Monday, 30 January 2012

Kinder Trial: >>11 miles of orienteering across the rough. 28/01/2012.

Levitation and teleportation; that’s the only way I can conceive of moving over that stuff in under three hours. It took me 4:25. Tom Brunt won it in under 1:45. How can that be possible?

You may recall from a previous wittering of mine that orienteering combined with running are not my bag. I can’t really do either properly, but put the two together and I am on the brink of total meltdown. That’s why I rarely do it, far too stressful. However, as part of my new strategy for 2012 of doing more short, sharp, local races, I’m doing as much of the Hayfield race series as I can. I can just about squeeze in four of them, which entitles me to enter the championship, which I shall be doing (I fancy the idea of a winner’s trinket on my mantelpiece anyway). Lamb’s Longer Leg was the first one and this was the second. Watch out podium, prepare to feel the soles of my feet....;-)

Race organiser Andy Howie described as “shocking” the conditions on Friday when he was up on the western flanks of Kinder Scout hiding the 13 controls. However, come Saturday morning at Hayfield scout headquarters, the sun shone out of a calm blue sky and the hills were plastered with the previous day’s issue from above. Let the fun begin.

The staggered starts lasted from 10:00 to 11:00. I was issued with my map at 10:26. I leaned nonchalantly on the door frame to appear in control of the situation while I decided whether to go clockwise or anticlockwise to pick off the 13 controls. It was an easy decision for me. Anticlockwise it was. Within 30 seconds I was off, micro navigating my way along the footpaths and lanes out of Hayfield and up the track to K7. Several runners had already overtaken me and one of them found the control hidden around the back of a tree off-path up the hill. I was surprised how small, inconspicuous and hidden it was. I had a lot to learn.

The expansive snow-covered fells basking in bright winter sunshine were grabbing my attention as I climbed towards Mount Famine, checking my compass that I was on the right heading. Navigation was still going perfectly as I went straight to K10 as described: “Below crag south of summit”. This wasn’t so bad, I thought. I set a compass bearing towards the next one (K12) and made a beeline for it steeply down and across really rough terrain, stumbling more than running. On hindsight I would have been better contouring more around to the right. I found a trod through the snow and fell into the trap of following it. It led me astray, bypassing K12 down into the River Sett valley. Even the trees above which K12 was situated were out of sight above me. A long backtrack uphill was required to find it.

The climb towards K11 was across thousands of snow-covered baby’s head tussocks. Trips and stumbles were frequent as I plodded upwards. The levitators runners who were overtaking me seemed to be having less trouble.

K11 would have been easy to find even without the trodden trail in the snow because it was off the path in a wall nook – a very easy feature to find. A Pennine runner who I’d seen closing in the far distance was suddenly there and clipping his tally. How on earth did he cover that ground so quickly? I suspected teleportation this time, the cheating scoundrels ;-)

The run down in a northerly direction towards K9 seemed quite pleasant to begin with. I decided to try a bit of proper fell running down the easy snowy trod left by others as I followed in pursuit of the Pennine runner, who was already pulling away rapidly. Within 10 seconds my face was pressed firmly into the snow (I straightened my testicles spectacles later after I got home). That’ll teach me to get ideas above my station and think I’m a fell runner. With a snap back to reality I bounced back onto my feet to resume the clumsy shuffle-cum-walk down towards the sloppy slip-slidey valley and up the other side towards K9. At this point the first clockwise runners started to overtake in the opposite direction, to add to the anticlockwise runners already overtaking me. It was starting to get busy.

First clockwise runner descends from K9.

K13 was in a NNE direction, but there was a trod and there were people to follow, so no problem. I hit a track and turned right. (My depleted brain had only taken in the headings from each control to the next, but little else, so I only found out two days later that this was the track down from Edale Cross.) I turned left through the next gate and proceeded to run down the track, but something didn’t feel right. I should not be descending like this and it’s turning too far round to the right. I turned around and ran back up to the gate, to be confronted by lines of runners coming and going in all directions. Were they clockwise or anticlockwise runners? Where did I just come from? I was totally confused. (I now realise I must have been running down towards Jacob’s Ladder, but I didn’t recognise it in the snow and had no inkling I’d been along there so many times on the Bullock Smithy Hike.) I looked at the fingerpost and saw one finger pointing more to the left, more in the direction I should have maintained. Streams of other runners were coming back from that direction. A quick check with one of them confirmed that K13 was indeed down there. Off I plodded again.

