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.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Sitting and thinking

Without a clear plan of how to spend these last Two weeks up to the day I do my Bob Graham Round, I opted to visit an old friend last night - Miss Blencathra.

Last year and early this year I would beast myself up the shortest possible ascent route, from Mousthwaite Comb carpark to the summit via the walkers path including all zigzags. 

As it seems to be commonly held that you should still do plenty of training in a taper period, just not to exhaustion and certainly easing back on the volume, I figured a blast up my favourite route was in order. After all, it would only take 40-50 minutes to go up and down - so about 3 -4 hours less than what Ive been doing most Wednesday of late.

Strong headwind most of the way up meant I was nowhere near cracking 30 minutes for the 2.2 miles. But 33 and a half is good.

I was originally intent on then flying straight back down to test my descending ability and get a non-stop time from carpark to summit and back again. But it was a lovely clear evening so  at the top I stopped to admire the view a while. 

I found a sheltered spot inbetween the trig point and the top of Gategill - kinda nestled in the bosom of the East/West saddle, high above but looking straight down onto the farm at the valley bottom.

It was a real windy evening but there was no wind to speak of from my sheltered spot - t'auld lass was protecting me, and warmth from the bright shining sun  was felt through my all-to-flimsy-for-sitting-still jacket.

As I looked out, I saw everything at once - all of Lakeland before me in a mass attack on the senses. Near and far, lakes and hills, sky and haze. Almost too much to take in at once, and a scene I had seen time and again. 

Minutes passed and I began to look more closely at what lay before me. 

Closest was Clough Head, looking diminutive compared to its neighbour Gt Dodd, but a slog of a climb nevertheless. I traced back down from  Cloughy the line to the coach road, then the rough field to Newsham House and the road back to the A66.  I'd be running there in a week or so, but in the dark.

As I continued my study of the panorama I realised for the first time that I now know so much more about these hills, this beautiful landscape than I did just a few months ago.

I picked out the Dodds to Helly, they are easy. I also knew exactly where Fairlfield was hiding and Seat Sandal. I could see Dunmail beyond Thirlmere so theres the entrance into Wythburn valley from where me and IWC emerged on the three thousands day. Steel Fell and High Raise then became obvious to me, and though not prominent I knew where the Langdales were - so that must be Esk Pike? Yes, because I can definitely tell thats Great End centre of Styhead and Esk Hause.

I was on a roll - never before had I realised how much detail I could not only see, but put names to, I could visualise exactly a stony path 15 miles away that currently occupied about one ten thousandth of what I could see before me.

Further right - the Scafells - Gable - Kirkfell was an interesting one. Only 8 days since I first set foot on its summit, but thanks to that day I now recognise its flat aspect compared to Gables more rounded  mound. I don't know if Pillar, Steeple etc were within my view but again, I knew where they lay in reference to others. 

Off Gable - Green Gable, a poor cousin of diminutive height, then Brandreth and Grey Knotts scarcely discernible as tops from so far away, but there they were and then the gap to Honister. 

Only 3 more to go - all easily picked out on this glorious evening - a long lens would have allowed closer inspection, perhaps revealed cairns and shelters. But who needs a telephoto when a still head and long stare can reveal so much. 

I didn't look too closely across at Catbells, Sail etc, and Grisedale was behind Gategill fell from here anyway. It was the round I was following. I stood up and there was Skiddaw and Calva behind me, and the concrete ring trig of Blen' herself was a mere 20 metres to my left.

The Bob Graham Round was laid out before me. And I was looking at it for the first time. I'd seen all this many a time - yes I'd picked out Swirral Edge and Gt Gable and Catstye Cam and Catbells and Robinson before. But tonight was different, tonight there was  something else happening on this ugly beautiful mountain. Something new, not to see, but to know. 

