Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Now for something completely different: Stovax Stockton 4

I have four Edwardian fireplaces (100 years old). One of them is now in the garage awaiting a buyer (it's far too valuable to throw away). In its place is a modern, efficient, British-made multi-fuel stove. The Stovax Stockton 4 has a maximum output of just 4kW and it's very dinky but it weighs an absolute TON. Steve and I nearly ruptured our backs to carry it in. Clean-burn design allows the burning of smoky fuels like wood in smokeless zones, like where I live. Naturally, the installation has to be certificated. I now have TWO carbon monoxide detectors and a rather desirable certification plate behind my cellar door. It feels good to be certified ;-)

Unashamed plugs go to Coalwood Heating Centre of Cheadle Heath, installation craftsman Stephen Pickford of Sandbach and chimney sweep J. Pomroy of Woodley. Better tradesmen you could not wish to find. They are true professionals who inspire confidence, who care about their customers and who do a first class job. The fact that they are certified and approved is reflected in their work. What more could you wish for when playing with fire?

The photographic record is here.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Lactic Acid Test; 8.2mi with 1,434' of ascent. 20/02/2011.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I really should do more of these short races. It's the only time I get to push the limits all the way to the end without having to worry about the consequences.

This was the first running of this event by Kiwi Classic Events, and the first K C Event I have done. I was suitably impressed. It gave the impression of a commercial event that introduced the fell-novice to a touch of fell racing, with a well-marked course, care and attention to detail and a post-race veggie hotpot included, yet the price was not the rip-off that you might have assumed. £6 (for a UKA affiliated runner) seems downright reasonable to me.

The course started from the Royal Oak Pub in Stalybridge and skirted Hollingworthall Moor before crossing between Walkerwood and Brushes Reservoirs and climbing to Slatepit Moor. Then followed a descent to Higher Swineshaw Reservoir before turning right and skirting Lower Swineshaw Reservoir on the climb to the high point of the course, Hollingworthall Moor and the trig point. Then came the 'triple-X-rated' descent towards Wild Bank and the circuitous descent 'around Bill's mother's' back to the finish. I enjoyed the triple X' part - one of the few times I got to do some overtaking.

I finished in the top half, so that was good. The chat, food and prizegiving afterwards in the Royal Oak was good and took longer than the race itself. It was another new experience and excellent weekend outing in an area I've never visited before.

I was in race mode, so I set off with my camera already in hand in case the opportunity presented itself. It did, you lucky people: PICTURES.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Anglezarke Amble; >24 miles with >3,550' of ascent. 12/02/2011.

This is another perennial favourite LDWA event of mine, this time organised by West Lancs LDWA. (Were it not for last year's broken foot, this would also have been my 12th consecutive completion like last week's Rombald's Stride.)

The overnight rain had abated in time for the 8am start, but the cloud still hung low. The temperature was well above freezing and there was no wind, making it feel quite clammy as soon as we were under way. We were soon enveloped as we climbed out of Rivington towards Rivington Pike. From the Pike we descended then climbed to Winter Hill, its transmitting ironwork completely hidden from view this year. Our descents and ascents then took us across field and moor to Checkpoint 3 and the bunk barn on the bank of Turton & Entwistle Reservoir. From there, the new, longer route (since 2005) took us past the Strawberry Duck pub (in business once again) on the Witton Weaver's Way towards Darwen Moor.

Darwen Tower looked naked and less like a lighthouse without its hat, which was blown off by a gale in November 2010. By now the sun was making brief appearances for the final 9 miles. Slipper Lowe was basking and looking quite inviting for a bit of a sit-down, but not today. The grass-covered Great Hill took on its usual pale orange glow in the sunlight. The descent towards Drinkwaters and Checkpoint 6 at White Coppice was noticeably more eroded than I've seen in the past 12 years. I added to that erosion as I ran with guilty pangs down the black mushy gash that now scars Great Hill. I was thankful for the cushioned footfalls, though.

After White Coppice came the undulating 3.6-mile slog to the finish. It is always a struggle to run all the final road sections. In the early years I wasn't able to do it, but better pacing allows me to do so these days. Despite pushing to the limit throughout, I was disappointed to finish 34 minutes slower than I did in 2009. Out of six completions of this route, only two have been slower than this year's 4:41. In 2009 I was running instead of cycling to work four days a week. It's amazing what an extra 16 miles per week in 8 short bursts can do for running fitness (more speed and reduced heart rate). I know what I shall be doing again from now on.

