As a youngster, I would get home from School, get changed and go out to play with my pals.
Now I'm older, I get home from work, get changed and go out to play with my pals, but now I call it training.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Le Tour

The Tour de Helvellyn was everything I thought it would be and far more besides. Despite a mediocre performance I loved it loved it loved it and will almost certainly enter again in the future......

The forecast in the days leading up to the vent was poor. Constant heavy rain and severe winds, galeforce on higher ground. When I awoke on Saturday I couldnt hear rain outside,and as I mooched about the house eating breakfast and preparing my gear I actually thought it might be dry after all. No such luck. Once I got outdoors I realised it was indeed raining at a reasonable old rate, just not heavy enough to have heard it inside the house. At least the wind seemed negligible.

I collected Wes (Ste Weston) from his house and we made our way to Askham. Its only a 30 min journey so we were there by about 0745, still dark. I knew it would be light soon after 8 though and had planned to begin the run at 0815.

It was actually 0823 when I dibbed the control box and set off out of the hall. I was running with Wes because we were there together, but we hadnt made any plans to stick together for the duration, and indeed by about 30-45 minutes into the day I gradually crept ahead and away from him, as we both expected.

Also starting with us, and therefore running with us up through the village and across toward Ullswater was a lad who it turned out I had met once before, in 2008. Rick Aire was a good friend of Iain Kelly and it was on Iains first BG attempt we had previously met. Rick had completed his own BG in 2012 so I knew he would be a strong companion. Ideal.

Rick was familiar with the route in principal, if not the fine detail, and I like to think he was impressed with my microsecond-saving lines here and there as he eventually claimed 7th place in a fine time of 7hrs 10 mins. Neither of us had read the big map on the table in the village hall though, because at CP 1 (howtown Church) we both ran past the control point and up the church gates. Luckily a runner close behind us knew the location and we saw him dib in on the front railings. 58 minutes to this check was quicker than me and Wes had completed it a few weeks ago, but not by very much at all, perhaps 5 minutes.

Climbing out of the Boardale Valley I noted Penrith Stus car parked at the last farm. Then later on, as we climbed, I saw occasional flashes in the distance. No, he wasnt showing every passing runner his bikini line scars from the recent operation he endured, he was taking photos from near the top of Boardale Hause.... in the pissing rain. Stus photos turned out to be as big a talking point as Kim Collisons win and new course record..... and not cos they were any good.....

The climb up to Boardale also saw a number of earlier starters caught and passed. It felt good to be finally passing people, as we had been passed by two faster runners ourselves already.

I was running in leggings and waterproof overtrousers from the outset. An error. I dont like to wear more than shorts normally, I find anything long tends to fall down slightly as I run so I m constantly hitching them up, and I also feel very encumbered, unable to run properly, especially so with the overtrousers.  So as we descended to wards CP2 at Patterdale I mentioned my plan to stop briefly to take them off. Rick wasnt for stopping at all - he had with him everything he wanted in his bag. So i said I might see him later on.

1hour 41 mins (total, from start) to Patterdale was about 25 minutes quicker than me and Wes had done a few weeks ago - ideal for my planned 7hr schedule.

Faffing about trying to get my overtrousers off over my shoes took an age. Then, in a rush to get my packet of Kinetica energy powder opened to tip into a bottle, I spilled the powder and some flew up into my eyes. Still, perhaps a couple of calories was directly ingested into my bloodstream via my eyeballs as I blinked rapidly to regain vision.

In Glenridding I saw plenty of runners ahead of me. Ideal for catching. They all went in front of the bus stop then left up the main road. A short cut through the carpark and NHS clinic is another of my little favourites and perhaps worth 20-30 seconds saved. I felt much better running now without the overtrousers and felt I was making steady progress up the Greenside road, though I certainly wasnt pressing very hard on the pedals at this stage.

