.... oh crikey, I hope she hasn't been timed out....
Catching up with some 50k-ers

On I ran, glorious trails. More food, and then... oh dear. I'm really running low on water. The nuun bottle was out, the other bottle was gone, I was sucking on the last few drops of the 500ml salomon soft flask I had bought along as a spare. Not good. The sun was really bearing down on us now, and it was pretty much impossible to eat anything without having a gulp of water. Dehydration was beginning to become a potential issue, and although I knew that the aid station wasn't going to be too far ahead (the confluence of trails was only a couple of miles before Proctor aid station at my 32 mile mark), I didn't really know just how far I had to go.

Through a massive meadow type thing, and what should I see ahead? An Inov8 bag... only one person in the race is going to be wearing that. As I jogged up behind Lynne I started singing, she asked how I was, where I was in the race and how things were going. I said third, so she basically said.
I recognise that runner!

There was a possibility that if I was going fairly averagely, we would join forces when we met, and just enjoy ourselves together along the trail, but if I was going well, then I'd just forge on. 3rd place? That doesn't happen often! Lynne was looking strong, and told me it was little more than a mile to the next aid station, so I didn't ask her for any spare water. I can do a mile with no water, so ran on through to Proctor, getting there in about 5:40.
Lynne catching me up at Proctor aid station

Previously I had been only the 3rd person through each aid station, and they were beautifully calm scenes, with a few volunteers milling around. Proctor was different. 50k runners had been coming through for a while, and it was basically a massive bun-fight. Crowds of people getting food laid on by the race, watermelon, potatoes, energy bars, other stuff... I just wanted to fill my water bottles and go, but it still takes time when you have 3 soft flasks to fill.
Only just managed to get them filled and back in my bag when Lynne turned up at the aid station as well. A short conversation, and then I was off up the horrendous climb out of Proctor.

After a short time I noticed my back getting wet.... damn it, the Salomon soft flask I filled and put in the back must not have been done up tight enough. Power walking up the hill, passing 50k-ers all the way I took off my pack to get it out and sort it.
Seems tight.... thats weird.
Put it back.... still getting wet - odd.

Took it out again, and.... ah. There is a tiny hole in the side of the flask. Great. Im in the middle of a 50mile run, its 30 degrees or more and 1/3 of my water supply is compromised. The Ultimate Direction soft flasks.... still going great. The salomon one, on its first race outing fine for one filling, now pretty much useless. Thanks Salomon. Thats Freaking brilliant. Between here and Thunder mountain aid station I have 15k, and then 14 to the end, and the temperature is just going to get hotter, and the shade more sparse.
Drink intelligently, thats the only thing I can do. A litre of water for each section, we'll see how it goes.
Getting hotter

The run over to Thunder Mountain was pretty decent. More ups and downs. More cicadas chirruping in the trees. Dusty underfoot. Bits of dust and sand had been getting into my Terraclaws since the beginning of the race and I could feel the sand building up around my toes. However, I had been in 3rd for the past few hours of the race and there was no way I was going to stop to get a bit of sand out of my shoes. The uphills were certainly feeling a bit harder now, and I was walking them rather than running, and it was more of an effort to get running along the flats too.
More 50kers were passed, along with a good number of 100 mile racers, one of whom told me that the guys in 1st and 2nd in the 50 mile race were about 30 mins ahead of me, and looking strong... fine by me, its almost like they're in a different race!

My water management strategy was working and I jogged into Thunder Mountain aid station, just on my last few drops in about 7:30.
It was ridiculously hot now. We had maybe 15k to go to the finish, but the vast majority of it was uphill. I knew this, but really didn't appreciate just how MUCH uphill there was. By the time you've been running this long in this amount of heat, food is the last thing you want, especially as it turns to dusty clag in your mouth.... more water was needed to wash down nutrition, but with only a litre of carrying capacity, that was going to prove interesting over the last few miles.