I took a few more pictures out there this time.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Rombald’s Stride; 22 miles with 3,060' of ascent. 05/02/2011.

The instructions list this slog-fest from Guiseley as a 23-miler, but Tracklogs tells me it’s 22 miles. Sorry to disappoint all those who got beaten up by this one because you ran less than you thought. It is renowned for chewing you up so you have nothing left by the time you get to Menston.

This was the 3rd running of this new route with the steeper, more direct climb all the way up The Chevin for that nice little sting in the tail. It also happened to be my 12th consecutive running of the event, having first jogged it in 2000 in a time of 5:24. This year gave us the worst conditions by far for this new route and for many years. The frozen conditions and firm footing that are more familiar gave way in 2011 to bogs; swilling, flowing, pouring, standing water; bogs; a strong head wind; bottomless puddles; and bogs. I had been feeling quite strong in the week leading up to it and had been fondly imagining a first sub-4-hour completion for the new route. In the event, the conditions helped me to a Personal Worst of 4:19:20; perhaps next year (if it’s frozen again).

This event is extremely popular with the runners as well as the walkers. It always fills to capacity (close on 500 finished) and there are always some awesome performances. This year was no exception, despite the conditions. The winning time of 2:37:55 by one Graham Pearce leaves me speechless. How anyone can move so fast over such terrain in such conditions defies all logical reasoning. Levitation and time travel seem as logical as any other explanation.

After filing out along the passage to the starting area, we were set off at 9am by the ringing of the hand bell. The route took us via many checkpoints over Baildon Hill and across the horse gallops to Lanshaw Lad and Ilkley Moor. This is where the wind, water and bogs were at their fiercest. The effort of maintaining forward momentum into a strong wind while dodging and leaping from side to side to clear the bottomless puddles and bogs was quite draining. Whetstone Gate is aptly named, coming as it does in the middle of the wet boggy section. The right turn and descent past the forest on Rombald’s Moor provided welcome shelter from the wind and allowed me to warm up again. The next right turn at Piper’s Gate spelled an end to any further head-on wind. I always have to coast the next gently descending section to Ilkley Bottom to recover from the exertions of the first 11+ miles.

After Ilkley Bottom comes the stiff climb up past White Wells and into Rocky Valley. The walk provides welcome recovery from all the running, such that by Rocky Valley there’s some jog / shuffle returning to the legs for the next section along the edge of Burley Moor. This is one section where my well-practised route allows me to gain on others who may not be so familiar with the multitude of paths on the ground. My full sugar Coke was giving me the energy spurt I needed too. I forked left at the allotted place at Coldstone Ghyl but could not see the self clip. It was much further down than usual. I hope it didn’t cause runners to miss the turn-off. The grassy run down the hill to Burley Woodhead was a blast as usual.

After many years of slowing down and getting overtaken in the second half, I instinctively gauge my effort now such that I am able to do the overtaking instead. Menston was always the place where I really suffered and began to drag myself. Now when I observe it in others I know exactly how they feel, but I can’t deny feeling pleased to be doing the overtaking these days. In Menston, at the left turn down the passage just after Fairfax Gardens (the turn that many people miss, including the pair of runners just ahead that I called back), I overtook a runner who had been reduced to a plod. He stepped aside, head bowed, to let me pass without turning or saying a word. He was obviously feeling very sorry for himself. I’ve been there and done that so many times at that point. I thanked him as I passed.

The downhill road section to the bottom of The Chevin takes the Mickey somewhat because we lose all that height to get delivered to the very bottom just so we can climb all the way to the very top. Lovely, another chance for a walk break. As soon as the gradient began to ease after the self clip, I found myself jogging again. The strange urge overtook me. That continued up through the woods and over the top to the final checkpoint at Yorkgate Quarry. I wasted no time in setting off on the final downhill road – track – road section to the finish. With little more than half a mile to go I could hear someone bearing down upon me, then Madeleine came blasting past, seemingly with boundless energy in her legs, to finish 2 minutes ahead of me. I was most impressed. Well done Mad.

I spent the usual 2 hours afterwards chatting and eating the wonderful post-race dinner, which was quality, as was the checkpoint food and so were the marshals. This is a superb event. I will be back for a 13th running in 2012 and hope that I’m not too far over the hill for a sub-4 finish (please!).

I started off taking a few pictures but that dried up after Weecher (~6 miles). I had the letter ‘P’ etched on my left eyeball and ‘B’ etched on the right, so snapping fell by the wayside once again. Sorry for the anticlimax. On hindsight I should have snapped away.