I realised right there and then that this was MY LAKELAND, MY CUMBRIA, MY MOUNTAINS and that the Saturday after next was going to be MY DAY. My day to run, to walk, to eat drink and be merry, to fall, to hurt, probably to throw up, almost certainly to cry, to laugh with friends, to be quiet and remember, to recognise and to be lost, to rely on good people who are giving up their time to help me, to do something that afterwards I may wonder, as Stu says, 'what all the fuss was about', but right now is everything.

Something had brought me to this place, this mountain - my favourite in Cumbria - on this night. A place I have already been to countless times before, and that I hope to visit a hundred times again. Blencathra has always been my favourite, and now here she was reaffirming her top billing.  

Next week I will be scarcely registering my umpteenth visit of the year to that cement trig. I'll be there and then gone - heading for slopes of Doddick and the comforting lights of Threlkeld beyond as I approach the end of just the first leg of a day long journey. Somebody will register my being there of course, it should be aroundabout 0100 hours on June 1st. She will be number 3 of 42. But of course, however long I spend away from her, she will always be number 1

Blencathra. A place where I have shared the very best, most amazing, unforgettable, special times with the very best, most amazing unforgettable, special people I have known. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Scafell Pike Trail Marathon

I prefer NOT to get up before 7am ideally, so 6am felt rather early on Sunday. The marathon started at 0830 and there was a 2 mile walk from Keswick to the start at Nichol End Marina.

I thought I had loads of time in hand but forgetting my number and then a last minute visit to the loos in town, I found myself having to jog through Keswick and Portinscale when I would have preferred a leisurely walk.

I arrived at the start one minute after the start time. Luckily the race started about 5 minutes later than scheduled, and anyway, I wouldnt have worried if id started a minute after everyone else - this wasnt exactly Red Start at VLM with a 20 minute slow shuffle through the park gates to cross the timing mat on the start line.

I set off very sedately indeed. I'm guessing there may have been 30 odd lads (& lass) in front of me.  I ran at a pace that felt rather easy. sub 8 minute miling was showing on my GPS as an average, which settled out to more or less 8 pace bang on prior to the first of the climbs.

As we left Grange behind the climb of Castle Crag loomed ahead. I had no intention of walking up the stepped climb, but most of the runners ahead who I could see, were. I passed at least half a dozen  then was running alongside some different people as we continued toward Seatoller.

One of my new companions was Vicky Mousley who I'd met when we both won the Ennerdale Trail 50k Ultra last year. I reckoned that there was unlikely to be any more girls ahead and chatted a while before easing ahead again on the final climb prior to th drop into Seatoller.

At Seatoller and through toward Seathwaite my belongings started to come adrift  from my bumbag. I'd worn my waterproof to jog from Keswick to the start then found I didnt have sufficient room to properly put it away. I jogged even slower on the tarmac section toward Seathwaite as I fiddled on trying to tie my waterproof pants around the waistband of my bumbag, and the same with the arms of my coat. This allowed one or two to pass me back.

At the farm there was a feed station - I shouted out my number and rushed past - leaving behind Vicky and one other who had passed me. Onto Stockley Bridge and the proper climbing began up the steps toward Styhead. I ran (though obviously not particularly fast) up most of the way to Styhead stretcher box and thus passed  several more lads in doing so.

copyright Stuart Holmes

Just before the stretcher box a lad who was running with me said he remembered me from the Lakes 50 last year. Apparently we had chatted during that event so I suggested he must have been well placed. Turns out he'd got 7th place - he didnt ask me how I had finished so, in an extraordinarily unfamiliar fashion for me, I let the subject drop. (for new readers - I won the Lakes 50 last year).

At the stretcher box we dibbed in and I headed off for what I thought was the line to pick up the diagonal path to the corridor route. Unlike the last two recces I'd done recently, despite the thick clag I found the path perfectly and was soon climbing up the other side toward the main corridor path/route.