I filled up the 2 remaining soft flasks that didn't have holes in, took a gulp of water, didn't even bother looking for my other drop bag, I still had plenty of food left, and started up the hill out of Thunder Mountain. Long and horrible (but not nearly so bad as the one out of Proctor). As I topped out I noticed one of the other guys near me had the same colour number as I did... he was a 50 mile racer as well.... had he caught me up? Was he one of the guys ahead of me and had crashed and burned? Was I in 2nd now? Was this the fight for 3/4th? I had no idea, and didn't really want to ask, so surged on as best I could.
There comes a time where you think... surely not up THAT?! Yes. Up that.

Things were beginning to hurt now, and the uphills were made considerably harder by the sun beating down on us. My watch was reading 35 degrees, I could feel the sunburning through the sun protection I had put on at the beginning of the day, and was very very glad I had opted for the t-shirt rather than the vest. My cap went from shading my eyes to the back of my neck, to my eyes again, and there was no way I could have even thought about racing without sunglasses.
My pace began to slow, and the uphill took its toll.
Red canyon. Amazing. But doesn't distract you enough from the heat and the pain.
We ascended for 2km straight, toiling up through a spectacular canyon of Red rock and hoodoos. Other people I passed were remarking that the 50k they were doing was certainly one of the slowest they had ever done in a race, all I was thinking about was the guy behind me, and if I was 2nd or 3rd...  I just needed to keep going at the fastest speed I could.

We got to the most amazing scenery at about 42 miles in.... I almost wished I had only done the 1/2 marathon so that I could properly take it in and enjoy it. Single track running through desert spires and hoodoos, with massive drops on either side. An unreal geography made all the more spectacular by the fact we were racing through it.

 (though by this stage I wasn't really giving racing all that good of a name... plodding as I was).
High desert like trails

Up, up and still up. Towards the final 4 miles, I was passed by a 50 miler... the first time I had knowingly been passed by anyone today. I patted him on the back and wished him well, he was going much more strongly that I was, and there was no way I was going to keep up with him considering my meagre water supply, and the state I was in... I could have tried for about 1k before it would have broken me.
Any videos I was taking now were just videos. There just wasn't enough water for me to talk and then get back on terms with running again....

So now I was certainly in 3rd... maybe 4th? No idea, and to be fair, I didn't actually care. The heat was getting to me and the final few miles were in sight. The only problem was, the final few miles go around fingers of land, out and back, out and back, not only that, but up and down, gradually gaining more height. It dawned on me that I had seriously underestimated this final section. I had no real idea how far I had yet to go, and was down to literally my last 3 gulps of water.

Each headland we went around I convinced myself it was the last one.
It wasn't. Looking at my GPS trace I count 9 of them, only about 4km in total, but it was totally soul destroying. There were moments where I thought about just sitting down. Just stopping. Just not going another step further.
But if you do that, its going to take a much longer time to get to the finish.... not only that, but you'll have to get there on foot anyway. A helicoptor certainly isn't going to come and get you, so you might as well get to the finish as fast as possible. And that means one foot in front of the other.

By now I was getting into a bad state. There are no photos as I really didn't have the energy or willpower to get the camera out... everything was going into getting to end in the most expedient way possible.
After what seemed like an eternity I turned a corner and there was the roadhead. I know this bit. Its a mile to the end.
Not only that, but there was a box of ice, a cooler of water, and iced cans of fizzy drinks. Am I hallucinating?!
I stuffed a couple of ice cubes down my top, grabbed a can of coke and stuck it in a pocket, filled a soft flask... no I must not be hallucinating, turned, and with renewed energy and vigour set off down the road, sucking in the water at a rate of knots. Better not drink the coke as I don't actually know what it will do to me.... best to shake it up now as I run to flatten it off for when I finish.

Down the road, down towards the finish, and as I come in through a few people clapping someone shouts "Well done! Third!"
Really? Really, really?
I stumble over the finish line and wander to the cool tent where they are giving out cold drinks and ice. There are people everywhere, eating drinking and sharing stories of the day... all I want to do is sit down and cool off. Ive been running for the last 2 hours in 42 degrees conserving a litre of water. I feel broken.

