Friday, 20 August 2010

Elsecar Skelter 27mi. 14/08/2010.

Death by a thousand nettle stings, bramble scratches and rasps from files masquerading as fields of ripe* cereal crops. Was it wheat? I'd forgotten how jungle-like this event can be so I had the legs out as usual. I paid for it with burning, writhing, tingling, itching, throbbing skin well into Sunday.
(*By “ripe”, read brown, dry and HARD.)

Elsecar Skelter is a delightful event in South Yorkshire from the Market Inn, Elsecar, close to the Heritage Centre. It traverses old coal-mining areas that have been returned to nature. Some paths are little-used (a machete would have been useful) and, despite the comprehensive route description, navigation has its moments, with hidden stiles and secret footpaths. Previous route knowledge is a definite advantage.

There are three route choices – 15, 20 and 27 miles, with the added benefit of being able to choose which distance you do while actually doing it. I set out to complete the 'Full Monty' 27, which follows a tight figure-of-eight loop that extends to the outskirts of Rawmarsh on the east and Wharncliffe Crags on the west. This was the first time I had actually completed the full route. The last time I tried this (new) route in 2008, navigational woes resulted in a failure to reach the most picturesque westerly extremity. This time I (and those around me) suffered the same woes, and more, but perseverance got us on track each time. Unfortunately, early heavy downpours wetted my camera, which ceased to function around 7 miles. Pictures are limited and a little boring as a result.

The Vermuyden Group of the Long Distance Walkers Association hosts the event. I had forgotten the range and quality of food on offer, which is more common on much longer events, including the Hundred. In addition to the usual water, squash, cake and biscuits, our stomachs were wooed by sandwiches with fillings of jam, cheese & onion, tuna, salad and more. There was pasta, beautiful home-made cakes like caramel crumble and chocolate cake, tea and coffee. All was served by friendly, enthusiastic volunteers. This luxurious fare helped me shuffle my way round to a 5:24 finish, which was 10 minutes faster than my last failure to complete the route and leaves plenty of room for further improvement next year. The sun had finally made an appearance and I had seen some beautiful views from the Crags down to the River Don and beyond. Also we must not forget the Needle's Eye Folly, Hoober Stand and the very long frontage of Wentworth Woodhouse in the earlier (and wetter) stages.

Manchester 5k Sizzlers.

Thursday 12th August brought the 4th and final race in the series of four at Wythenshawe Park. I almost didn't make it in time due to torrential rain and thunderstorms all afternoon, which had flooded Stockport, caused an accident on the M60 and resulted in snarled-up local roads. I arrived with 5 minutes to spare and envisaged having to grab my number and set off running with it in my hand. Fortunately the organisers understood our predicament and had delayed the start by 10 minutes, so I had enough time to pin the number to my vest after all.

Organised by Sale Harriers, these races have been going for a few years now. Although some impressive speedsters are always there, the races are not elitist and are friendly and welcoming to all who want to take part, including sponsored fun-runners/walkers. They are similar to and precede the very popular Parkruns, but they are much bigger and better supported (there is a goody bag each time). They got me into my first 5k races back in 2005.

By the time we gathered at the race track, the rain had already stopped, thank goodness. I set off nearer to the front than usual and soon found myself being overtaken by those more capable than I. The field soon settled down into the right order with little more overtaking as we ran the two loops of the flat course. I managed to run exactly the same time as for the third race, to the second. Call me Mr. Consistency if you like. Everyone who completed all four races received a commemorative medal that celebrates 100 years of Sale Harriers.

My times for the 2010 series are:
1 July: 22:10
15 July: 21:44
29 July: 21:59 (4 days after finishing the Lakeland 100)
12 August: 21:59

Compared with sub-15-minute winning times, the above times put my puny efforts into true perspective, but I know I could not have done any better. A heart rate peaking into the 190s tells me that if I didn't already know.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Runfurther series race 9 of 12. Long Tour of Bradwell. 33.3mi, 6,727'. 08/08/2010.

It seems as though I am back on the conveyor belt of weekly events; you cannot believe how GOOD it feels. OK, I might still struggle a little on steep fellside descents as my right knee tells me off, but it still seems to benefit retrospectively, and I never imagined a couple of months ago I’d be back doing what I’m doing now.