K13 was even busier, like Piccadilly Circus. I made way for the proper runners to clip their tallies first while I took a few pictures. We couldn’t have these proper athletes being held up by an incapable rank amateur of such monumental incompetence.

Ian Winterburn leaves K13 going clockwise.

From K13 I set my compass on a NW heading and made a beeline uphill and across the top over terrain that could only be tripped over, on the way getting overtaken by the final anticlockwise runner. I was now bringing up the rear. My compass bearing took me straight to the steep valley that hid K8. Here I had my last human contact as the last of the clockwise runners climbed up in the opposite direction (see top picture). (At this stage I was pleased to have chosen anticlockwise; I didn't envy the clockwise runners who had difficulty finding this checkpoint.)

A very difficult crossing of a snow-covered boulder field in a northerly direction, where legs disappeared down holes and running was quite impossible, brought me eventually (thankfully without any broken bones) to K6. I looked behind to where I’d come from. The expansive fells were devoid of any other human life.

K5 was still on the same heading. I looked at the horizon to pick out a feature to aim for as I picked my way precariously across the boulder field with its copious man traps. There were so many opportunities to break a leg or an ankle that great attention had to be paid to each footfall. Running was impossible. Did I mention that? I hit the fence and descended the sloppy muddy hill to cross a small river (later found out to be the River Kinder with Kinder Downfall at its head). I climbed the equally sloppy opposite side of the valley and continued upwards. I was halfway up the next 'mountain' when I checked my map, wondering when K5 was going to appear. It should have been well before the river crossing. The air turned blue.

I turned around and slid back down the hill, across the river and back up the other side. I eventually came upon K5, nestling discreetly at the base of the rock where Andy had secreted it. Not only can I not run and navigate, I can’t walk and spot anonymous, almost hidden micro orienteering flags either. I've been far too used all these years to checkpoint locations shouting at me on the events I do. Did I say I have a lot to learn?

I turned back downhill to repeat my journey across and up to the next control at the foot of the crag. The geographical location was obvious and brightly sunlit, so K1 was easy to find despite its diminutive proportions.

K1 and the way ahead.

K2 would be easy to find. It was just a contour along the hillside in a westerly direction to a stream source. I followed the trod in the snow, enjoying the warm sunshine along the way. I came upon the stream source. There were footprints all around. I added to them copiously. I stood on high and scanned downwards. Nothing. I went lower down and scanned upwards. Still nothing. I must have missed the control at an earlier stream source as I concentrated on placing my footfalls safely. The air became blue again. I turned around and plodded back almost to K1 while scanning every little valley and depression for that elusive flag. NOTHING. The blue turned to indigo as I convinced myself that the previous runner must have thought he was the last one and was doing a tidying-up job for Andy.

I turned around again and plodded slowly back to the stream source while rehearsing my excuse speech for Andy as to why I could not get all the controls. I scanned around one final time. Still nothing. I carried on. Ten yards further on was another stream source. There was K2 basking in the sunlight and laughing at me in all its dinky glory.

K2 mocked me, oh yes it did.

K3 in a south-westerly direction was easy to find (at least the boulder under which it retired shyly was easy to find). A sheep viewed me suspiciously as I went about my important business of bringing up the rear.

From K3 a traverse westwards and a steep descent to cross the inlet to the Kinder Reservoir brought me to the footbridge and climb up the other side. The footpath ascent to the shooting cabin brought the final control, K4, camouflaged nicely in shadow around the back. From there it was an easy run down the Snake Path back to Hayfield, except that I walked most of it. I was too drained by the previous four hours plus of hard slog across that terrain. There was no point in finishing myself off completely. The débâcle would not be turned into any less of a débâcle by any attempt at personal competitiveness at this irretrievable stage of the game. Anyway I might twist an ankle on a pebble on my way back to Hayfield and that would just add insult to injury, so I continued to do what I do best: PLOD and enjoy the views. I did save myself for a half-arsed trot up the steps to the scout hut though, just to convince myself and anyone else who happened to be watching that I'd given it my best shot, which you might say had already landed in my foot.

Strangely enough, most of my lost time was caused by failing to find controls even though I was on the correct route. With the two detours and all the to-ing and fro-ing I probably covered 13 miles. Perhaps if I ever do one of these again, my eyes might be better tuned to spot the small controls and to look sooner. I’m not used to events where checkpoints are so close together and so inconspicuous. It can only get better next time. I am even more in awe of those who can do these events so quickly.

Many thanks go to Andy and crew for allowing me another new experience. The home made broccoli soup back in the scout hut was excellent too.

