Thursday, 25 June 2009

Western States 100 - nearly here

As part of the final taper, four of us (Jez, Paul, Simon and I) went for a jog on the Tahoe Rim Trail yesterday. It was a high altitude, 6.1 mile out-and back from Mount Rose, with the massive Lake Tahoe below in the distance. The altitude was very noticeable in that I got out of breath very quickly.

Me, Jez Bragg, Paul Charteris, Simon Mtuy (Tanzania).

At the turn-around point, Jez, Simon and Paul gave themselves a chiropractic session on some convenient boulders. I made do with 50 press-ups.

Do-it-yourself chiropractic session.

Today is medical check-in for the cardiac and blood sodium medical research studies.

This evening is a bring-your-own food reunion of fellow runners/forumites in Squaw Valley Lodge down in the village below where I'm staying.

Tomorrow is race check-in and medical, followed by a very early night for the 2:30am rise on Saturday. The race starts at 5am (1pm UK time). It can be followed live via the webcast. My number is 238. If you see me getting close to the cut-offs (even if I don't), please shout loud words of encouragement. Ta :-)

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

6hr epic on the Pacific Crest Trail

Update 9 July. Photographs just uploaded.

Yesterday, Herman duly drove me out to Sugarbowl ski area, where the PCT crosses the old Highway 80. During our drive up past Donner Lake, the car thermometer was registering between 11 and 12 deg C. It was unseasonably cool but the intense sunshine more than compensated.

Now on my own with my two hand-held bottles and packed lunch in my bumbag, I set off up the rugged single-track trail through beautiful wilderness with the unique smell of the pine forest in my nostrils. The only sign of civilisation as I ran was the distant, mournful, multi-toned blast of a freight train horn far below.

It was not long before I hit the first patches of snow but they were relatively easy to circumnavigate to pick up the trail again. Later on as Squaw Valley drew closer, the snow increased to the point where I could no longer find the trail. Eventually with the first ski lifts of Squaw in view in the far distance and with my drink almost run out (I refilled one bottle with snow to keep me going) I gave up on trying to find the trail and trekked across country in the direction of the first ski lift. High Camp (the top of the cable car from Squaw Valley and my ultimate target) seemed too far away still.


A perilous traverse across a steep, snow-covered slope and up to the top of the ridge miraculously brought me back to the PCT and, once over the top, solid ground again. Following my nose seemed to work. A short descent brought me to the intersection with the Tevis (Western States) Trail, where I turned left up to Emigrant Pass then descended to the sanctuary of High Camp. There I could refill my water bottles and thank my lucky stars that I had made it. From the lack of footprints in the snow I think I was the second person to make it through between Sugarbowl and Squaw Valley this summer.

I rode the cable car back down to the bottom feeling a little wasted. It had taken 6 hours. A good 12 hours in bed last night have left me feeling revived and even more ready for The Big Race at the weekend. The strange taper may just work out.

I finally got to meet up with Jez and Paul today. Simon Mtuy will soon be joining us too for dinner. The annual reunion has commenced!

Monday, 22 June 2009

Squaw Valley

I arrived in Squaw Valley yesterday via Hamburg, San Francisco and Reno. I stopped overnight on Saturday in Reno. I'm now at Poole's Guesthouse. Herman and Ann are wonderful hosts.

Squaw Valley Village was buzzing yesterday like I've never seen before this early, thanks to a fine arts exhibition. There was even live music, which I chilled out to while supping a Starbucks.

This is the 4th consecutive year I've been here. 'Global warming' means that each consecutive visit has been cooler. This year's high teens - low twenties Centigrade contrasts nicely with the high thirties - low forties cauldron of 2006.

For this year's Western States I will be a research guinea pig again:
1. Cardiac function research by Liverpool John Moores University;
2. Sodium balance research by Gettysburg College.
Although participation involves a certain degree of inconvenience (the second requires us to collect our wee-wee for 24 hours prior to and during the race, recall accurately everything that we consume and have blood drawn), the research results are of great interest to we ultra runners. It helps us to understand our bodies like we never could do otherwise. The inconvenience is a small price to pay. Also, because I'll never be a front runner, an extra few minutes' delay here and there out on the course make little difference (provided I don't have the cut-offs snapping at my heels).

I'm off now for a run. Herman has kindly offered to drive me out and abandon me at a strategic point on the Pacific Crest Trail so I can run back into the Granite Chief Wilderness area before turning left up the Western States Trail back to Squaw Valley.

Later today I'll be meeting up with Paul Charteris (who paced me in 2006 and who is running the full race for the first time this year) and Jez Bragg, UK ultra runner extraordinaire.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Three Rings Of Shap (but Two for me). Sat 13/06/2009

Three Rings Of Shap
I motored up to Tebay on Friday afternoon for a leisurely dinner with friends and a good night's sleep in a B&B. The journey one junction up the M6 on Saturday morning only took 15 minutes. On the way I was caught in a rain squall that was spawned from the constant pall of cloud that was hugging the very hills we would climb on the first Ring.

The sun was shining brightly in Shap and a very warm day was promised. The massed start from Shap Memorial Hall was at 8am but we could start any time up to 09:30. I set off at 08:30 with Matt Neale and Phil Musson to avoid a premature arrival at the first manned checkpoint.

We were soon climbing westerly into the cloud and brief bursts of rain that trailed off the leeward side of the peak, but once onto Artlecrag Pike and the self clip, we were into the clear. Haweswater was clearly visible down in the valley on the westward side. The climb up to and down from the peak was off-path across open fell. It was magic - the best part of the whole event. The descent through the miniature valley occupied by Forces Falls formed part of that magic. On the return leg to Shap the reappearance of the sun caused temperatures to rise. The sun and heat remained with us for the rest of the day. The first Ring was 19 miles and took me 3hrs 41mins.