At the YHS where we turn sharp up onto Sticks Pass I could see lots of runners ahead. I also thought I could see Rick in his familiar orange raincoat. But I never caught him. Still on the early steep bit of the climb I was caught by Kim. I was walking, he was running. Not running fast but a nice relaxed looking style that suggested economy coupled with constant forward motion. I think my gait at that time would have been best described as 'speedy but troubled walking, with occasional stumbling and sideways motion'. I sped up and ran with Kim for a while. (15 seconds is long enough to be termed "a while" isnt it? ) Before he got too far away ahead of me  we had passed a group of about 4 or 5 runners. They halted briefly for a discussion about the route and then continue to their right (and flat) where we went left (and up). Pointing at Kim I shouted that 'he won this race last year, and was definitely going the right way'. They remained on their own course so I shouted "this is definitely the right way, I live here". Not to worry. Their path soon petered out to nothing and they scrambled up some rocks and fell in behind us.

Soon after the checkpoint 3 at the Swart Beck bridge the added height made me reach for my gloves which until then had been in my coat pockets, unworn. The top of Sticks Pass was quite gloomy and still icy in patches. It was soon left behind though as the descent to Stannah was enjoyed, and CP 4 loomed.

Thirlmere from the West side
The short section from Stannah to Swirls is little more than a mile as the crow flies. No crows had entered the Tour de Helvellyn this year though, so we all had to use the very awkward path that connects them. It took me 20 minutes to cover this mile and a bit, though I was often held up behind folk and I was also scranning a packet of Hula Hoops along that section too. *other potatoes based snacks are available but if I'm in line for freebies then plain Hula Hoops will be fine - ta.

South from Swirls is the forest road and path, quite straight but with plenty of ups and downs in it. Bearing in mind what Joe says on the course notes on the Nav4 website I had previously reccied the section up left through the trees. That path rejoins the main track and i'm still not sure if it is what was meant by 'do not use the forest track'. On the day hough everyone seemed to stick to the main track all the way, so so did I. I also passed the Ian Charters posse on this section and had a brief walk and chat before jogging on again.

To eat, as well as various bars and gels, I had with me a plastic carton of cheesy bacon pasta, and had planned to eat it while tackling the steep climb of Willie Wife Moor up to Grisedale Tarn. To this end I hadnt bothered to put on my gloves (which I d taken off as the descent from Sticks Pass warmed again), and my hands had gotten  rather cold through the trees. Immediately after the checkpoint at Birkside bridge I left the obvious path and took a beeline through the small copse of trees, then continued in the same line up the fellside. I noted those I had recently passed and plenty ahead who I never caught up to were all still heading South parallel to the main road and I felt pleased to have reccied this section (twice) and saving myself time and distance.

Waterfall up Raise Beck
Eating my pasta was simple enough. I scooped out a big mouthful with my bare fingers, chewed and swallowed quickly then scooped some more. I did this until I'd taken over half from the tub then flung the remainder for the crows to find and squashed the empty pot into my breast pocket. What hadnt been easy whilst eating was climbing up the steep, rock strewn fell. I had slipped and stumbled and faltered when I'd only had one hand so was finally pleased to get rid of my food and get going properly. I needed my gloves on though as my hands were VERY cold now. So I wiped the excess mayonaisse from fingers onto the moss at my feet and as well as reaching for my gloves, I took out two of those chemical reaction hand-warmyuppy things which I had also packed into my jacket pocket. The combination of my buddy fantastic eighty pound gloves PLUS the hand-warmyuppy things created a mini furnace in each glove, and although my hands took an age to feel anything but warm to my brain, the sweat was obviously dripping from my finger ends, because the inside of the gloves became quite wet and therefore unpleasant.

Climbing the fell side I noted two other lads were also intent on the same plan. One of them I never caught as he was either too far ahead or going faster then me. The other lad seemed less sure of his route plan and was veering too far to the right in my opinion. If you go too far right you will 'pop out' onto the steep side of the ghyll which most of the runners used, but you will have to cross several streams, be constantly contouring at an oblique angle, and also negotiate boulder fields (I know this 'cos I made that mistake the first time I went there to recce).  My route sees only one small stream to cross, and although is not good running, I feel it is much bettter than taking the 'safe' option of the valley path which has a number of rock slabs to climb up over.