I finished the ordeal unscathed, then back home I smashed my middle left toe on the edge of the bath as I climbed in. The various shades of red, purple and black provide an extended reminder of a rather special day in my life ;-)

We were blessed with an amazing day with amazing views to behold. Here's the best of the pictures I took.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Hebden 22mi. 21/01/2012.

The rain was kind enough to leave a window of dryness for most of us, but the wind, oh the wind (no baked beans or sprouts involved). It was enough to knock us off our feet. The mud we expect in Calderdale in winter, but even that was as bad as it could possibly be. Put the two together and you get slip-sliding and no traction, which requires much pusseyfooting. The inevitable result is slower times.

I had decided to go all out for a fastest possible time, such that I sampled not one morsel or drop from any of the checkpoints (I know, this strategy is criminal on The Hebden). I kept myself lean and mean with energy gels and my own electrolyte and water, and devoted every second to getting myself around the route back to Mytholmroyd. The result was a decidedly average (for me) 4:30. As always, it was the best I could manage. I have always run at my limit on this one.

Then followed nearly 3 hours of chatting with folk and refuelling on the wonderful comestibles (which always include mulled wine as an aperitif, would you believe). The post-race 'do' is half the reason why I come back year after year. I know of no event with such attention to detail that goes to such lengths to delight us. I'm not surprised it now sells out, even without promotion or issue of entry forms now.

Homemade crumble with proper custard. They spoil us.

Heartfelt thanks and big accolades once again to Alan Greenwood, Carole Engel and their ARMY of cheerful helpers. If you don't do this one you're missing out!

SportSunday took an excellent crop of pictures, shown here (this link won't last long I'll bet). Below is a tightly focussed example of their handiwork (fully paid for).

Predictably, my pictures are mostly before and after.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

That's 2012 sorted

There was a sea of pink refusals last Friday in the UTMB lottery draw. I don't see how they can sustain automatic entry in the following year for all refusals. By 2014, possibly 2015, I would not be surprised to sea an increased chance of entry rather than automatic entry after a refusal. My entry of last year only came after a refusal the previous year, but the sea of pink this year was staggering in comparison.

Commiserations to all those Ultra junkies out there who didn't have a backup plan. Fortunately I did, and this is how 2012 is looking so far:

08/01/2012 Belle Vue Racers - HIT THE TRAIL 5mi. Reddish Vale 0:38:59

14/01/2012 Woodbank Parkrun 5k 3.125mi. Woodbank Park 0:23:10
15/01/2012 Lamb's Longer Leg fell race 3.125mi. Hayfield 0:39:50

21/01/2012 The Hebden 22mi. Mytholmroyd 4:30

28/01/2012 Kinder Trial fell race >11mi. Hayfield

04/02/2012 Rombald Stride 23mi. Guiseley

11/02/2012 Anglezarke Amble 24mi. Rivington

04/03/2012 The Peelers' Hike 22mi. Bury

10/03/2012 Wuthering Hike 32mi. Haworth

14/04/2012 34th Calderdale Hike 37mi. Sowerby Bridge

21/04/2012 Woodbank Parkrun 5k 3.125mi. Woodbank Park
22/04/2012 Kinder Downfall fell race 9.6mi. Hayfield

28/04/2012 50th Fellsman 61mi. Ingleton

12/05/2012 Might Contain Nuts Brecon 40 40mi. Talybont on Usk

27/05/2012 Shires and Spires Northants Ultra 35mi. Lamport Hall, Northants

02/06/2012 LDWA Games 100 100mi. Windsor

23/06/2012 Classic Quarter 44mi. Lizard Point - Land's End

07/07/2012 Osmotherley Phoenix 33mi. Osmotherley

14/07/2012 White Peak Walk 26mi. Monyash

28/07/2012 Lakeland 50 50mi. Coniston

01/08/2012 Cracken Edge fell race 7mi. Hayfield (Wed evening)

05/08/2012 Dovedale Dipper 26mi. Hartington

11/08/2012 Long Tour of Bradwell 33mi. Bradwell

01/09/2012 Bullock Smithy Hike 56mi. Hazel Grove

15/09/2012 High Peak 40 40mi. Buxton

29/09/2012 Hardmoors 60 60mi. Saltburn - Filey

20/10/2012 Rowbotham's Round Rotherham 50mi. Wath upon Dearne

27/10/2012 Snowdonia Marathon 26.2mi. Llanberis

You've probably guessed the significance of 12 highlighted events. Runfurther comes to the rescue to rekindle old experiences and offer up some new while providing the challenge of Grand Slam #3. Who needs the UTMB anyway? ;-)

The weekend gaps will be filled in with LDWA events, fell races and Parkruns as circumstances allow and the fancy takes me, while local mid-week fell races will again be added to spice things up a bit (more).

