Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Vasque series race 3 - Calderdale Hike 36mi. Sat 18/04/2009

Calderdale Hike
The 31st Calderdale Hike set off at 9 am (for the runners) from Sowerby Cricket Club. I had arrived early enough to see the 8 am walkers set off on the ‘short’ 27-mile route. The long route walkers had set off at 7am.

I had arrived nice and early with Steve Lang (his turn to drive this time) to get registered and to get set up with Paul Murgatroyd’s medical research team from the Human Performance Centre at Lincoln University. I was one of several Guinea pigs who would have a heart rate monitor to record heart rate throughout the run. In addition to that, we would have regular blood samples taken before the start, at most roadside checkpoints and at the finish to record our blood glucose levels. (The previous analysis during last December’s Rowbotham’s Round Rotherham monitored our blood lactate levels. The glucose monitoring would not work then because the machines did not like the wet conditions.)

The continuing dry weather and good forecast promised the best possible conditions, my route had been well rehearsed with Mark Dalton over the Easter weekend and I was really looking forward to the day. Although the start was nippy enough for long sleeves, it would soon become perfect short sleeves and shorts weather once we were well on the move.

As we listened to the Master of Ceremonies’ brief instructions I loitered at the back of the pack with Mark and Steve, ready to put the rehearsal into practice. Then the church clock struck nine and we were sent on our way, a small handful of us 'in the know' in the opposite direction along a footpath through the houses to the road. As I ran down the lane to Luddenden Foot I was in the lead, but not for long, naturally. Leading runner and equal first finisher Martin Beale soon caught up and commented: “That was a good line you took there, Nick”. It was one I had first used the previous year at the finish.

I used the marginally more direct “Route 66” cycle way beside the railway line to Checkpoint 1 before the climb up and the invisible direct permissive path to Checkpoint 2 at the standing stone on the edge of Midgley Moor. The stone is apparently called ‘Churn Milk Jenny’, which I would not have known, since it does not appear on my map.

Once over Midgley Moor and past the ventilation shafts, Mark and I were amazed at how many had chosen the same route as the one we had planned down to Keighley Road. Here was Checkpoint 3 and the first medical. The machine was slow registering the blood sample but I was glad of the pause for a bit of a breather, then I was off and chasing Mark down towards Crimsworth Dean. He’d gained quite a bit on me.

Another steep up and a down brought us to Checkpoint 4 at Walshaw, then onwards along lane, track and invisible paths across fields to the Pennine Bridleway / Wuthering Hike route / road up to Widdop Reservoir (Checkpoint 5 + medical). The reservoir was a lot calmer that it had been in March on the Wuthering Hike. In the bright sunshine its deep blue colour provided an amazing contrast to the orange hue of the grass-covered moors providing the backdrop.

We continued along the Pennine Bridleway before veering left towards Cant Clough Reservoir. As I negotiated my chosen optimum route along carefully selected trods, I realised Mark was no longer in sight behind. I found out later that rebelling legs were forcing him to slow to eventual retirement at CP9. (Better luck next year Mark. You’ve got some good route knowledge to put to some good use!)

Having gained a few places, a few hangers-on and earned a few comments (none derogatory, thankfully), we carried on to Checkpoint 6 at Long Causeway beside the wind farm for another finger pricking by Paul’s team. A selection of route choices from here by different walkers and runners brought us to Checkpoint 7 at Holme Chapel. I chose the straight-line route along the broken wall, which is rough going for a while but not too long. It’s six of one ….

We runners had been overtaking walkers for quite a while by now. They were very patient with their having to step aside to let us pass if the trail was narrow. I never assume rightful passage in such situations and I’m always prepared to slow down, stop, step to one side to overtake or wait for a clearing before overtaking, but the vast majority of walkers seem to regard our need as greater than theirs and are only too happy to give way. It almost makes me feel embarrassed. ‘I’m not worthy!’ They always receive deserved gratitude in return.

After Holme Chapel came the first serious climb to Thieveley Pike and Checkpoint 8, from where we could look back down onto the wind farm we had recently passed.

A gentle descent across Heald Moor and passage through a junk-strewn dump of a farm, which despite the long-term dry conditions was still a bit of a quagmire, brought us to Checkpoint 9 at Slatepit Hill. The medic here had given up with the humane automatic finger stabber. Apparently it wasn’t severe enough and was failing to reach some runners' blood supply, for whom it had receded to perform more essential functions like serve organs and working muscles. A quick manual stab of the blade had been adopted to reach a little deeper. It worked just as well as before (my fingers were always ready to deliver anyway). The manual operation was obviously well calibrated.

A scenic climb along tracks past old mine workings took us up Inchfield Moor to the top at Trough Edge End before a left turn and nice run down grassy slopes towards Checkpoint 10. From here a bit more optimum route finding brought me and a few others who happened to be around at the time to Checkpoint 11 at Deanroyd Bridges, which wasn’t quite where I expected it to be; it just required a quick out-and-back to the next lock on the canal, where the medics were quite slick by now.