As I topped out at what I knew to to be the optimum height I could see many others climbing up the valley path to my right. Even once they topped out they would have to make to their left to join the path I was making a direct beeline for. Soon I was at Grisedale Tarn and in the company of lots of runners again as we all headed around to the tarn outlet.....

As soon as the tarn outlet is reached the marked and well established path to Patterdale begins. Thanks to a tip from Berni Gilmartin  I ignored the path and immediately took to the grass between said path and the stream. If you stopped to look down the grassy line you might be concerned about meeting steep drops or somesuch. But in fact it is excellent running all the way to the sturdy footbridge which then sees the beginning of the track out to Patterdale village.  Glancing back occasionally I noted three lads dressed in identical green/yellow jackets. I had ran with them around the tarn and made no progress ahead of them, but now with Bernis grassy line I was several hundred metres ahead and still gaining as they had to negotiate the awkward path with it s twisty-turny route and tricky rock hopping drops.

I reckon that the two good lines I took up to and then away from Grisedal Tarn got me past at least 40 people, maybe more. Obviously I would have passed many of them anyway as I was faster than 113 people in the event and the majority started ahead of me. But Im still pleased to have reccied and successfully found more of less the best route options for this tough section.

I had left Patterdale CP2 earlier in the day at 1005hrs. In my first recce of the 'loop' I'd taken 3hrs 50 mins. In my second recce I'd taken 3hrs 25 mins . So I hope to reach the CP again before 1330, thus beating the 2nd recce time. It was actually 1331hrs when I got there. One minute longer. This also meant that I had to complete that final leg to Askham in 1hr 50mins to get inside 7 hours for the event. Even though I'd taken about 1hr 42 to do that section on the way out, I knew 1hr 50 was unlikely. But I  also knew that barring disaster I would finish well inside 8 hours, which had been my original target (before I looked up Kims 6:01 from the year before).

The climb up to Boredale Hause was tough on tired legs and I was pleased to be descending into the valley and sighting the road home. I'm pretty sure I saw Rick again high above me too. Once the rocky part of the descent was over I tried to push on and stretch my legs on the good wide grassy track. Then the tarmac was under me and again I tried to capitalise on the gentle downward slope, for I knew that before long I would have to tackle the climb up to Martindale Church, then worse, the long rough drags after Howtown on that shelf above the lake.

It was in the Boredale valley road section I caught up to Berni who was running with Andy Thompson from Eden runners. We chatted briefly and then I naturally eased away ahead of them. But once that climb came I was unable to find the strength to keep running and found myself looking back, sure they would be catching me back up. They did catch me back up - but luckily not as soon as Howtown.....

Once I left the tarmac at Howtown and again felt the rough ground slow my progress I realised I was heading into self preservation mode. I knew I would get to Askham. I knew that even if I walked all the way I would probably even beat 8 hours. But I so so wanted to do better than 8 hours and I forced myself to jog whenever it was flat or downhill. The uphills were just too much though and all I could muster was a strong walking pace thereon. Finally I gave in, stopped completely, had a pee I had wanted since Glenridding (yes about 4 hours of wanting a pee) and ate my last packet of Hula Hoops and finished my drink.

I had scarcely got going again when Andy and Berni caught an passed me. they asked if I was OK and I replied 'yeah I'm just completely wasted". Andy thrust a handful of Haribos into my hand and I gladly polished them off double quick. I also upped my pace slightly and kept pace with them for a few metres. Andy handed me another huge handful of sweets and I crammed them all into my mouth. It mustve taken about 10 minutes to fully chew and swallow them all, but they did the trick, for I then ran all the way back to Askham feeling buddy great and even managed to up my pace for the final few minutes to ensure I beat the 7hrs 30 mins mark.