2012, bring it on!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Lamb's Longer Leg. 15/01/2012.

A short double-header saw a Woodbank Parkrun on Saturday and the Lamb's Longer Leg fell race from just above Hayfield on Sunday. This was the first race in the Hayfield Championship. At 5k and with 290m of ascent, it qualifies as an 'AS' in the FRA calendar (categorised 'short' with the highest ascent per mile).

I parked my bicycle at the Lamb Inn for registration and went across to the kindly official sitting at the outdoor table to give my name (the race was pre-entry only). Before I could utter a word she gave me my number. Magic, I thought. I've hardly done any fell races and they know me already?

Andy Butler and Barny Crawshaw were two runners I recognised among 82 who were also ready to take on the frozen ground and icy wind. This was Barny's first race last year and he finished close to the back. Better things were expected this time after a year's racing.

A half-mile jog down the main road brought us to the uphill track and start of the race. Although the jellification of my legs had subsided after the hour-long uphill cycle ride there culminating in the slog up from Hayfield, I was probably still a little depleted. We were sent on our way uphill, to begin the steeply up-and-down theme for the duration. Barny soon overtook me as I began to burn up with the effort; perhaps I should have removed one of my cycling tops before starting. The icy wind on the tops provided welcome relief as it chilled the sweat.

We ran, climbed, hauled our way up and down the fells, often sliding on the frozen ground while following the little marker flags or other runners in front. Marshals gave advice, directions and enthusiastic encouragement at every turn, while photographers and videoers captured the proceedings. I was getting overtaken most of the time, but on the final tussocky climb I caught and overtook Barny. My 'lead' didn't last for long. Shortly after we'd begun the final long descent to the pub, he overtook me again. I was red-lining and had nothing left with which to respond as I watched him (along with others) slowly pull away into the distance to smash last year's time with a 39:22 finish. Superb effort Barny. I hauled in a little later in 39:50 to earn me almost a bottom quarter finish. Smashing. Compare that with the 23:10 from the previous day's 5k and you get an idea for the influence of ascent on speed.

Now if I drive there next time I might knock a few seconds off that time, but I don't think it will be anywhere near as satisfying. The slog up there via New Mills and Hayfield, the fell race, the roast beef dinner in the Lamb Inn afterwards (superb) and the downhill blast back home via Buxworth made for a worthwhile outing, with still enough time left in the day to catch up with all the weeekend chores.

Some pictures were taken by Mark Fermer, while Helen Spiegl went seriously professional and plentiful with her offerings.

Richard Seipp put together a very good video. Unfortunately I was not sufficiently elite to warrant an appearance; he probably got cold and went home ;-)

Sunday, 15 January 2012

2011 becomes 2012.


2011 ended on a positive note with two more Woodbank Parkruns squeezed in over the holiday. I managed only my second sub-23 time on New Year’s Eve – just 3 seconds outside the recent PB. The holiday's excesses can't have been too excessive. This final run was also the first and probably the last time when both of my brothers joined me on the same event. What a brill conclusion to the year.

2011 was a magical year with races and faces old and new and amazing weather for the most part. It was magical from the people perspective, with friends to meet on most weekends. The camaraderie and friendship between runners regardless of ability cannot be overstated. There are no barriers; we just do the same thing at whatever speed our genes (plus a bit of training) allow. We still have the same experiences, insights and emotions. There is an unspoken understanding through our common activity that links us. Throw into that mix the post-Ultra surge of endorphins as we reminisce over tea, pie and cake and it is easy to see how we may have a healthy addiction going on.

As each year passes, races fill quicker, winning times get faster and competition increases as more runners who don’t want to miss out “‘ave some of that”. I completed my second Runfurther Grand Slam more comfortably than the first despite it being more intense. This was thanks to keeping healthy throughout with not even a sniffle to worry about. The luck stayed with me with the rapid recovery from the shin injury that forced me to abandon my UTMB (even after a second DNF, the UTMB still holds magical memories and extends a strong draw to me to return to finally get it done).