From where they came I've no idea but I was suddenly joined by about 5 lads running right behind me.
One asked if I was confident of my current heading. I was very confident but said 'yeah more or less, I think'. Very soon after we got to the steep part that is unusually red rock. I knew (from making the error with Sparky a few months ago) that immediately above this you need to go 90 degrees left/up and NOT continue ahead (which is also a quite well defined path). I ensured they all went the right way (as I'd fell to the rear of the group when I stopped for a pee so wasn't leading)

These lads were doing a lot of walking - I was keen to run unless it felt impossible to do so, so I edged past them one by one and by the time I got to the big steppy thing with the arrow scraped into the rock, I was alone again. Don't know exactly how or why but just prior to reaching the intersection with path up from Wasdale I was joined by a couple more again. This is the last pull onto the summit and is well marked with cairns. I prefer to walk up the slabbed section as even on this damp day they seemed to give better traction (or less slippage) than the loose stuff.

By the top there was just me and one other lad from Bath AC. We'd been chatting a bit and he was concerned about the distance having only ran for 2 hrs in recent training. I was pleased to hear this as I felt confident i'd be fine for 5 or more if need be. We also got told off Joe (summit marshal) that we were 7th and 8th in the event. I was well chuffed to learn this - I thought I was still in perhaps 10-15th. I must have passed more than I realised and of course some may have taken less than optimal lines. I later learned that Howard Seal set off up Gt Gable, and Carl Bell was way below the corridor route and heard voices from above him which told him he needed to get higher. Also, much later, when I was running back from Esk Hause toward Styhead there was one fella running TOWARD me.

The terrain from Scafell Pike to Esk Hause is piggin awful underfoot until the final downhill which has nice grassy lines just off to the side of the stoney path. The Bath lad had moved ahead of me on the section over the huge boulders but then I caught him again on the good descent - I think he was possibly running with compass and map to check he was correct whereas I was blasting along knowing very well I was going the right way. We chatted again briefly at Esk Hause shelter then made a left for Styhead.

This mainly downhill path past Sprinkling Tarn is again quite stoney, but often with grassy banks to its side which help you run a little smoother (just need to watch out for the narrow but deep channels). Styhead again and then down along the river back toward Stockley Bridge. The Bath lad was just behind me but said he was going to stop at the WC in Seathwaite.

So at the feed/checkpoint I took a quick swig of water and headed into the fields toward the main road. Near the road I was briefly confused when a sign saying footpath pointed Right, and tape stuck on posts appeared to be directing Left. I followed the tape but soon realised it wasnt race tape at all but electricity warning tape.

As I neared a farm the dogs were going crazy barking at my approach. Farm workers could just be heard above the din but I couldnt tell what they were shouting. Either 'get orrfff my larrnd" or "no lad, back the other way" Later I learned they would have been offering their help and not the former as the farm belonged to Billy Blands cousin.

 I only lost about a minute or so here. Stupid of me to mistake the yellow tape for the red Salomon race tape, but you dont always think straight when you're racing along.

a few fields ticked by and I was in Rosthwaite with the decent climb up towards Watendlath to follow. At this point I started to catch the 21k runners who were almost all walking up the big steps. I had dreaded this section and reckoned Id be too tired to run any of it. My average  pace had improved over the previous few miles from approx 10:50 min/mile at Esk Hause, to 10:32 now at Rosthwaite. I reckoned that if I could lose it to just 11 pace by the top then I would pick up sufficient on the downhill to Ashness Bridge to come home within 11s and therefore beat the 5 hours I originally thought I might take for the 26.2 miles.

I was able to run most of the way up out of Rosthwaite however, and by the time I dropped into Watendlath the pace was still in the eleven thirties. Off the trail and a few hundred metres of tarmac downhill also helped the average before I headed up onto the final section of trail that would take me up  the fell then to the woods in front of Walla Crag.