An up-and-over via the Pennine Bridleway brought us to Checkpoint 12 at Lumbutts. Those ancient, worn flagstones that pave the way across the moor must have a story or 2 million to tell.
Next came the second of the two major climbs. Everyone I saw seemed to be taking the Wuthering Hike route up the steep side to Stoodley Pike and Checkpoint 13. From there it was a delightful downhill run to Checkpoint 14 at Withens Clough Reservoir, where the final brutal finger stabbing took place, but I couldn’t care. I had consumed a small can of Coke on the climb to Stoodley Pike and there was no holding me back now. I was off down the road alone, through Cragg Vale and up the other side to Checkpoint 15 at Shaw’s Lane. From there it was a 2.3-mile, mostly downhill road run to the finish.

I was loving the gravity-assisted downhill run. As I neared Sowerby I kept my eyes peeled for the squat church tower that signified the finish. There it was! Not far to go now. As I entered the streets of Sowerby a rough-looking young ‘erbert was walking up the hill in the opposite direction. He was preoccupied with his freshly ignited Woodbine, on which he was dragging deeply and contentedly. Then he saw me approaching and I wondered what snide comment or leer might follow. He asked how far I’d run. When I told him 36 miles, he replied with surprising enthusiasm: “Good lad!!” Bowl me over. Sowerby Cricket Club, here I come!

I had passed the church. I thought I had heard the voices of other runners behind me but I couldn’t see anyone when I mustered the effort to glance round. Then I was suddenly overtaken by Ian Leach, whose legs rather longer than mine propelled him effortlessly to a sprint finish. I took a marginally more leisurely pace, taking another picture on the way in which Ian can be seen just finishing, before finishing a few seconds behind him in 7:01 with Jenny Wyles and Chris Webb running in a few seconds later.

What a brilliant day. Thanks to all the helpers, marshals and organisers. I'm still buzzing from the experience.

Well done to the two Martins (Beale and Indge), the joint male winners in 5:39. Well done too to Rachael Lawrance, female winner in 6:40. Wendy Dodds was hot on her heels, finishing in 6:41. Well done to all finishers and commiserations to those who did not complete this year. Better luck next year.

All my pictures are here.

3 down, 9 to go.....

Monday, 13 April 2009

A rarity - no events for two weeks?

I have just gone through two weekends without an official event - something of a rarity for me only normally encountered over Christmas up to a few years ago. Fear not though; the non-events were replaced by back-to-back reconnoitres.

On Saturday 4th April it was the last 25 miles of The Fellsman from Fleet Moss to Threshfield. We ended up as seven after two separate groups combined on the cold, wet, windswept moors on the descent from Buckden Pike. We (Sarah R, Stef F, Mark D, Mark T, Ian H and Andy?) were ably pulled along by Sarah to a fast 5hrs 30mins finish including food stops. I never imagined ever covering that terrain in that time. We would normally have slogged 35 miles by that point and darkness wouldn't be far away. A fresh pair of legs and daylight make all a difference. Even so I know I held Sarah up. She is undoubtedly a very capable runner. I had been admiring her effortless fell-running style as she bobbed along in front of me. She is none other than Sarah Rowell, third female finisher in the 1984 London Marathon who went on to represent GB in the Olympics. She is just like all other long distance runners I have ever met, irrespective of ability - friendly, down-to-earth and great to be around. This is such a friendly sport.

In the afternoon as the rain cleared out and the sun began to make an appearance, I drove westwards to the Lake District and my B&B in Staveley, where a good night's sleep set me up for the Lakeland 100 Grand Day Out number 5 on Sunday 5th. It was a led reconnoitre of the 19 miles from Wasdale Head to Ambleside. The previous day's exertions meant that I was bringing up the rear a little more than usual, especially on the steep technical descents, where my sense of self preservation was kicking in big-time. The sun came out and blessed us with a warm dry day. I took a few pictures. The views were spectacular. It's a shame it will be dark at that point when we do the event for real at the end of July.

Moving forward a week to the Easter weekend, I have just enjoyed a couple of days reconnoitring the Calderdale Hike route on Good Friday (slightly naff weather) and Saturday (warm spring sunshine!) with Mark D. Pace was quite a bit slower than on the previous weekend, but Calderdale is navigationally challenging as we all know: "Should I take the footpath on 22 degrees that's not on the map and will probably take me the wrong way or the one on 23 degrees that should be there but is invisible on the ground because it's hidden behind a shrub up someone's garden path and the sign post is missing?" We all know the scenario but there will be no such anguish this year. Now I know where I'm going I'm looking forward to the real event with a sense of excitement instead of the usual forboding that is always the precursor to navigational cock-ups. Bring it on!