Some 2011 events that stand out in my mind are the Rainow 5 fell race, Housman 100, Lakeland 100 and Round Rotherham 50. Looking back at the number of pictures taken by others reminds me of how much I did throughout the year. The one taken as I’m a few yards from last month’s 5k PB is priceless. Parkrun Pam captured perfectly the look of serene relaxation that hid the turmoil within as I just about held it together until the line. Armada Photography excelled themselves once again with their Round Rotherham pictures. Runfurther Karen snapped away at Howtown on the Lakeland 100 as I lamented the impending tortuous drag up to High Kop (with a smile on my face), while Harsharn Gill captured the moment of triumph at the final dib of a very long journey.

Here are some statistics to conclude 2011:

Number of runs/events: 51
Total distance: 1,573 miles (including a few 2-mile commutes and a handful of local runs)
Number of PBs: 5 (first-time events not considered)
Number of Ultras: 16
Total number of Ultras since my first Bullock Smithy Hike in 1996: 142
Number of marathons?: I never began counting.

2012 begins with Belle Vue Racers HIT THE TRAIL 5

The arrival of 2012 saw me get my first cold in well over a year, ruining my plans to run the Ovenden Fell Race on Sunday 8th. However, after a slightly more comfortable night on Saturday I did decide to run a more local race in Reddish Vale Country Park – something a little less intense to burn the infection out of me without doing too much damage (hopefully). The 3 mile jog there to EOD left me feeling a little drained but I firmly believed from previous experiences that the exercise would do me good and accelerate my return to fitness. The EODs were unprecedented and the organisers ran out of numbers. Luckily it wasn’t raining because the surplus entry forms with handwritten numbers would not have lasted very long.

As I stood waiting to start and chatted with Percy (from last month’s Gravy Pud fell race), my heart was ticking over at 111bpm after the effort of getting to the race and jogging around a bit. Once off and plodding along, it was hitting the end stops (high 180s) at far too slow a pace. It was obvious that my body was fighting a foe from within, but it still felt better to be outside running than being stuck indoors.

This 5-miler is a very friendly, well marshalled race and it was great to see a part of Stockport I’ve never seen before. Tom Snaith from Stockport Harriers was doing his familiar sterling marshalling job alongside the many other marshals. The route started at the bottom of Tiviot Way near the Portwood roundabout and Tesco Extra and wound in and out up the Reddish Vale valley to the viaduct. Under one arch we went, round and back onto the return leg that began with a short sharp climb up steps (I confess I had to walk). With loops in and out, up and down added in to make the distance up to 5 miles, we eventually crossed over to the right hand side of the river and continued virtually to the start point before turning right on the path for an uphill finish close to Reddish Road. My finishing time of 38:59 was better than I could have hoped for in the circumstances. ‘Plod Queen’ from the forums made my acquaintance afterwards (lovely to meet you PQ). There was talk of Bullock Smithy Hiking and other exciting things Ultra related. I’m sure our paths will cross again soon.

The 3 mile journey back home in the drizzle left me wanting. There was nothing left to run (I did try several times), so I walked. I felt as though I’d run a Hundred. I had to go to bed in the afternoon to recover a little from the effort. My heart rate remained raised into the next day, but a couple of days later I hardly knew I'd been ill. The accelerated banishment had succeeded.

What the rest of 2012 holds for me remains to be seen. I put my name in the Western States 100 hat but such dreams were dashed when my 7% chance of getting through the lottery went as expected last November. I applied for the UTMB too. The lottery is on the 20th January. If only nature had blessed me with the speed gene I might have found myself in the privileged position of already having a place allocated to me in both races, but since I don't, I join everyone else grovelling for those increasingly rare places.

January 20th is the major decision crossroads of 2012. If I do get through the lottery, the UTMB will become my number 1 priority. I would not attempt a Runfurther Grand Slam as well like I did last year. I couldn't anyway because the Bullock Smithy Hike is back in the series and it's the weekend after UTMB. On the other hand, even though the chances are so much better at “less than 1 in 2”, if when the expected happens and I don't get in, the Runfurther series is my oyster. “Grand Slam number 3, here I come.” It will be the only thing I can aspire to.

Regardless of what transpires on the 20th I shall be doing plenty of my favourite Runfurther races, LDWA events, the LDWA Games 100 and Snowdonia Marathon. I intend to replace some of the longer events with more short sharp races like local fell races and the Parkrun. I've already entered this month's local Hayfield fell race events (Lamb's Longer Leg just run). Not only that, I need to get back to some weekday running and, dare I say it, circuit training, which I abandoned several years ago. All of that would require a change in my lifestyle of recent years. Things will have to give to make room for this. The one thing that needs to give the most is computer time and that includes blogging. Don't be surprised if I go quiet. If I do, I'm probably getting faster.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Tour de Helvellyn 38mi. 17/12/2011.