I'd been passing the half marathoners steadily, often asking if they'd move aside to let me past on singletrack sections , or if I could get through a gate in front of them. Everybody obliged OK, though I wondered if some were unaware I was in the marathon and NOT their race and were thinking me a bit cheeky.  The further up the field I progressed, the harder it was to catch and pass the fitter runners. In the final section on the Lake edge woods I took an age to catch one lady runner and felt I had to pick up my pace again to stay ahead as we both sensed the finish looming.

Prior to  the finish I noted my GPS said Id already done a marathon in about 4hr 30mins - well inside my pre-race prediction.

At 27.2 miles I crossed the line  and dibbed in for 7th place. I had caught no more marathoners but nor had I been caught myself. I think I ran well - a very easy start followed by steady running/walking only when really absolutely necessary, and a real decent effort in the last 8-10 miles of  flatter & smoother terrain.

You perhaps cant help but think that a marathon that goes up Scafell Pike must be the toughest race you could ever do. It's not though. Nothing like it. Proper fellraces are MUCH harder with their elevation per mile and pathless routes to be navigated. But IT IS an iconic event - racing to the top of England, over marathon distance (plus a mile) and I'm very pleased to have ran the inaugural race. I'm also really pleased to have ran ANOTHER marathon in Cumbria (along with Langdale, Karrimor and Windermere).

Thanks are due to Ian at HiTerrain Events and his team of helpers for putting on a superb race. And congrats to young @RickyLightfoot for his win in 3hrs 43 mins.

Rickys 56 minutes beating of me sounds a lot - indeed if I took 56 minutes longer than him in a road marathon I'd be a bit disappointed (presuming he could do 2:15-2:20 and I would expect to beat 3hours if not 2:50) but as a percentage its probably about right.

So now for a bit of an easier time of things while this next 2 weeks passes and my BGR comes around. Waiting for the presentation I was chatting to Billy Bland who had some great little pearls of wisdom and tips for the BGR. (for anyone reading this who doesn't know much about fell running - Billy Bland completed the Bob Graham Round in 1982 in a record time of 13hours 53 minutes (most people who attempt the round FAIL to complete it within the 24 hours allowed))


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Titles are overrated

Following that long day in the fells I allowed myself an easy couple of days....

I rode my bike over Honister then Newlands passes. It was raining heavily and quite cold and windy - pretty much the key factors in my decision to quit cycling, now 13 years ago. Incidentally, that's now longer as a runner than I spent cycling. Seems like only yesterday I used to lie in bed of a night with  a horrible ache in my legs and slowly built up from 3 to 4 to eventually 6 or 7 runs per week. Best decision I ever made though, and I bet still have many thousands of pounds I would have spent on bike gear if not for the switch. This was a pitifully slow bike ride - I wasnt putting any effort in but 14mph for 21 miles is rather pathetic - even given the two massive climbs. (get me likening my bike ride to someone who lives at the bottom of Alp Duez but works at the top and doesnt have a car and does have a phobia of public transport but likes to ride a bike)

After the bike ride I had a mooch around the lake edge near Theatre by the Lake and along a mile or so toward Grange. The rain had eased but still occasional showers and much warmer made this a really  lovely walk. Scamp swam in Derwentwater - a first for him. I think I may keep notes and get him to swim in as many Lake District meres, Lakes and Waters as possible. Or maybe not - i cant even be arsed bothered to keep note of the Wainwrights I bag.

No more cycling this week but good run training, kicking off with my track session of 4x1600metres (AKA 4 x mile reps). It was a warm sunny day and this continued into the evening, so a vest was worn for the first time this year outside of racing and Majorca. I usually speed up a lot on rep 2 so was quite excited to record 5:37 for rep 1. Only 1 second faster though -5:36. I then put in a considered effort and was rewarded with a 5:30. Then finally a 5:32 which felt like merely cruising. This is the second time I have felt great and been running my best near the end of the session. I might try for 5 x mile next week.

