Friday, 19 February 2010

Break plus ten days

I missed a really good Anglezarke Amble last Saturday by all accounts. The conditions sounded nigh on perfect. It would have been my 11th consecutive year had I been able to honour my entry and I would have gunned for a sub-4 PB, given half a chance. I had 7 minutes to knock off last year's time. I desperately wanted to drive up to Rivington to soak up the atmosphere and support in any way I could. I was on the verge of going but when my alarm went off at 5am I decided to take my medicine like a good boy and stay at home to rest. I found some pictures of the day here. The moors are a-calling.

Tomorrow I was due to run the rescheduled Tandem from Goathland but that's one I definitely knew I'd have to cancel. (I'd already lost my running partner and was having to run it solo.) I hope everyone doing it has a good run and the winter weather doesn't stick the spanner in the works for a second time. It seems to be trying its hardest to do just that.

During the week the foot has improved somewhat and I am able to walk around slowly and carefully with sock and sandal providing the support. (It's still too swollen so far for a shoe to be comfortable.) I even managed to get the backlog of shopping done after work today, which was a load off my mind. There was so much to get it felt more like a pre-Christmas shop.

I ditched the cyborg boot on Tuesday because it caused more pain than the plain old sandal. I figure that as long as I'm not causing pain I'm not doing damage.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Break plus five days

Five days after the completion of the creeping breakage:

Notice the change in Blog picture to reflect the new mood. The storm is passing and the sun is emerging. Positive feedback from the forums from those who have been in a similar situation (thanks FR and others) has reassured me that it doesn't have to be 6 weeks of immobility. Thank goodness I didn't opt for the plaster cast. I see light at the end of the tunnel. I'm just about mobile with tight bandaging and a sandal whose strap keeps everything clamped in place.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Rombald's Stride 23mi. 06/02/2010.

Putting Monday's little surprise to one side, move back two days to Rombald's Stride. Based at a junior school in Guiseley, this event is one of my favourites. It was my 11th consecutive year. There's always an eclectic mix of participants from the walkers looking forward to a leisurely stroll and a return in the dark in 10 hours plus, to the super-fit racers who complete in 3 hours and not a lot of change. It guarantees an annual social occasion and a reunion of friends from my earliest walking days to newer running acquaintances, some only just met on the FRA forum.

At 08:45 we began our single file procession outside along the passageway to the grassed start area in front of the now-completed trendy apartments. The damp, foggy conditions set the scene for the day (I had left home under a clear starlit sky).

At 09:00 the shaking of a hand bell sent a mass of runners heading for the two gaps in the wall, across the main road (the traffic was halted for us) and towards the first bottleneck and chance for a breather from the sprint start. Runners jogged along 'in the zone' through Esholt village and on to Check Point 1 at Tong Park. This is the bucket drop. I'd stashed my tag safely in the small pocket of my bumbag but could I find it? Could I 'eckers like. Off came the gloves so I could feel more easily. Still no sign. I felt like a girly with her handbag as I emptied the contents to locate the missing plastic disc that I KNEW was there, because I'd put it there. The marshal wrote my number on her hand instead. Her hand was already half full with numbers, so I wasn't the only one.

I was already burning up after these first 2.5 miles so I seized the opportunity to remove a layer while runners continued to stream past. I'd wasted far too much time so early on, but now properly cooled I had renewed energy and I was soon overtaking again.

After CP3 at Baildon Moor trig point I'd planned to be clever and head on a compass bearing to CP4 at the road junction. Mistake! I ran blind into the fog, leaving the other runners to do the right thing. I drifted too far right as I bashed my way off-piste down to the road, which I knew was the wrong one because I was hearing too much traffic on it. I turned left and left again on the road I should have been on, back up to the checkpoint. I had envisaged a visual descent. My compass bearing of 'NW' was obviously not precise enough. More minutes squandered.

I found myself alone, veiled in a clammy white shroud as I plodded on through the horse gallops to CP5, Weecher. I caught up with an old walking friend here. It had been a long time and we chatted for a bit before I went ahead on a lonely, isolated ascent onto Bingley Moor. The loneliness was broken for a while as I heard the breathing of another runner slowly closing from behind, then a rather fit looking (in both senses of the word) lady runner overtook me and gradually vanished into the wall of whiteness. I was alone again, looking out for recognisable landmarks beside the path and hoping I was on the right one. I'd been here before so I was pretty confident. The sight of the Twelve Apostles stone circle to my right confirmed it.