In the hall my eyes found the soup first, then the seats, then the people. Rick called me over. He had had a great run, well inside the top 10. I wish I'd stuck with him after Patterdale, I reckon we would have ran all the way over Sticks Pass together and then up Grisedale I might even have edged away depending whether or not he had faith in my shortcuts. The checkpoints show he was....
under 2mins ahead of me at CP3 (probably the time it took me to faff on taking my leggings off at CP2)
3mins ahead at CP4 (Stannah)
almost 4 mins ahead at CP5 (Swirls)
less than 2 mins ahead at CP6 (Birkside)
approx 2mins 40secs ahead at CP6 (Patterdale)
just under 5 mins ahead at CP7 (Martindale church)
but then over 17 mins at the finish.
So if we had been together at Patterdale but I still fell apart to the same degree after Howtown I might have been 5 mins faster overall.

No matter. I was 15th fastest, had a great day out - didn't really notice the rain (apart from going up to Grisedale) and continued to learn more about myself as I have  throughout 2012.

Most important of all though is to express my thanks to Nav4 Joe and his team for putting on such a well organised event, especially so close to Christmas when I m sure most people have lots of stuff to do apart from stand around in the rain for 10 hrs plus.


Friday, December 14, 2012

With just inside two weeks to go until the Tour de Helvellyn I took the day off work and took myself up into them there hills for the final long run prior to the event itself.

I drove to Thirlmere and parked in the village hall carpark. I got changed and parked all my gear whilst sitting in the back of the van. As I emerged to begin I noted the 555 bus just leaving the stop opposite the road end..... Would have been V handy to have caught it into Keswick.

So I set off jogging North along the main A591. Its not a pleasant road to run along but at least theres a pavement for most of it and a wide grass verge for the rest, so no issues with vehicles coming close by.

Its a tad over 5 miles to the Keswick town centre and it took us (Scamp was with me) 50 minutes exactly. Not fast, but I was carrying a decent amount of gear and also stopped twice to attend to calls of nature and take photos.

At Keswick I stopped by the Moot Hall and made note of the exact time. Then set off toward Skiddaw. 81 minutes later I was on top of Skiddaw.

Skiddaw was V V V cold and windy and had about 10 metres visibility. I'd slipped and slid around since the first high gate. I didnt put on my Kahtoolah microspikes as I thought it not worth doing so as I would be descending out of the snow and ice soon enough. That was an error. I lost a lot more time after I'd crossed the fence and was going down toward Hare Crag.

Over Hare Crag is always very wet. This time it was partially frozen and I fannied about trying to keep my feet dry by avoiding the deepest, wettest bits where the ice would give under my weight. Of course I got wet feet anyway so may as well have ploughed through regardless. At least I didnt now need to wonder how to keep dry at the Caldew crossing later on.

Living in Cumbria means having to look at this kind of thing on a regular basis!!!

Gt Calva is largely uninteresting. After the summit I dropped down along the fence that naturally brings you to Wiley Gill. I would nomally take a more direct line off Calva, through the heather in a beeline for Mungrisedale Common. I took the fence route just to remind myself of it and now I remember why I dont like it......very steep and rocky, and holding the fence can cut into fingers.

I then took a terrible line across to the Caldew. Struggling through thigh high heather and reeds for a couple of hundred metres to reach the river. Although my shoes were soaked, my tights werent, so I rolled them up (a la uncle at the beach), and waded through. Halfway across I couldnt remember if I had stowed my camera in the drybag or just inside the top of my pack. As I didnt fall in it was of no consequence either way

Climbing up to Mugrisedale common seemed harder and more annoying than I ever remember. The tufty grass was surely never this long in the summer? And the boggy bits seemed to be strung together in a line matching exactly the one I chose.

On the common plateau there was enough height to allow the ice to return. I stopped and rooted in the bottom of my bag for the microspikes. I hadnt worn them once last winter and forgot how buddy brilliant they are. It was like someone had flicked a switch. Where I'd been walking and struggling I was now jogging with ease. No more skirting round the glassiest sections of ice - just run straight over through the middle.