At the beginning of the week the forecast was looking ominous and I wasn't even sure if I'd complete the car journey to Askham. Come Friday 16th, the low pressure was tracking a few hundred miles further south and the predicted hurricane force winds and rain had given way to snow on a light breeze. Fortunately the roads remained mainly clear. Even though it had snowed virtually all day in Stockport, by the time I arrived in Askham with daylight to spare there had been no snow or rain and the fields were green. It felt positively balmy compared to a year earlier.

After an excellent dinner and good night's sleep in the Queen's Head, I popped next door to the village hall to get registered. I had the essential survival rations and kit for a winter's day in the Lake District hills, ready for the kit check. I reckoned on a 07:30 departure to get me to the 10am opening of the checkpoint at Patterdale, 10 miles in. That plan disappeared out the window. It was a grand reunion of familiar ultra running faces plus a few new ones to get acquainted with, so there was plenty of chatting to be done. Time slipped by before I got to ask the kit checker what he wanted to see. “You're alright”, came the reply. “I saw you pack your rucksack earlier.” I suppose it was looking well fed. (Previous form may also have given some 'benefit of the doubt’.) This is one aspect of the low-key nature of this event, which is why I like it so much. We are treated like responsible adults who know how to take care of ourselves in bleak winter wilderness. We know the score when we read the entry requirements before we put pen to cheque.

At 07:49, I and a few others skidded our way outside onto the lane out of Askham towards Askham Moor. It was just cold enough to freeze and the icy roads were lethal, requiring us to seek out any bit of grass, frozen mud or verge in order to remain upright. As we crunched through the frozen puddles onto Askham Moor, the horses, which appeared only as black silhouettes in the dark blue frigid early dawn, seemed to get excited and joined us running in the same direction. I noticed how they also trod carefully around the big icy skins that gave way noisily under their hooves.

The low level running below the snow line past Ullswater to CP1 at Martindale church (6mi.) was easy compared to last year. Last year's sheet ice hidden by fresh snow was replaced by flowing water and mud. The climb over Boredale Hause to CP2 at Patterdale (10mi.) introduced us to the first snow, but nothing to cause any problems. I was amazed to arrive at CP2 on the dot of the 10am opening time. I couldn't have timed it better if I'd tried.

Matt Neale arrives at CP2 @ Patterdale.

Leaving Glenridding and climbing past the youth hostel brought us to the snow line and the first deep, un-melted snow. I'd been dying to try on my Kahtoola microspikes since buying them after last year's T de H, so time to transfer some weight from my rucksack to my Walsh Spirit Peaks. The vastly improved grip gave me instant confidence. I was able to sprint up the icy hill for a brief instant until the exertion caught up with me (I had just rested to put them on so I had 5 seconds-worth of half decent effort at my disposal). As I was passed by the later-starting speedsters, I in turn passed others who were climbing to indulge in their own winter sporting activities. Skis, ski poles and a snow board were in evidence. The sun tried to shine but as we climbed, the weather seemed to be closing in and the wind was rising. The route up ahead disappeared into whiteout conditions as we approached CP3 at Swart Beck (13.3mi.).

CP3 @ Swart Beck.

Route choices varied as we climbed from CP3. The correct path was invisible so you took your choice, reading the terrain and following contours that took you in the general direction you needed to go. It was advisable to avoid low-lying, concave expanses of pristine snow. These signified potential deep snow drifts that hid invisible traps of indeterminate depth. Higher, convex ground, possibly with bits of exposed rock blown clear by the wind, offered firmer footing with little chance of getting lost without trace. (OK, I exaggerate a little, but not much. Afterwards I heard of one who took a low level luxuriantly soft route, which happened to be hiding a waterlogged bog. He went in up to his waist with his feet in water.)

Sometimes we had to traverse deep snowfields. It was fun to tread as lightly as possible while trying to run. Usually my feet would sink a couple of inches and hold. Sometimes the 'hold' suddenly let go and I descended on a one-legged elevator to compaction, which fortunately had a dry extremity every time. Sometimes we had to descend into a clough and climb a snow cliff on the other side. At times like that I was thankful that I wasn't a front runner and I was able to use the foot holds that had already been kicked into the snow wall. I don't know how the leaders managed to break trail and remain in the lead without going off course or burning themselves out with the increased effort.