On my westward journey home I was quickly reminded of how lucky we had been as I returned to the wind-blown deluge I had left behind in the morning. It may have been a tad moist underfoot but at least it only spat a bit of drizzle from above.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

That’s Lyth; 23+ miles with 3,100' of ascent. 30/01/2011.

That’s Lyth is a non-competitive walk/run from Kendal in the southern Lake District, organised by Westmorland and North Lancs LDWA. The only competition is the private pact you make with yourself and your fellow runners. Yet again we were blessed with good conditions. I can only remember one wet outing in eight completions since 2000. This year we enjoyed cool, calm, overcast conditions with ground that was mostly dry and frozen firm. The ideal conditions made it perfect PB fodder. I’d been dreaming all week of a second sub-4-hour finish, but felt it was probably out of the question because I still don't do any training. Sub 4:15 was a more realistic target, which I would have been happy to achieve.

The scout hut was heaving as usual with a capacity crowd as we left it to the last minute before venturing outdoors into the cold. We would need to get running with little delay to keep warm. From previous experience I knew I had to wear minimal layers and be feeling cool at the start if I wasn’t to overheat and blow a gasket within 5 minutes of setting off. My bones (skeleton cycling top) felt just right, the rear pockets providing an ideal alternative to a bumbag, while the obligatory exposed legs would provide some essential heatsinking. They would be generating enough heat of their own anyway! (Photo courtesy of Sportsunday at last week's Hebden.)

After the inaudible utterances of the M.C., we were suddenly on our way running beside the river towards the climb out of Kendal and the hills that beckoned beyond. The lead runner was out of sight within the first mile.

The first 7 miles to Checkpoint 1 (Crosthwaite Memorial Hall) undulated mostly across fields and along lanes, with plenty of stiles to break our stride. The next 7 miles to CP2 (Witherslack Parish Hall) gave us our first proper climb over Whitbarrow Scar. Geoff H finally overtook me at CP2, while Ian H was arriving as I was leaving.

The next 4.5 miles to CP3 (Cotes Corner / Cinderbarrow) took us around the southern end of Whitbarrow Scar and across the wide, flat Lyth Valley. I was giving chase to Geoff but he was gradually pulling away. I wasn't bothered. I was doing my own thing and it felt right. I have learned that if I can run all the way to CP3, including the seemingly interminable flat road sections across the valley, I’ve gauged my effort levels and fuelling just right. I achieved that ‘holy grail’ this year. Things were looking surprisingly good. Ian finally caught me just before CP3. I still didn’t care because my race seemed to be going just fine.

A lovely welcome and a jam doughnut at CP3 set me up for the final 5 miles. I managed to sustain the uphill shuffle under the transmission lines past the southern end of Brigsteer Park, past Helsington Church (where I caught my final glimpse of Geoff and Ian ahead) then up Scout Scar to the big cairn and the right turn. I glanced at my watch. I could not believe that a sub-4 seemed to be on the cards. I couldn’t let up. I pushed the pace down the back side of Scout Scar and across the defunct race track to the road and left turn for the final downhill run back into Kendal for a 3:55 finish – a second best and just 6 minutes outside my PB of 2008. WOO-HOO! There’s life in the old dog yet.

That’s Lyth route is hilly rather than mountainous, while the footing is trail rather than fell and good for the most part. Therefore the temptation to run too much too fast is enormous, which can either result in a wonderfully fast time (good times) or a blow-up if I overdo the effort even slightly (bad times). Just as important is the fuelling – just the right amount of the right stuff (too much or too little could ruin it) is essential to finish fast and strong. This year I got it just right, running fast and strong to the end without that post-race trashed or tired feeling like happens if I over-egg it (e.g. Winter Tanners?) Good race outcomes are so satisfying and leave a long-lasting contented warm glow deep within.

Post-race chatting and refuelling was as good as ever. The winning time was comfortably under 3 hours if I recall correctly, but we shall never know officially; so low-key and non-competitive is this event, there is no results service. They don’t even put our finishing time on the certificate (which is unusual even by LDWA standards).

That’s Lyth always fills to capacity because the route is so good, it is so slickly organised, the checkpoint food is so good and the entry fee is so cheap. In fact it is embarrassingly cheap, at only £4. I suggested to the timekeepers at the finishing desk that they should put the price up. They said I wasn’t the only one to suggest it and they would put it to the committee. If we see something a little more realistic in 2012 (£6 sounds more like it), you’ll know who to blame.

The picture offerings are necessarily poor once again. Snap-happy racing just doesn’t work, unfortunately.