Thursday, 26 November 2009

Dunnerdale Fell Race + Vasque Runfurther end-of-year party. 14/11/2009

I’m now back after a good dose of flu, probably caught as I mixed and mingled at Broughton Mills, LakesRunner in Ambleside and Wilf’s Café in Staveley. It was a busy day and this is my belated report all about it.

Dunnerdale Fell Race / 5mi. / 1,554'.

The rain had poured and the wind had blown well into Saturday as I drove northwards through flooded roads to my first ever short, sharp and furious fell race. Dunnerdale had been suggested as the ideal precursor to an evening’s drinking and entertainment. I seized the opportunity and dusted off my ancient Adidas Swoop Mk1s with their worn down studs.

Situated in the far south west of the Lake District, Broughton Mills Village Hall, circa 1927, ancient, wooden and dimly lit by 40W bulbs, was soon heaving to the largest ever turn-out for the Dunnerdale Fell Race as runners sheltered inside to await the cessation of the rain and the 12:00 race start. The rain did stop, and we were sufficiently close to the centre of the storm system for winds to be calm.

As midday approached, we gathered outside on the lane. We were edged back up the road outside the pub, further up from the village hall. There would be no route shortening. The unprecedented crowd meant that we were slightly late setting off. I was in my rightful place towards the back, so the first I knew that the 276 runners were on their way was when the people in front started to move. We had a sedate walking start. I never imagined that on a fell race.

The field soon thinned out and I was overtaking other runners on the brief stretch of downhill road before it became uphill road, then track, then fell. I knew that I could force my pace throughout, since it was only 5 miles and I did not have to worry about the inevitable blow-up and slow-down that would normally be an issue. And so it was that I actually found myself running uphill as well as down. Only the steepest ups forced the shuffle briefly down to a walk.

The anticlockwise route took us via 4 peaks and through 1,554 feet of ascent/descent through its 5 miles. I had my 1:12,500 map print-out with me but it remained in my bumbag for two reasons:
1. I had virtually memorised the route as I had reviewed it over and over again in nervous excitement during the previous week.
2. There were so many people out in front, the views were so clear and the route through the mud was that well trodden, it would have been impossible to get lost anyway.

I pushed up and down the hills and put in as much effort as I have ever done. My steep and slippery descents were less confident than I would have liked as my worn fell shoe studs tore perilously at the soggy ground and I descended, barely in control, with the sound of other runners close behind. I didn’t want to get in the way and hold them up. On the verge of wiping out I was wishing for new fell shoes.

I got overtaken a little, but not too much, on the steep descents. Once onto the final road stretch I pushed as hard as my body allowed as we climbed back up to the finish in the farmer’s field, where I queued for a minute before the timekeepers were ready to register my arrival. I had taken one hour by my watch to do the 5 miles. My flat-out effort got me the expected bottom half finish and resulted in an average heart rate of 176bpm and a peak of 191bpm. The winning time was an unbelievable 39:36. I wonder how fast his heart rate was.

The meat and potato pie, tea and biscuits went down a real treat as I chatted with other runners in the hall afterwards. The queue for the food ended up stretching the length of the hall. I was glad I got in there early.

Fed, watered and warmed, I drove via Coniston (memories of the Lakeland 100) round to Ambleside, where a visit to Ian Barnes’ LakesRunner shop was long overdue. It was popular with the Runfurther crowd – Andy Rankin and Paul Dickens were there, so more chinwagging took place; oh, and try on a pair of La Sportiva Crosslight shoes. Such unaccustomed comfort in a shoe, but they didn’t quite have my size so I placed an order.

A new café is in creation upstairs, which should be really good. Proprietor and rather capable fell runner Ben Abdelnoor will have his work cut out keeping the appetites of all those climbers and runners satiated. He and Ian have already had their work cut out building it, by all accounts.

Here are some statistics to demonstrate the intensity of short fell races:
Distance - 5 miles.
Time - 1 hour.
Average heart rate - 176bpm.
Maximum heart rate - 191bpm.