Soft flask full of ice on the back of my neck, I chug a water, a coke, a sprite, a mountain dew and another sprite in quick succession and slowly begin to feel better. Wandering around I meet up with Sam Harrison who ended up running the 50k, find my drop bag and get changed, and have a pizza- the complimentary food at the end.
Feeling mangled. Elated. But mangled.

My prize is a rather fantastic Navajo made pottery vase which I pick up along with a finishers pottery mug, and we sit in the sun, conversing with strangers about the shared experience of the day.

A while later, Lynne runs into the finish, looking in much the state I did a couple of hours before. Having been there, I do much the same for her, and we sit, in the sun, contemplating what a great day we've had.

Thanks so much to the organisers and the volunteers of this superb race. It took us along paths and trails that, as foreign visitors, we would never have been on without the race. We pushed ourselves, and enjoyed the entire experience. I'd certainly do it again, and this time am well aware of the final few miles.

Things learned...
Clifbar Shotblocks are brilliant food in hot races. I should have had more of them.
Eating clifbars in the heat is like trying to chew on dry mud.
Having a bottle of Nuun and a bottle of water is a great idea.
Inov8 terraclaws work well in America. (tried the x-talons a few days before and the rubber is just too soft; the grip gets annihilated).
Salomon soft flasks are shite and puncture in the middle of races for no reason.
Don't worry about what others are doing, just run a pace you enjoy, and keep it going.
When running in America, if you pass someone, or if someone passes you, say "good job".
In your final drop bag of the race, its a cunning plan to have a carb drink mix so that you can still be taking on energy without the need for attempting to eat... I should have done it, but didn't and its certainly something I'll consider in the future.

And in case you're interested, here's the strava file.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Jura Fell Race 2016

I had 2 main aims for this year. Finish the Spine Challenger, and then get a Sub-4 hour Glass at Jura. Coming off the back of 3 hard races last weekend, I thought I'd be recovered and fit, however, I think I underestimated just how hard the races were, and how much effort I put in. A short run up to James Thorn on Tuesday ended up with me getting about 2km along the trail, sitting on a rock, looking at the view and then trotting back home.
Nothing in my legs at all. Nothing.

Roll on Friday morning and a phantom ache had appeared in my lower right back/glute. Psychosomatic. It has to be. I haven't done ANYTHING to make it ache. Nothing that sitting in a car for 7 hours can't fix.

Description of ground (I think you can blow that up enough to read)
Across to Islay on the Calmac ferry, then to Jura, and across the way we could see the top of the Paps shrouded in cloud. Nothing too horrendous, but enough to make me a little nervous. Yes, I've run the race before, but as for knowing the lines off the hill... no, not a chance. I vaguely know where I'm meant to be going (down), but the specifics.... not so much. Not to worry, the race isn't until tomorrow, so it was time to think about other things like renew old acquaintances, and pass the evening in the company of friends.

Looking back on the way to Pip2
Race day dawned pleasantly and the somewhat crowded house gradually came to life. We all got registered and kitchecked, and hung around chatting about lines on and off the Paps, timings, hopes and concerns. My lower back niggle had all but disappeared, the sun was out, and things were beginning to warm up, some cloud still clung to the tops though.
Soon enough we were in the start pen and then in a stampede of mudclaws and walshes, we headed off up the path and onto the fell. Well, bog.

Through the bog, which was mostly spend following other people, assessing whether they were going upto or beyond their knees in various places. Ahead of me the field was stretching out a little, this being a Scottish Champs race, a fair few decent names had turned up, and the guys at the sharp end were making their speed known. I fell in at about the same speed as Jasmin and we slowly worked our way up through a few of the guys that had started off a bit too hastily and weren't able to sustain the speed.
Up onto the first Pip, I checked my watch, about 36 minutes. Pretty much on schedule for a sub4, which was good. Jasmin had shot off ahead and I was chasing Konrad down the hill, whilst looking across the the Paps, which still had a bit of cloud encircling the tops. Not too much to be worried about, I hoped.