The LToB is another beautiful toughie – beautiful because of the Derbyshire countryside it traverses, and tough because of the tortured up-and-down route. Three route changes (big improvements I have to say) added just over a mile to this, the second running of this event, to make it 33.3 miles (according to Tracklogs).

We gathered at the Bradwell Sports Pavilion on Sunday morning at the beginning of yet another warm, dry, pleasant day (thank goodness it wasn’t as hot as it was last year). There was plenty of time to get registered, get our SPORTident electronic timing dibbers attached and catch up with friends old and new before wandering up the road to the start area.

At 9am we were sent on our way up the hill (of course), through the big ugly cement works to the bottom of Pin Dale and the first dibbing point at 1 mile, and so began a full day’s dibbing at 16 checkpoints.

A climb up Pin Dale and Dirtlow Rake brought us to a right turn onto the Limestone Way that took us down Cave Dale to Castleton (4.5 miles). That was quickly followed by a climb up to Hollins Cross (I’ve never seen horses up there before) and descent to Edale and the first biscuit. There then followed the zigzag climb up The Nab towards Ringing Roger. A bit of heather-bashing eventually brought us to checkpoint 5 at the Druid’s Stone. Appropriately for such a location the clouds had rolled in and hung menacingly over our heads while threatening us with drizzle. It never came to anything.

The new fell descent route off Rowland Cote Moor had me hopping, huffing and puffing, but it was better than last year’s boggy drainage gully descent, and the height was soon lost to give us an easier run once more across the valley toward the next climb to Back Tor. We soon slowed to a walk on the steep climb and left turn to the summit of Lose Hill. The ugly cement works came into view again. That sight would be our friend towards the end of the day because it would signify an imminent finish. From there it was a long, (mostly) runnable descent past the surprise photographer to checkpoint 7 (13.9 miles) at Killhill Bridge.

A climb around the flank of Win Hill brought Ladybower Reservoir into view across the heather and bracken-clad hillsides. The water level was lower than it was last year. A descent through the conifer plantation brought us to the sharp right turn and dibber point that some runners overshot, and then came the second route change – straight on past the dam along the road and onto the railway track bed, which presumably would have been used to transport materials to build the dam. The relatively flat jog was difficult. I wanted ups I could walk or downs I could run. I always find this in-between, neither up nor down, particularly tiring. No matter, we were soon through checkpoint 9 (17.6 miles) and heading towards the left turn down the fields to Bamford Mills. I did titter to myself when on the way I saw a footpath sign for Shatton. “No thanks, I went before I left.”

After another dibber point in the middle of the bridge over the River Derwent, we climbed through Bamford and onto Leeside Road, the so-called Escalator. It was steep and straight up the hill. I suspect it to be another legacy of the old quarry workings, where rail wagons would most likely have been winched up by chain and let down by gravity. Once at the top we were on the old route and easier road and track that led eventually to the top of Stanage Edge. Trouble is, by this point, running is becoming quite difficult and the inevitable walk/shuffle is beginning to kick in. The dibber point on the way really is off-route. I’m not surprised I and so many others missed it last year.

Checkpoint 12 (23 miles) at Upper Burbage Bridge brought the third route change, most runners choosing the easterly coach track. Although a little longer, it was so easy and runnable compared to the boggy sheep trod along the bottom of the valley that was the official route last year. That brought us to the next dibber point that was tied to a tree that overhung the river and required a scramble down a very steep bank to reach. Someone had already dropped a map printout in the water below. No-one was bothering to climb down to retrieve it.

A jog beside Burbage Brook among the throng of people soon brought us off the beaten track again where no-one except the ultra-runner dares to tread, up and through man-eating bracken to checkpoint 14 (25.9 miles) at Bole Hill. This was a tree-clad disused quarry, which provided another steep, straight, escalator-like railway incline, but downhill this time. A descent across the main Manchester – Sheffield railway and alongside the River Derwent brought us eventually to checkpoint 15, Leadmill Bridge (27.9 miles). I needed another charge of energy to the legs but my Coke had run dry and there was no more to be had. I made do with electrolyte and a pork pie instead. The sun was warm as I gave chase for the other runners who had just left the checkpoint.