Vasque Runfurther party.

I drove further round to Staveley and my B & B on the hillside overlooking the village, where I had plenty of time to get cleaned up for the main event – the Vasque Runfurther end-of-year celebration. It was conveniently located a short walk away in Wilf’s Café at the Hawkshead Brewery. A hotpot supper and dessert, a well-stocked bar and a MASSIVE Vasque Runfurther cake kept us well fuelled until past midnight.

Two talks with slideshows were put on.

The first by Stuart Walker described his British Isles Challenge, a daunting solo, 1,400-mile human-powered journey from one end of the British Isles to the other (including sea crossings and 3-peaks climbing). He only had 4 weeks to complete it and he was greatly challenged along the way. What he achieved against adversity was little short of heroic. He did it for charity and, most unfairly, he is still quite a way short of his £10,000 target. So please, anyone reading this, if you are so minded, please consider making a donation. His chosen charities surely deserve it after he sacrificed so much.

The second talk was a hot and cold talk given by Amanda and Andy Heading. For the hot talk, Amanda described her Marathon des Sables experience, while for the cold talk, Andy described his Yukon Arctic Ultra experience – 430 miles in north west Canada in the frozen depths of winter.

The evening was topped off with the prize-giving and spot prize draw, and cake. There was lots of swag to give away from our sponsors. Andy Rankin and Rachael Lawrance won the prizes for the most series points out of their four best races, while Tim Whittaker and Julie Gardner won the prizes for the most points overall. There were four Grand Slammers – runners who completed all twelve races. In order of points they were Tim Whittaker, Paul Dickens, Julie Gardner and me. The final results can be found here.

I washed down a large slab of cake with a large brandy, the clock struck 12 and the evening drew to a close. With several wrong turns I eventually found my way by torch light back up the hill to the B & B, where I dreamed of a most enjoyable running year and a Grand Slam that most nearly wasn’t.

I took some pictures of the evening’s proceedings. That cake must have weighed a ton.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Roaches Fell Race 15mi. 08/11/2009

This provided a rare opportunity for me for a 'short' blast in the hills. I almost got my lungs burning! It's a serious runners' event that's based from Meerbrook Village Hall and very well organised by Macclesfield Harriers. The out-and-back route climbs via a filthy, slurry-infested dairy farm near the beginning and end (I bet their milk goes off quickly, and KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT as you slosh through to keep the splashes out), up along the Roaches ridge, down the other end, across the river, up and down a lot more before climbing Shutlingsoe (a mini Ingleborough?), where we go around the trig point at the top before retracing our steps. We enjoyed a brief respite in the weather and the sun shone upon us, but it was nippy and the mud was voluminous (especially around that farm). At its worst it reminded me of a mini Tough Guy. Trying to run across that on the return leg risked inducing crippling cramps.

This must be the only fell race that puts out red carpets for us. In the early stages, as we queued at a stile near a farm residence, we caught the unbelievable sight of red carpet covering the grassy bank on the other side up to the gravel track! It was there to protect the grass from the worst of all those fell shoe studs. By the time I returned, it was rucked up and folded and serving no useful purpose. SACK THE CARPET FITTER I say!

The out-and-back format allowed a glimpse of the speedy ones on their return leg as the slower ones, destined to finish well down in the bottom half, continued towards the climb up Shutlingsloe to the trig point turnaround. They ran just within their capability that they could sustain until the end. So did I. The difference was exactly 1 hour at the end of 15 miles. They must be a different species to me.

I have no business here in such racing snakes', speed merchants' races, so despite my best, lung-busting efforts I still finished well down in the bottom half of the field. Nonetheless I was pleased to beat my previous time of 3:21 (in 2007) by 13 minutes. 3:08 - only 9 minutes to knock off to get a sub-3, then I might get into the top half. Perhaps next year? But that would require less quantity and more quality, like, lay off the ultras and do speed sessions every week. No chance! I run for fun, not for obligation.