Down and up onto the second Pip, I grabbed a quick swig of water from Gwyn who was walking the route and had set off an hour or so prior to the start. Jim Mann came floating past, setting a decent pace up the hill, catching up and overtaking Jasmin. At the top he began to head north until Jasmin mentioned to him that it might be a slightly more cunning idea to head west along the ridge, unless he wanted a really long day out... 
I passed Konrad before the top, and then a fairly speedy run off with Jasmin and Jim helped with putting some distance into the guys that were now behind us. The 3rd Pip passed without too much bother, but with a variety of lines being taken onto it from the ridge, and then a lovely downhill section to the gap between Pip3 and Pap1, which is mostly a fairly decent trod with a bit of bog.
One of the few times Jasmin was behind me going uphill

Onto the first Pap of the day, up the "green line" of the stream where a lot of people were getting water. I wasn't entirely thirsty at this point, but had a swig of my bottle anyway, and thought that as the race was an hour old I should probably have something to eat, so worked my way through a fake Mars bar while turning my legs over up the hill. Despite all the hill reps I have been doing, this was still hard. The Pips do a great job of softening up your legs, and by the time you get here, a fair amount of climb, certainly a lot more than most Peak district races, has already been done.
The climb, as ever, went on for a very long time, and I managed to keep in touch with most of the people that had been around me at the bottom. We each dropped a tag off at the top with the marshals who recorded our numbers before heading a little along the ridge and then dropping off down the scree path. My legs were pretty tired by now, and I was beginning to get a bit of knee pain - mainly from muscular effort rather than from anything particularly sinister. A stitch was also beginning to develop, which might end up being a bit of a problem.
2 Paps, from, oh, I have no idea where.

I kept the speed down on the descent, figuring that to overdo it now might mean a slightly faster descent, but would certainly mean paying for it in a big way later. If the beginnings of the stitch were showing now, then the run down the road at the end was already promising to be uncomfortable...

The loose scree was particularly fun as it cushioned my feet as I cruised down taking a few places. Jasmin had gone off ahead, evidently feeling a lot better than she had done earlier in the race. I'd like to say that it was my photography-ing that meant she pulled out the lead on me, but I don't think that's really the case.
The trod off Pap1. or Pap2. Not entirely sure as I wasn't looking back
There was a gaggle of runners just up ahead of me on the climb of Pap2, but I could feel myself losing ground to them. The guys behind me seemed to be making good inroads into me, and there was an overwhelming feeling of just wanting to sit down and not go on. A gel semi-helped me to get my head together, and I forged on, up through the scree. The nice thing was that the stitch didn't affect me uphill, so I was free to go as fast as my rapidly tiring legs allowed.

That being said, I was certainly slowing down a lot here. I vaguely new the splits needed to get around and off the hills to be in with a fighting chance of a sub-4... but killing yourself to hit the splits still doesn't guarantee you to be able to get off the hill in time. We passed a spectator who mentioned that there was now less uphill than down for the rest of the race, which didn't entirely fill me with glee, and continued upward. A left around the buttress and then a ridiculously steep climb, hands on heather and stone instead of knees. The cloud was swirling around, but it was only feathery, not really clag at all. The group ahead of me were all but out of sight, and the guys behind had caught me up. Summiting, and then across the ridge, followed by a drop to the right, down a steep grassy bank that never really becomes the scree-fest that you expect, and down across to the next bog, before that final Pap.