Shortly I was at CP6, Lanshaw Lad (Boundary Stone), self-clipped and on my way across the partially frozen bogs to CP7, Whetstone Gate. Those bogs were entertaining. All were wet, some with lots of surface water, yet mostly frozen underneath. Most of the time you could run across the most dodgy-looking terrain without a problem, but sometimes a very shallow puddle would break without warning and instantly become a very deep puddle, with sharp edges added to create an added frisson of danger. Sometimes I found myself 'walking on water', feet in a very large puddle that's too big to jump across, yet hovering several inches above a perfectly clear image of peat and clumps of grass below. Somehow I felt that keeping my knees bent would reduce my weight and prevent it breaking. Usually it worked. There's nothing like fell running for getting the adrenaline flowing, in more ways than one.

After CP7 I attempted an alternative route – turn right down the old route towards Ilkley Bottom while looking out for a trod to the left that promised to be firmer underfoot. I eventually reached the trod after what seemed like too long, but it forked left rather than turned left. I bottled out of pioneering a new route alone across the moors in the fog and climbed back up the track to the wall, where with even more minutes squandered I turned right to continue the entertaining 'dice with death' across the puddles with their tenuous sub-surface crusts and indeterminate depths.

I survived the crossing and was joined by a group of runners as we descended, across the big trampoline of a rippling bog beside Rombald's Moor that wasn't doing its stuff this year (deep frozen) to CP8, Piper's Gate. Someone was taking our pictures as we 'flew' down the fellside.

Even though we had barely done 12 miles I was already slowing down with increasingly heavy legs. It always happens around this point. I'd been eating at the checkpoints but I needed more. I sucked on a couple of energy gels as I plodded the gentle downhill to CP9, Ilkley Bottom, getting overtaken by more runners as I went.

More food at CP9 provided good fuelling for the next climb up towards Rocky Valley. The section from the top of Rocky Valley around the edge of Ilkley Moor in the fog confused some people, who went walkabout in all directions. For once, my navigation went perfectly. Recollections from the past ten years got me onto the path to the self clip at Coldstone Ghyl then down to CP11, Burley Woodhead, in the most efficient way possible.

From there came the crossing of Menston and a few main roads to the foot of The Chevin. The final, brutally steep climb via the self clip at CP12 had everyone trudging very slowly, with the exception of a lady who was obviously in a different league to the rest of us at that point. She had got lost and now found herself overtaking the comparative slowcoaches among whom she had found herself. She was soon out of sight. The gradient eased as we forked left in the woods. How different they looked compared to last year's snow, blue sky & sunshine scene. (See above and compare with this from last year.

CP13, Yorkgate Quarry, was the last checkpoint, with 1.6 miles of (mostly) downhill to the finish. I would like to say that I gave it all I had and blasted down to the finish, leaving others standing and languishing in my splashed mud as I raced past them to a triumphant sub-4 finish. However that's not my style – far too rude. In reality I plodded down to the finish, inviting anyone in the vicinity to overtake me (as if I had a choice), to a 4:08 finish, which frankly is amazing. Despite the good 10 minutes I must have wasted, it's still a PB by 4 minutes for the new route. Perhaps a sub-4 may come back to me next year. Oh, and by the way, of course I gave it all I had; it's just that I don't have a lot to give.

I went on a belated search for the elusive plastic disc. It was stuck between mobile phone and sleeve, which was in my bumbag pouch. So it WAS there like I knew it was. I was able to hand it in after all.

Rombald's Stride was very well organised, as always. I was impressed by the number of marshals at important road/footpath junctions to guide and protect us, all the checkpoints and the food. I spent the usual hour or two chatting over the post-race meal and tea.

I took a few pictures again.

On the drive home as I descended the M62, I emerged from the fog into the setting sun. It had been a sunny day back home in the west.