I did not take my camera because I would have tripped up in the river and wetted it, and as we know it wilts even at the smell of dampness (although on hindsight a complete dunking might teach it a good lesson on what real dampness is). However, 'finniganjones' took some amazing action shots here, which just have to be linked. The descent to the river on the return leg was steep.

Next week is a 5-mile fell race (Dunnerdale). I have never turned out for such a short jaunt in the hills. Dare I say it's hardly worth getting out of bed for, but it precedes the Vasque Runfurther party in the evening which I must attend, so in for a penny.....
I expect to be humbled even more comprehensively. I might be last and I might kill myself in the process.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Halloween Bottoms Up 23mi. 31/10/2009

This event, most ably organised by West Lancashire Long Distance Walkers Association, marked a long overdue return to the type of event I know and love, the ones I cut my running teeth on after I took up walking thirteen years ago. It was a grand reunion of walking friends of many years’ standing whom I hadn’t seen in months. It was refreshing to return to the low-key, informal, no-pressure atmosphere after so many larger running and grand slamming events. That isn’t to say I didn’t still run this one, mind you. If there’s a chance for another PB I’ll always try as long as I’m not injured. I wasn’t injured, so I tried. My legs had already felt recovered straight after Snowdonia (unlike Round Rotherham) so I felt ready.

My last participation in ‘Bottoms Up’ was in 2005, but since 2006 I have always run the Snowdonia Marathon and the two events have clashed. However, a delay by one week this year due to a wedding booking at Hoghton Village Hall, where it is based, allowed me to take part again. In view of the 4-year gap and considering how well I was feeling after Snowdonia, I was only envisaging a PB. Anything less just wasn’t on the agenda. Such confidence was rather dangerous considering my previous finishing time of 4:05. (There weren’t many runners back then, so that time earned me an unaccustomed equal first place.) Nevertheless I felt a sub-4 could be on the cards this year, while a first place finish was absolutely out of the question in view of the larger and more capable field taking part.

After seeing the walkers off at 8am, we runners returned inside the Village Hall for a chat, a cup of tea and to await the arrival of the remaining runners while we waited for our 9am send-off. There had been some overnight rain to ensure the traditionally muddy course would live up to its reputation. However, the sun was shining again for us and the temperature was still unseasonably warm – mid to high teens Centigrade. Another brilliant day was in prospect.

Before we knew it we were outside and with “It’s about time, I suppose you’d better be on your way”, or words to that effect, we ambled out onto the A6061 and turned right up the hill towards the long straight approach drive to Hoghton Tower. With a left turn and another left off the drive at the gatehouse, we were out into fields. Within the first 3 miles or so we visited Samlesbury Bottoms and Hoghton Bottoms (hence the event name). I was running with Chris Brown and Geoff Holburt. I would use them as my pacers for as long as I could. They are faster than I am and I knew I would not be able to hold onto then until the end. We were soon overtaken by Ian Hill, who’s even faster and most definitely uncatchable by the likes of me.

We mopped our brows as we ran over Butler’s Delf and across the fields to the first food stop at 6.6 miles (the temperature and humidity were causing the perspiration to flow). The broken up lumps of caramel crumble might not have looked very appetising but they certainly hit the spot. With the fuel beginning to course through our veins we followed our noses through the woods to the top of the hill and the first tally clip. After that came a long, downhill run through the woods, across fields and through more woods to the playing fields of Witton Park. I love down-hills. I was in my element.

After a short canal stretch (I hate flat running; I was not in my element) we three arrived at Checkpoint 2 (9.9 miles). I had been noticing the sensation of something lightly touching the inside of my right ankle and it felt as though my right sock might be rucked up around my toes. I didn’t pay too much attention. I assumed the ankle sensation was a muscle twitch, but when I finally looked down I noticed the insole to my shoe was trying to escape up the side of my leg. A quick readjustment soon put that right and I ran in comfort again to catch up to Chris and Geoff. As we ran we caught up with and overtook the walkers, one-by-one. It was often a case of ‘long time no see’ and many brief but animated conversations took place.