As we ascended into thick cloud and micro ice pellets driven on gale force wind, I realised that I was recognising nothing from last year. My photograph-taking stopped in the interests of concentration and survival. We had chosen a lower level route closer to the valley on our left that required a later steep climb to the right back onto higher ground. Once there I still didn't recognise anything, probably because I couldn't see much. Wiping the ice pellets off my glasses helped marginally, but it was still a struggle to follow the trodden path visually. The best indication of straying from the path was finding myself trudging through deep stuff. A brief pause and survey of the ground brought me back to the trodden path that I trusted would lead me to safety. Topping out at the pass between Raise and Stybarrow Dodd (I could hardly see 10 yards ahead, let alone those peaks) I was being overtaken by other runners but I could not keep up with them as they vanished into the white featureless murk. Some skiers walking up in the opposite direction reassured me that I was on the right path. Asking one if she had passed other runners and getting the reply: “Yes, loads”, provided the ultimate reassurance. The descent finally brought me out of the cloud and wind and back in sight of others, with whom I was catching up again. Descending from the snow line, my micro spikes gripped the wet grass and mud better than their shoes were doing. They involuntarily sat down repeatedly while I let gravity take me to CP4 at Stanah (16mi.). The ice pellets melted from my cap and clothing and the water dripped off me as if I had just run through a rain storm.

Just like last year, the effort to get me this far had left me feeling wasted. Just like last year I trudged the 'easy' flat section around the back of Helvellyn towards Dunmail Raise as my battery (a clapped-out relic with a couple of dead cells from the chuffing 2CV that almost powers me) slowly recharged. I passed though CP5 at The Swirls carpark (17.5 miles). I enjoyed the scenic permissive footpath that took us off the boring forestry track. Photograph-taking was getting out of control as I grabbed any excuse to rest for just a few more seconds. This year I found CP6 at the bridge at Homesdale Green (20.5mi.) before Dunmail Raise. Just like last year, other runners continued to overtake me, but the torrent had now become a trickle.

Runner and Thirlmere.

By the time I turned left up the right-hand side of Raise Beck with Steel Fell looming behind me, I felt more energised for the climb to Grisedale Tarn. Passing the snow line brought out the Kahtoolas for the second time. I felt a lot warmer than I did last year, probably because it was 10 deg C warmer, more than that if last year's wind chill is taken into account. Topping out at the pass between Dollywaggon Pike and Seat Sandal finally brought Grisedale Tarn into view. It looked a lot bigger this year because it was all liquid and not snow covered. I gawped in wonderment at the view and worked out where to go next. My trod through the snow had petered out and the path shown on the map beside the tarn was a long way below. Deep snow drifts separated me from it. I let myself go with gravity-assisted reckless abandon. It was like running down firm sand dunes, where every step would be cushioned. I kept stopping and looking around to take in (and photograph) unique views I hardly ever get to see. I felt warm and contented compared to last year's run-for-survival at this point, so warm were these sub-zero temperatures in comparison.

Grisedale Tarn was much warmer this year.

As I approached the top of Grisedale, a patch of colour opened up in front of me in an otherwise monochromatic world (see top photo). The cloud ahead was breaking to reveal a patch of blue sky, green hills and golden sunlight upon them. As I stopped repeatedly to stuff more megabytes onto a memory card already creaking under the strain, my next pursuer, seen since the pass, drew ever closer. He finally overtook me on the run in towards Patterdale.

By CP 7 at Patterdale (27mi.) the sky had cleared and it seemed just like last year. The one difference was that the water containers were not freezing. I refilled my water bottles, downed a cup of sweet tea and pulled out a cremated Chicken Kiev left over from a few days earlier to power me on the last major climb. With head torch fitted in readiness for the impending darkness I set off at just before 4pm. I stopped, stared and photographed as I climbed to Boredale Hause to survey the cold, dimly blue lit winter scene before me. I made use of every last photon from the long-since set sun behind me. Once over the top and with daylight all but gone, I put the camera away and got on with the job of running. There was just enough light remaining for me to run incognito down Boredale without turning on my head torch, to catch and overtake the group I'd seen ahead. It's an ultra runner thing, not to get one over on others but to eke the best out of ourselves with our own little competition ‘mind games’.

Boredale Hause in the last remnants of dusk light. The sun had long set behind me.