Postscript: I recall no foot soreness during or after this event.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

A strange trail followed me home from work this evening

Woohoo! I got to run in the white stuff again tonight. Wet white stuff, but white stuff nonetheless (at least it washed off yesterday's mud from the 'footwear'). The snow had returned with a vengeance all afternoon so it was forced to stick whether it wanted to or not. The cars were reduced to a crawl again and I found myself feeling a little smug as I crossed the road with unaccustomed ease to my deserted commuting track.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

That's Lyth 23mi. 31/01/2010.

I set off from home at 05:30 on Sunday morning and I was soon caught in a snow storm. All lanes of the M61 were covered. However I had faith. The forecast had predicted snow showers to the south of the region. I was surprised one had strayed so far north. It couldn't last, and sure enough it didn't. By the time I reached the M6 any signs of snow quickly vanished.

I arrived at the 1st Kendal Scout Hut 1.5 hours later to typical That's Lyth conditions – cool, calm and dry, with a sunny day in prospect. In fact it turned out a little colder than usual because it remained frozen throughout apart from where the sun got to the ground towards the end.

It was the usual sell-out. At £4 a pop and with that scenery it's hardly surprising. The hut was heaving before the final slow exodus to the road outside for the start. After some inaudible murmurings from an official standing on the wall, we were off along the riverside before veering off to the left and uphill to exit Kendal and climb into the countryside.

This was my 7th time running this event. Although I had the route description in my hand I never once needed to refer to it. I just followed my nose along the route and let my memory be jogged as I went along. The runners in front of me also knew where they were going, for the most part.

In contrast to last week's Hebden and its frequent checkpoints, there are only 3 checkpoints on this event – at Crosthwaite Memorial Hall (7 miles), Witherslack Parish Hall (14 miles) and Cotes Corner (18 miles).

The first section undulates across a golf course, fields and lanes. The second section becomes more interesting and involves a climb up to Whitbarrow summit memorial cairn, from where the 360 degree views are spectacular. I never pause for long enough to take them in because I'm always in a hurry and eking the last vestige of speed out of my body with its somewhat deficient cardiovascular system. This time was no different. In fact I was amazed at the pace I was sustaining considering my recent lack of fitness. A week seemed to have made a surprising difference.

The third section involves the boring slog across the wide, flat Lyth Valley towards Levens. The idea is to keep something in reserve to be able to run this and get it over with. There was once a time when I couldn't do it but now I am able to just sustain a shuffle all the way across. While I was doing this I was slowly overtaken by one of the several dogs on the event and his master. When the pooch was adjacent to me he suddenly turned around and laid flat in the gutter. I looked round and realised he had heard a car approaching from behind. It was far away and moving slowly and I hadn't heard it. He remained motionless until the car was passing, then he was off in hot pursuit (from the safe end of the car) and catching up with his master in the process. Whether it's training or herding instinct I don't know, but it's impressive and amusing. (I'm sure I saw the same dog do the same thing last year as well.)

The fourth section after George's garage gets interesting again. The climb up Scout Scar in the winter sunshine with such clarity to the views was spectacular. The snow covered mountains way over to our left across the valley stood out clearly. I really should have taken a series of portraits through ~180 degrees to stitch together into a panorama, but I didn't have time. I was still pushing for that best possible time. I'm too darned competitive with myself.

I was running with Geoff H by now. We had both slowed considerably but I was still keeping the shuffle going, even on the uphills. It was 0.1 miles per hour faster than walking, so it was. We soon arrived at the cairn (I'm sure that pile of stones has seriously grown over the past year) and the right turn up and over the ridge before the final descent, across the ancient disused race course to the road. A left turn and more downhill road brought us back into Kendal and the finish. It was easy downhill and we should have run much faster but we had no more to give. Our early fast pace had drained us too much. Our final time of 4:03 was within a minute or two of my time of last year and 14 minutes outside my PB of the year before. Not bad considering last week's poor effort. I wasn't drained by my efforts this time either. Finally I felt fulfilled.

The winning time of 2:55 (apparently) was achieved by an alien from another planet with unimaginable superhuman ability. It's all in the genes, you know.

The volunteers and marshals did their usual amazing job. Lots of post-event conversing and catching-up was had over soup, rolls, doughnuts, cake and tea. I left my portion of rice pudding and tinned fruit to some other lucky person. The organisers really could increase their entry fee. I don't think anyone would utter a word of complaint. £4 is embarrassing.

I will be back in 2011, God willing. The measly eight pictures I took are here.