A(nother) race too - Dockray Hartside. About 6 miles and 2000 feet. I thought I may do quite well in this but I should have known better. As we set off up a very steep tarmac road for almost a mile I was quite astonished by  how many lads were ahead of me - surely  I should be doing well on the road section? I was also aware that the heavy breathing behind me sounded female and indeed as we left the road to begin the fellrunning I was merely a couple of metres of the leading lady. Luckily she never passed me, although I didnt do owt special at all in the race, coming in about 20th I think (cant find results yet - not 24 hrs since race finish). I suppose theres a good reason I don't do so well in  race that lasted under one hour - 'cos I never run in the fells for any less than about 3 hours and its many a long week since I've ran up Blencathra as fast as I can then practiced my descending by timing myself down as well as up. Horses for courses as they say - and my next course is as long as I'm ever likely to travel.

Plucky fell of his bike (again) and has sore ribs so cant run with me at present. Daz has a knee injury so cant run at all. Those facts were the reason I did track on Tuesday (when I would usually have met up for a run with the leads), so tonight should perhaps have been the 10 mile road run. But I figured that the 55 minute race was akin to that session so tonight I travelled through to Gelt and spent 65 mins running incredibly slowly, stopping often, enjoying what I think was possibly the warmest day of the year.

Yep, summer is coming, but like Ronnie O'Sullivan - blink and you'll miss him/it

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Days like these...

Stuck firmly in my brain, somewhere in-between London marathon 2004, the Lakes 50 2012, my 55 minute run at Derwentwater 10, and my first ever race win, at Langholm Doctors Run, are the great days I've spent running long in the fells with friends.

Among those best remembered are,
the first time I ran the Derwent Watershed (aka Borrowdale Watershed) with Iain Kelly,
Pete Beers BGR leg 3 with Dale and Karl,
the Four 3000s with Ian Charters,
Xmas on the fells 2009 Fairfield Horseshoe in deep snow taking 4hours!!
Stustods BGR leg 3 with Stu and Iain (slippyhands) Kelly

And I like to think that last Saturdays run will make it into that same category of fondly remembered days out - only time will tell, but it was certainly a fantastic day.....

Craig Smith is to help me on my BGR - he's doing leg 2, over the Dodds and Helly etc. After spending a day in his company,  I know I'll be in good hands.
I hadnt known Craig prior to the TWA race a week earlier, he was one of those lads who you see all the time but don't know their name.

Craig suggested we begin our day at 0730! Thats a bit on the early side for me, I am famously lazy and disorganised so I opted to drive through to the lakes on Friday night and sleep in the van so as to be an hour or so nearer. Penrith Stu asked WTF I bothered doing the overnight thing when I live so close? Well, apart from the minor time saving I already mentioned I'd say.. Why not? Its great fun and not at all cold once inside a decent sleeping bag. As I drove out of the city in the last hour of sunlight I noticed that a lot more fresh snow had been dumped on the fells since I'd last been up. As I drove from Bothel to Keswick the Skiddaw massif loomed in front of me looking quite spectacular with its pure white cap against an ever darkening, but still blue from the glorious cloudless day, sky.

At the location I chose as my 'campsite' I wandered around for 10 mins with Scamp in the last remaining light. Across Thirlmere the skyline was jutted with trees sticking up into the night, the silence was awe inspiring despite the torrent of Helvellyn Gill merely 50 yds away. Scamp took the front seat of the van and I settled down for what was a surprisingly good sleep - only a few raindrops about 5am stirring me awake.

Before I drove up to meet Craig I popped along to Wythburn church and left some water and food in a stash for later. At 730 I was parked at Keswick, but still not sorted out re my pack, clothing etc etc. We got off at 0737hrs - jogging at a relaxed sub 10 min miling along the railway line to Threlkeld.