I always remembered that uphill lane to Checkpoint 3 (11.9 miles) at Tockholes Village Hall to be a slog. It was no different this year. I struggled to keep up with Chris and Geoff as I shuffled my way up the hill. I had run virtually every step of the way so far and I felt a sub-4-hour time was almost in the bag. An egg sandwich went down very well at the checkpoint. I couldn’t quite stomach the hot dog like Geoff had.

On the descent from Winter Hill (not ‘THE’ Winter Hill), the track took us down past Darwen Golf Course. There were quite a lot of of walkers and runners on the track at that point. I noticed a group of golfers at the tee to the left. One was lining up and going through the motions of driving his projectile through the pedestrians, before petulantly throwing his club down onto the green, flailing his arms sideways and shouting at us to “Get out of the f…..g way”. We were appalled by the rude, self-centred outburst.

I just about clung onto my pacers' coat tales as the miles continued to pass. I was surprised at how little of the route I had remembered. Perhaps I'd pushed so hard in previous years I had not taken much in. Perhaps a sub-4 finish wasn't such a done deal after all. Not much was sinking in this year either. I was just trying to survive and keep my targets in sight, pouring all my energy into the running that was becoming a shuffle as I began to slow down. I desperately wanted to walk but I couldn't afford to. I closed my mind to everything apart from the essential activity of putting one foot in front of the other at a pace that was as far advanced from walking pace as I could muster. I felt myself rapidly failing in that endeavour, but I'd been here before, literally thousands of times.

I was bringing up the rear as I arrived at Checkpoint 4 (18 miles) in Brinscall. There was no time to get food or drink because Chris and Geoff were already on the way out and I had to give chase, with barely 5 miles left to go. It was a good thing I had enough drink left and more than enough food to keep me going for longer than I would ever need today.

Now was the time when I needed a boost. I took my first few slurps of Coke as I gave chase up the road to the right turn at the post office. The sugar-caffeine infusion just kept me in the game for a few more miles and I kept my targets in sight until the right turn onto the towpath of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. With just two miles to go I caught the last glimpse of Chris' fluorescent yellow-green top disappear around a bend. He was just too strong for me and we were back onto flat running and I don't do flat, especially when the legs are screaming for me to stop. However, Geoff was not keeping up either. Chris was too strong for him too.

I finally hauled Geoff in just after leaving the canal as he was taking a short walking break and my pained shuffle had been just sufficient to close the gap. I checked my watch and couldn't believe how much time had passed. We had been running for nearly 4 hours and a sub-4-hour finish was now impossible. Now all I could do was aim for a PB. Geoff provided great encouragement. “Come on, I'll pull you home to a PB”. The final climb across the fields was not steep but required supreme effort to countermand the screaming legs that were commanding me to stop, or at least WALK. “Not just yet” I kept telling them.

“Come on!”, Geoff kept calling back, as if I were his pet dog. I didn't mind. I was happy for any encouragement I could get. The four-hour mark passed as we descended to the long drive to Hoghton Tower. “Come on!” I chased Geoff down the drive and back out onto the A6061. He could so easily have raced ahead to a sprint finish (he always has more in reserve than I have), but he didn't this time. With only a minute left to get a PB, that village hall seemed too far away. “Come on!!” “OK, I'm trying. I'm very trying.” I ran down that road as fast as I could go, turning left carefully onto the footpath to the Hall to avoid slipping on the piles of fallen leaves, to finish in 4:04. I could not believe I had run so fast in 2005 to only be able to beat my PB by one minute this year, after forcing out all that running. Perhaps a little of the Snowdonia marathon (and the Round Rotherham) was still in my legs after all.

Many thanks to Geoff for his selfless encouragement to pull me to a 'sprint' finish.

Chris was able to make up around ten minutes in the final 2 miles to get a comfortable sub-4-hour finish.

Like the Snowdonia Marathon last week, this was an eyeballs out race with no opportunity for taking pictures on the way. I only took two at the beginning. Sorry for the boring show this time.