Postscript – VFF update.
The following two days (Monday and Tuesday) I have run to work in the fivefingers without any issues. My feet and ankles feel pleasantly exercised without being traumatised. I have adopted a different running style that doesn't trash my calf muscles. Instead of always forefoot landing, I land just on my heels but virtually flat, with bent knees and taught abdomen to cushion each footfall as much as possible. I only use forefoot landing occasionally when necessary. The limbs like it. My run home in the rain and dark this evening without torch, through the mud and puddles along the stony track, demanded ultra delicate foot placement. It worked like a dream. My precious fivefingers received their first serious soiling.

In honour of the Vibram fivefingers, my blog picture is changed for a while. They appear still clean and nestling in pristine powder.

Monday, 1 February 2010

The Hebden 21mi. 23/01/2010.

The Hebden is traditionally held on the first weekend of the year. In 2010 it was delayed by 3 weeks to avoid clashes with other events, yet it was still the first event of the year for most of us thanks to the exceptional snowfall this winter that resulted in most events having to be postponed. Only a week beforehand, the long route was impassable in many places. Organiser Alan Greenwood, a great stickler for detail, kept us well informed with status reports on his website up to the last minute. The snowdrifts only just cleared in time to allow the full event to take place with the exception of one small section after checkpoint 5, where gates remained half buried and the farmer did not want hundreds of walkers climbing over them (quite understandable really). That required a short cut along New Road, which shortened the route possibly by half a mile. No-one complained; we were too happy just to be out in the hills again.

And so it was, at 8am in Mytholmroyd, 350+ keen runners and walkers were led informally from the Community Centre round to the church for a safe rolling start of the short AND the long routes. I had chosen the long route of 21 miles (including diversion). That might not sound very long for a 'long route' but when it's in Calderdale with its sharp ups and downs and copious mud, 21 miles is quite demanding enough.

The long route meandered in & out and up & down the vales, moors and cloughs via checkpoints at Old Town, Slack, Eastwood, Broad Head Clough, New Road and Little Scout Farm. It never really ventured that far from Mytholmroyd but you would never have guessed, such were the frequent and dramatic changes in scenery. The weather was kind to us so we could appreciate the scenery in all its glory, and the paths were clear thanks to the volunteers' efforts. Yes, they do take their secateurs and garden shears with them on their route-proving reconnoitres. More than that, they take their courtesy notifications to post through residents' doors whose properties the route passes through. Public footpaths in Calderdale go up people's drives and across their front gardens and make you feel guilty as though you are trespassing on private property. Perhaps it's one reason for the high incidence of navigational errors in Calderdale. People don't want to trespass. The difficult parts on rarely-used footpaths where there is no obvious path to follow were marked with red tape, which was useful otherwise there may still be people wandering out there. The Hebden route is certainly quirky in places!

We enjoyed the usual welcome and support from the many willing and cheerful marshals, helpers and Raynet volunteers. And the food, oh the food. I reacquainted myself with Carole's heavenly chocolate cake at checkpoint 1. The dripping sandwiches and stollen at checkpoint 3 in the woodwork shop are always noteworthy and something to look forward to. The tuna sandwich at checkpoint 5 kept me going for the final 4 miles or so to the finish. There was more but I don't wish to come across as gluttonous.

The meal menu at the finish was naturally full and plentiful. It even commenced with an aperitif of mulled wine in its very own heated urn. WOW!

With such a spectacular route and such good organisation, no wonder this event fills to capacity. It has built something of a reputation among the runners as well as the walkers (it's all over the running forums for months leading up to the day). The reputation is well deserved. Many thanks to Alan, Carole and all the helpers. All your immense efforts are recognised and really appreciated. Bring on 2011!

Considering the shortened route, my time of 4:30 ranks as a Personal Worst in the 4 years of this event's existence. Upon my return, Race Organiser Alan Greenwood greeted me with: "Nick, what have you been doing?" Only dragging my sorry bottom around his event as fast as it would go and draining most of the life out of myself in the process. The extended layoff has done nothing for my fitness. All I wanted to do was lie down and go to sleep afterwards, but the post-event meal revived me for the drive home. May my completion of The Hebden be the start of my return to former fitness, Amen.

All the pictures I took are here.