I hadn't been looking forward to being up on Blencathra. Not if that awful wind was present again.
Turns out the day had improved. On Blen' it wasnt that windy at all and the sun was weakly shining through the clag. Near the summit I met an older couple who had come up Sharp Edge!! They had crampons, ice axes etc and were clearly well experienced people. But they were no spring chickens and certainly have more bottle than me for tackling that route in winter.

I left the summit and descended toward Scales fell. Foolishly I missed bearing to my right to gain Doddick and once I realised my error was reasonably far down Scales. I should have climbed back up to the correct path intersection but instead decided I could traverse the steep sided bowl between Scales and Doddick. This was almost certainly slower than if I'd climbed back up. At times, the only reason I was able to progress at all was due to my footwear getting a good hold in the small pockets of snow that remained on this South facing hillside. Anyway, eventually I got myself onto the proper Doddick path and descended to Threlkeld village.

On my drive through that morning I had stopped down the track to Newsham House and left behind some food and drink, stashed away by some sleepers at the roadside. The savoury snack was buddy delicious, as was the milkshake. I began the ascent of Clough Head feeling great. I wasnt covering the ground particularly fast, but 61 minutes to Cloughy is just a little over the slowest BG schedule, and of course you would normally take 5-15 minutes stop at the A66 on a BG, where I spent probably just  2 mins getting my stash and putting away my spikes.

Putting away my spikes was an error. When will I learn? The descent off Clough Head toward Calfhow Pike was very icy, but also easy to avoid slipping by keeping wide of the main path where it was more grassy. As soon as the climb up to Gt Dodd started, the ice and snow was again a real issue. I reached the summit of Gt Dodd some 6 minutes slower than the slowest BG schedule and finally I stopped and looked out my spikes again.

Looking West from nr Calfhow Pike

Immediately leaving Doddy I was unable to walk properly. The snow was about 10 inches in depth and frozen. But not frozen enough to stop me breaking through with 8 out of 10 steps. This was not only then pitifully slow, but also hurt quite a  lot as shins clattered against the unbroken sides of the holes made by feet.

I decided enough was enough and didnt bother visit the next two Dodds summits. I probably wouldnt have found them anyway. The only way I could tell where I was at all, was to peer across to my left until the steep drop into Browndale Beck ended, then the drop on my right to Stanah Gill began. I also kept an eye on the compass to check I was going South, as I reckon it would be very easy to run in circles in such conditions.

Finally I reached Sticks Pass and headed West to drop into Thirlmere. I got back to the van at 1650hrs, having set off at 0910. I reckon it was probably 24/25 miles in total. Certainly the longest 'winter conditions' run I have ever done. Hopefully it will serve as good training/experience for the TdeH next weekend, and who knows, maybe for something longer in 2013......

Sunday, December 9, 2012

a la'al race

Because I'd already planned to do a long run on the Monday, (more on that later) I figured a race would be ideal training for the Saturday.

Kendal cross country was on, so I went along there to test my fitness.

Noting I am usually in about 40-50th place in the Mid Lancs XC meetings I reckoned top 75 would be acceptable on this occasion due to having done so little intense training in favour of all the long stuff over the fells.

I also was aware my achilles might flare up badly if I went crazy fast too soon so I deliberately started well away from the front line with the intention of picking up the pace once I was properly warmed up.

I only got about half way round lap 1 (of 4) when I grew tired of running under my ability. I pushed on much harder and constantly picked people off until about the end of lap 3 when my legs started to feel heavy. I still caught and passed a couple more in the last lap though and I was delighted to finish in 37th place from just over 200 starters.

In fact I enjoyed the whole thing  so much that I think I might do some more XC this winter. Yeah my achilles still hurts all the time but its not unbearable, so I may as well keep running, training and racing at the highest level I can while I still have what is obviously very good fitness.

Thanks to Gareth for the photos