It was a chilly morning and I was wearing a fleece over my base layer and compression top. As we climbed Clough Head I got warm, but as our altitude became more significant I felt the chill wind and was pleased to be wearing as much. I hadnt bothered to time the climb to Clough Head, this wasnt a BGR day, and anyway, I'm pretty sure we smashed the 59 mins allowed as we were on our way toward Calfhow in what seemed no time at all.

Gt Dodd was invisible. We were not fussed about climbing it anyway, and contoured the path to the RHS which gives a natural line South past the other Dodds and on towards Sticks Pass, Raise and eventually Helvellyn. Craig had put on an extra layer and I did too at Sticks Pass - it was seriously breezy and therefore cold but the great thing was knowing that although still early, we were almost at the highest point of the day and would soon be enjoying views, sun, less wind and much more warmth.

Coming off Helly toward Wythburn we took a while to stop here and there as Craig was keen to learn of the best way down for the forthcoming Old Counties Tops race. At the Southern junction of the back-o-Thirlmere road I grabbed the stash and tucked into a pasta pot as we walked.

To this point we had taken just over 3 hours to cover almost 14 miles. Craig reckoned on it being 22/23/24 miles altogether and with the highest climbing done, we agreed that it may be another 2 hours to go. I had been keeping an eye on the average pace all day long. After the early sub 10 pace it had steadily dropped to nearer 4mph (15min milling), which, in BGR terms is about right for a run so 'short'

A crappy involved section before we got to Harrop Tarn slowed us down and we eventually opted to climb over one of the huge deer fences to gain a much better path on the other side. Then we were climbing  up and over the boggy ground past Blea Tarn toward Watendlath. Dropping down toward Watendlath we opted not to go all the way to the village itself but swing across left a bit to join the path out that leads to Rosthwaite.

The run down into Rosthwaite was speedy, real good running ground. Lots of walkers knocking about there too. Then a flurry of what (even though they were all walking at the time) were clearly runners. It was Ian Mulvey of Hi Terrain events leading (I presume) a recce of the Borrowdale trail race route. Moments later, in Rosthwaite, Craig stopped at a car window to chat to the driver who he knew. As he told me who he'd been speaking to I realised it was the dad of Adam who I had recently been to Majorca with on Appleby Stu's training camp.

Before we left Rosthwaite Craig stopped again to chat to a farmer he knew as he skinned a dead lamb (apparently they put the skin onto another lamb which is at risk of non survival, then the ewe of the dead one thinks its hers and looks after it. Everyone happy, (with possible exception of the dead fella).

Id been glancing at my GPS and noted we  had been bringing the average back to nearer 15min/mile but the stops in Rosthwaite had let it slip again to 15:40. Climbing up toward the base of Dalehead/High Spy we lost yet more average but then saw steady gains all the way back to Keswick.

Climbing High Spy we were on the same ground as the previous week in the TWA. In TWA this was about 11 miles into the day, this time it was about 21 miles in, and this time I felt much better too, still full of running. This is most likely explained by the fact that the TWA was a race and also much more ascent per mile  (approx 480 feet per mile for the whole TWA race compared to 300 feet per mile by the end of this run).

I felt so good that as we approached the col between Maiden Moor and our final climb of the day, Catbells, I asked Craig if if he thought we could run up it. He said no so I tried to. I'm sure I could have ran all the way to the final rocky bit but Craig was walking so i waited for him.

All that was left to do was drop off the back of Catbells, along the track to Mrs Tiddywinkles Cottage (I have no idea - I think Craig is into romantic fiction) then along tracks to the marina, Portinscale and finally across a couple of fields into Keswick.

We stopped at the police station in the town and I realised then why Craig wanted an early start - he must be on some kind of tag and needs to report in at a certain time every day. Summat like that anyway.

Craig said this route is called the Northwest Frontier. I've never heard of that before but shall forever now call it that anyway.

Final stats of the day can be seen here. And can be summarised as;
28 miles in 6hrs 33 mins (4.3mph) with 8500ft of ascent

Cheers Craig