Over the next 5.5 miles to the finish via one more dibber point I tickled the throttle to eke the best shuffle that I could muster on less than 5-star fuel. On the approach to Bradwell Edge, the parascenders filled the air with colour as they glided back and forth along the ridge line. As the cement works came into view for the final time and I began my final descent beneath the whistling airborne ones, the campanologists let rip with a flurry of bell ringing from the church in the valley below. I felt unworthy ;-)

I made my final dib at the Pavilion in 7:29:24 – a PB by 35 minutes. Then followed a couple of hours of lounging on the grass in the sunshine drinking tea and eating whatever we could lay our hands on, with everyone reminiscing on what a strangely tough event this is.

My pictures are here – more Derbyshire beauty to absorb.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Dovedale Dipper. 26.5mi, 4,000'. 01/08/2010.

I slept well in the days following the Lakeland 100 and I have been left with a rampant appetite, which I take great delight in satiating every few hours. I have been amazed at my recovery. Once dried out, the feet have quickly healed, including the deep heel blister that was giving me cause for concern. Within a couple of days my legs were giving no hint of what I had just subjected them to (I couldn't have run last Thursday's 5k race so successfully otherwise). I must have plodded so slowly that I didn't trash them. More importantly, the right knee niggles progressively less with each event I subject it to (it seems the more extreme, the better). Therefore I did not feel too guilty or reckless for standing with the other runners at the start of the 8th Dovedale Dipper from Hartington. I felt even less guilty when I discovered that I was not the only one who had also done the L100 on the previous weekend. We ultra runners are all as sane as each other.

I last ran this event in 2006 and I have longed to return ever since (injury prevented me in 2007) because of the friendly and enthusiastic organisation of the Rotary Club of Matlock, but also because it goes through my favourite local countryside, the Derbyshire Dales, and the weather's always nice. The Lakeland 100 being one week earlier this year avoided the clash and allowed my return after a 4-year hiatus.

The Dovedale Dipper is renowned for being a hot and humid affair. This year was one of the mildest (coolest) so far, yet the sun was still making its appearances and the going underfoot was still firm and mostly dry. The walkers on the full marathon had already set off at 9am to the peel of the church bells and the 15-mile 'ramblers' had been sent on their way at 9:30. Now nearly 10am, enthusiastic event organiser Cliff Cartwright was poised with his hooter and giving us our send-off speech. The gist of the message was: “Don't go off route, climb walls and be rude to the farmer when he protests like last year or there will be no more runners on this event”.

The low-key, informal, no-pressure atmosphere meant that everyone seemed reticent to move forward, so I found myself standing near the front, a place I had no right to be because I'm slow. The hooter sounded and we trotted down the lane and turned right. The field soon started to sort itself out as the faster runners slowly moved past. Most notable was 'pink vest man' and one other, who rapidly vanished into the distance as if it were a 5k race, not a hilly marathon on technical terrain. They were obviously racing snakes in a class of their own. I last caught a glimpse of the prominent pink disappearing along the High Peak Trail towards checkpoint 1 at 5.2 miles as I climbed towards that disused railway line, having circumvented the familiar barking dogs at Vincent House farm.

As we overtook the walkers along the route, we passed through checkpoints at Sparklow (5.2 miles), Longnor (9.0 miles), Revidge Wood (12.8 miles), Wetton (17.3 miles), Castern Hall (19.6 miles) and the junction of Mill Dale and Wolfscote Dale (22.4 miles), to finish back at Hartington Village Hall (26.6 miles) for lashings of tea, dinner and pudding. As is typical with these events, we find ourselves repeatedly leapfrogging with other runners as we each experience our bursts and wanes of energy in the legs. This time it was Drew's turn to be repeatedly leapfrogged by me (or vice versa).

As the temperature rose towards a comfortable 20°C and the sun made its appearances, it was an utter joy and delight to be running along, up and down such beautiful terrain. I feel so privileged and blessed to live in such a beautiful country and still to be able to perambulate at relative speed through it. Just like the old times, I enjoyed pushing myself to my limits to finish in 5:07. It may have been 13 minutes slower than my PB of 2005 and it may have been well over 1 hour slower than the winner's time, but it was MY best effort and I was well chuffed to have been able to do it, under the circumstances. I love this life!

I took many more pictures along the way this time. Please play the slideshow and absorb the beauty.