They began to catch me again as I fumbled with the paperwork through thickly gloved hands at CP8 at Martindale Church (31mi.). I'd caught up with another couple of runners here but they set off on the higher, less undulating, longer-way-round route while I set off down the lane. As I jogged along in the bottom of the valley with head torch switched off, I glanced across to my right and saw their lights behind me up the hill. I'd definitely gained on them. I entered the field to climb the path past the outdoor centre to regain the path that my latest pursuers were already on. I was well fuelled and kept the run going, even uphill, would you believe. I eventually plucked up the courage to look behind me (after first turning off my head torch). There were no lights. This spurred me on to try even harder to make sure it stayed that way. A small pocket of orange sodium vapour civilisation twinkled across Ullswater to my left and shimmered in the water as I jogged on with continued vigour towards Askham Moor in pursuit of more runners to catch, without getting caught myself.

I had another pair of lights in sight ahead when there was a slight hiccup at the track junction beside “The Cockpit” and “Pile of stones” shown on the OS map. I had dithered then decided that I needed to continue ahead, when the two lights ran back in the opposite direction to meet me. During further dithering, my pursuers drew closer again. We had to get moving. I set off to lead the way along the path that the other two had just run back. It went on approximately the right heading, as long as it veered left before too long. It did, and I recalled the watery underfoot conditions I had traversed in the opposite direction nearly ten hours earlier.

Nigel, Steve and I ran as a threesome up the moor to stay ahead of the chasing lights. We missed the minor footpath that cut the corner to the right (no footprints in the snow to follow this year like there were last year). The horses were now on the top of the moor, eyes glowing in our torch light and nostrils blowing water vapour. They trotted back and forth as excitedly as ever as we passed. Finally we hit the right turn after our slightly longer way round for the long gentle descent back to Askham. I glanced behind to check that our pursuers were not getting any closer.

There was no breeze and the temperature was barely freezing point. I knew from previous experience that the, , downhill ‘sprint’ to the finish would have me burning up and forced to a walk in no time. To pre-empt this undesirable state of affairs I proceeded to juggle with my accoutrements:

Remove Sealskinz waterproof mittens and hold in right hand.
Unzip waterproof jacket as far as rucksack waist strap allows.
Remove Buff from around neck, which required both hands to ease them past my glasses.
Drape Buff around right wrist (the clobber I was now carrying prevented it falling off).
Remove head torch.
Remove second Buff from head (tied pirate stylie) and add it to the collection gathering in right hand.
Replace head torch (a two-handed job, or at the least one hand plus a spare finger or two).

All of this was done on the hoof in the dark while carrying my printed Tracklogs maps and I didn’t drop a thing. Years of running ultras have given me plenty of juggling practice.

I was expecting the roads in Askham to be icy once again, but thankfully the water had dissipated during the day and we enjoyed an accident-free final run in to the village hall and an urgent appointment with the timekeeper at 18:47. Congratulatory handshakes were exchanged with Nigel and Steve before we took our choice of substantial home-made soup, bread, tea and cake. What an amazing day. Below is the essence of the note of thanks I sent to Joe, because the appreciation for what he gives us deserves wider publicity:

Many thanks once again to Joe and the NAV4 team for providing this opportunity to play in the Lake District hills in winter and enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded people. It was even better than last year. In particular I noticed the enthusiastic support of the marshals at all of the checkpoints. The enthusiasm communicated the empathy between marshal and runner. The empathy may have been tinged with a bit of jealousy because they'd been there, done that and were probably wishing they were doing it again, with us.

The conditions above Grizedale Tarn were much less life-threatening in the temperature department but the conditions over Sticks Pass were definitely more onerous. Because I was in survival mode in the whiteout conditions, my picture-taking stopped until I had descended to sanctuary. I enjoyed trying out the Kahtoolas I bought after last year's event for the first time, though. What confidence that additional grip suddenly gave me after the youth hostel before the climb to CP3 and Sticks Pass.

The post-event soup was superb. I enjoyed the leek and potato. It was like a meal in its own right. I did not need another dinner. You may have noticed afterwards in the Queen's Head that I only needed a bag of dry roasted to soak up the wine ;-)

I’d knocked all of seven minutes off last year’s time. I had expected more, but I am getting older and I did take 174 photos, all told. The most presentable ones are here.

To put some finishing times into context, mine was 10:58. I might possibly have got that down to 10:30-odd if I'd pushed myself to the brink all the way and taken no photographs. The winning time was 6:05, by Kim Collison, who also won the Roaches Rell Race in November (seen here on his return from Shutlingloe). First woman and 4th overall was Shona Robertson in an equally impressive 6:57.