Ring 2 was 24 miles to the east and was much flatter. The baked-hard ground (multiple cattlehoof holes in the mud but baked hard like concrete) were tough on the feet. The scores of stiles we had to climb over, squeeze through and contort ourselves around made sure we did not build up a rhythm. The flat to undulating terrain offered fewer uphill walking breaks and downhill, gravity-assisted runs. The sun beat down and the heat became more intense. Inevitably the pace slowed. I finished the 2nd Ring at 5:55pm in 9hrs 25mins. I ran most of Ring 2 with Matt, Ian and Paul.

I had not lubed beforehand and the perspiration, combined with 9.5 hours of motion, had started some serious chafing. There was no way I could set off on the 20-mile Ring 3 without causing some serious damage. In view of what was coming up in 2 weeks' time I was quite happy and guilt-free to call it a day at 43 miles, so I started the refuelling process while other brave souls (Ian, and somewhat later Alan and Carole) set off on the final 20 miles into the night on Ring 3.

The food provided by the organisers was excellent - an all-night dinner and pudding service with extra cakes and biscuits if you wanted. Lashings of tea goes without saying.

Six hours' sleep in the sleeping room followed by more food (quiche and salad this time) set me up for the journey home. It was a truly memorable weekend. I shall return to try out Ring 3. I heard some good reports about it - a bit more up-and-down, which is what we want.

As usual I took some pictures.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

It's starting to get busy now

I'm off up north tomorrow to ease myself into Three Rings Of Shap on Saturday. (I am 'enjoying' a 15% reduced wage and working time now thanks to human greed and avarice wrecking the world economy, so I get to spend more time doing the things I really like doing.) At 100k / 62.5mi., it'll be my final ultra to keep me in trim before a two-week taper for the Western States Endurance Run.

As I'll be flying out a week on Saturday to acclimatise to the heat and altitude and generally chill out and recharge the batteries in Squaw Valley, I may not have enough time to post a blog and photos, so this preamble may have to suffice for a while. I may be able to upload while I'm in the US. It will be a bonus. All I can say is, keep watching!

It should be possible again to monitor runners' progress live on the WS100 website as the race progresses over the full 30 hours. If you wish to follow me, my number this year is 238. Here's a taster to whet the appetite:

If you want more, two years' worth plus one half-hearted, fire-damaged one are on my Flickr! page. Enjoy!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Wharfedale Off Road Marathon 25mi. Sat 06/06/2009

Wharfedale Off Road Marathon
In the week preceding the W.O.R.M. I kept my fitness up with my usual daily short runs to work, plus an extra 7.1-mile /1:00 hour run eastwards into the hills on Wednesday evening to a country pub for a reunion dinner with some old work colleagues. There I topped up the fuel tank with some lovely food.

The arrival of Saturday was a shock to the system. Summer had turned back to winter, wind and rain had returned and temperatures, which had been in the mid 20s less than a week earlier, were now in single figures.

A large turnout of runners huddled in the shelter of the rugby club buildings for as long as possible, listening to the dulcet tones of the Master of Ceremonies until we were requested to proceed to the start line, where we stood shivering in the strong wind and sporadic rain, keen to get moving and generate some warmth. 'Flaming June'.

We were soon off and running along the rolling Dales Way on the right-hand side of the River Wharfe valley towards Kettlewell. Leaving Kettlewell, a new permissive path took us off-road earlier than usual, back in the opposite direction on the other side of the valley up the hill through Knipe Wood. The cold wind and rain were at their worst as we emerged onto the open fell. I involuntarily broke into a run (even though it was uphill) to keep warm and to get over the top and down the other side into shelter for the pleasant downhill run to checkpoint 3 at the river bridge.

A short hop through Littondale on the left-hand bank of the River Skirfare brought us to checkpoint 4 at Arncliffe. As we crossed the fields of cows towards Arncliffe, flocks of birds swooped back and forth very close and at high speed, searching for insects that we might have disturbed.

The section after Arncliffe on Monk's Road is extremely picturesque as it climbs into classic limestone country and heads for Malham Tarn. Although the rain had petered out, my camera finally succumbed to the dampness (not for the first time this year) and stopped working, but not before I'd grabbed a picture of Monk's Road with Cowside Beck below in the valley.

A left turn at Malham Tarn brought us to checkpoint 5 and into the teeth of a head-on wind, then came another left turn onto Mastiles Lane. As I shuffled my way upwards into the wind, I felt the need for a little energy boost. Out came the turbo juice - a 250ml bottle of full sugar Coke. By the right turn onto the very well marked and flagged route across the fields, turbo boost began to kick in and I began to reel in some of the runners who had overtaken me earlier. This continued over the six miles or so to the finish. (I do like gravity-assisted downhills, especially after a Coke.)

We used Sportident electronic timing this year. We had to insert our 'dibber' into the timing box at every checkpoint to record the times. The instant print-out of splits and race time at the finish was a nice touch. I was well chuffed to knock 1hr 7mins off last year's time, to finish in 4:13. It's not a very fair comparison though. Last year I went on the 'Ramble' start and did a lot more walking.

The food at the end had to be paid for, which came as a surprise, but it was brilliant as a result. After my roast pork, apple sauce and gravy in a big roll, with chips, I did not need a dinner after I got home!

It was good to see many old running flames and make some new acquaintances from the forums: Dave with Charlie the border collie (sorry Charlie was forbidden from running, Dave), Chris Brown, 'Clairster', 'Tussockface', 'Nurse Gladys' (great to finally meet you, Nurse), Mike Blamires (good to finally meet you too, Mike).

All my pictures are here.