I could feel my right leg beginning to cramp slightly as we began Pap3, which wasn't good - last time I ran Jura that didn't happen until the very last run off. So I swigged a little water and got stuck in, hoping it would go away. It did, and so I set about trying not to lose too many places on this climb. A much less technical climb, (still un-runnable for me in any state), I slogged my way upward. Jim Mann overtook me (again) along with a couple of others, and the climb just carried on going.
Jim Mann ahead of me up Pap3

Hit the top a way behind Jim and another person, and I followed them down a scree path, which was great to begin with, but I got a bit fixated on them, and instead of looking over to my left for another pile to follow, I concentrated on heading down until I overtook them, and then suddenly ran out of runnable scree.
Screes coming off Pap3. Just before running out of runnable stuff.
So I skittered off to the left, doing what I should have been doing anyway, looking out for the runnable lines, eventually finding one, and surfing down, slowly making my way down to the trod. I didn't stuff it up too monumentally, but certainly could have taken a much better line down.
Onto the trod, and now just a run across a moor, up the climb of Corra Bheinn, which took an agonisingly long time.
Splits in my head were coming and going, I wasn't going to get my map to check the numbers, if I did it would simply lose time, and the cramp in my legs would start. So I made my way up the hill with 3 others in close attendance, turned at the top, and looked at the absurdly long run off down to 3 arch bridge.
Looking back to the descent lines from Pap3

The beginning of the run off started promisingly, as I still had a fair amount of water. It got drunk and thrown over my head in equal measure, but slowly the stitch began to encroach and my enthusiasm for descending down tussoky bogland wained. The first stabs of cramp hit my legs, going down the adductors, last time this happened the best thing to do was to keep moving, trying to send messages to the legs that I wasn't going to take any nonsense from them.
It seemed to work for the most part, but at the crossing of the Corran River the insides of my legs cramped spectacularly. Still, not having any of it, I pressed on, with legs cramping. I can't recommend this, as it was ridiculously painful. Running through cramp makes it worse, but there was no way I was stopping. I may have used some fairly strong language, and at one point was reduced to a crazy hopping shuffle through more tussocks, but the sub4 was still on. Through an indeterminable amount of bog and cramp, and then bridge slowly got closer.
I managed to catch up with a couple of the guys that had got slower toward the road and we got over the stile together and went under the bridge to hit the road. I was, for once, quite happy to get to a road as it meant my cramping legs didn't need to be lifted quite so high, and so would cramp less. The
first 2.5km of the road went really well. I felt good, didn't push too hard, and the distance ticked away quite well.

I caught and overtook 2 runners, and then about 2km from the end the whole thing fell apart. The right quad cramped, swiftly followed by the left, then the hamstrings on both sides, followed by a stitch, my speed slowed dramatically from "not a care in the world" to "I can barely walk". I slung the bumbag around my shoulders to take the weight off my tummy, and "ran" crabwise for a while.
The runners that had been overtaken came past as I lurched forward. My watch said I had a decent amount of time before the magic 4 hours passed, and with about 1km to go, Jim Mann cruised past my staggering attempt at forward locomotion.
The run stalled to a walk for 20 paces before I gave myself a talking to and managed to run in to the end, coming in at 3:51:55 or so. Just a tiny bit faster than last time, but looking at my splits, I lost 7 minutes on the road in comparison to then. Thankfully I had quite a time buffer.
Well earned.

My body was totally done in at the end. The journey home hasn't done it any favours either. I can still feel the stitch if I do anything too fast, my quads and adductors still hurt in the same places as when they were cramping. I suspect they just need a bit of rest, and then a whole lot more strengthening.
The stitch thing is a bit annoying as no-one really knows what causes it. There are as many theories as there are people who suffer it, and I suspect that what caused for me a few years ago is not the same as the cause now.
I have, however, got the glass, proof that last time wasn't a bit of a fluke, which is always gratifying. Now I need to sort out this stitch, and the cramping legs and I should be flying.

Results sheet 1
Results sheet 2
Results sheet 3
Thanks so much to the organisers, the marshals on the tops and the people that make this race happen. It really is one of the highlights of the calendar.
John Ryan, eyes on the prize. Well. The pub.
Tim C coming in toward the finish
Relaxing in the sun as others finish their race.
 Thanks also to John H for letting us sleep on the floor of the cottage, John D for the lift up and back, and the Carnethy/Glossopdale Massive (no I don't *just* mean Alex McVey) for great craic and a superb weekend away.