Monday, 28 January 2013

Kinder Trial ~11mi. 26/01/2013.

Race 2 of 9 in the 2013 Hayfield Championship series.

I never thought we would get to play in the snow again on this orienteering fell race. For two years in a row there was substantial snowfall on the night before, only this year was more extreme. The roads over the top of the watershed were blocked, denying those from the 'dark side' their pleasure around the foothills of Kinder Scout.

Snow lay thickly on the fells. The vegetation poking through led you into a false sense of security that it wasn't deep, but it was. The vegetation (heather) was already deep and the tops of it were only just visible. We would regularly go in up to our knees, while leeward slopes and hollows had us disappearing up to our waists. Race organiser Andy Howie had thoughtfully revamped his orienteering kites, giving them longer sticks. The stunted efforts of last year would surely have been buried out of sight. I had a bit of trouble last year.

With such a slow past record I was given an early starting time (runners were set off at intervals between 10:00 and 11:00). Having done a few fell races from Hayfield over the past year I felt comfortable with the route in and out of the village. This year I decided to go clockwise, for no better reason than I went anticlockwise last year and fancied a change. I was among the first few to break trail through K7, K5, K10 and up Hollingworth Clough to K3.

Taking the clough route was a mistake. The going was very rough and impossible to run (see picture at top). At times there wasn't much ground to stumble along. Multiple crossings of the stream were required. When I and the other two I was chasing finally arrived at K3 we found ourselves in the thick of a long line of runners who had taken the high level route along the fence line. I'll know for next year, at least I would but the route will be different.

 The queue for K3.

From K3 we ran in line across the frigid, wind-blown fell top towards Mill Hill. The later-starting race-winning types began to overtake here. Overtaking wasn't easy to the side to the compacted single file right of way. A sudden descent into a deep soft patch was common for anyone who tried. I had done alright up to this point, going just slowly enough to retain a modicum of brain function for navigation. However, now that I was getting overtaken, my competitive instinct made me push harder, risking the removal of any vestige of rational thought that might have remained. I can't help myself.

After Mill Hill I kept reminding myself that we had to veer off-path to the right to pick up K2. I kept looking at the map to confirm but nothing was going in now. Still, I felt confident because I had remembered from when I was marginally more lucid. The line of runners in front followed each other down to the left, but I convinced myself that they were blindly following the leader, who was wrong. I wasn't going to be a sheep as well. This was an orienteering event. I would display independent thought and make my own decision, so I veered off to the right towards the col, ready to gloat in the nice lead I would earn myself.

I didn't find K2.

I went a few yards further down to the right but didn't see it. I ran back down towards where the others had run to and met some climbing back up. Were they going clockwise or anticlockwise? Where did I come from? Where am I going? I ran down a few more yards against the flow and asked a few runners whether they were going anticlockwise. I got blanked. I looked at the map again. Yes, they've realised their mistake and they're climbing up to find K2. That's why they blanked me. They're miffed. Mild feelings of smugness returned. I turned around and ran back up to the col. Goodness knows why because I didn't find K2 when I was last there. Headless chicken mode had set in good and proper, and that was with a line of runners to follow, footprints in the snow to follow and good visibility all around.

I looked at the map yet again in desperation. The slowing of pace while I faffed and dithered had allowed sufficient blood flow back to the brain to spark another cell back into life. Suddenly I understood. They knew where they were going all along. I should have followed like a sheep in the first place and I'd be at K1 by now.

I returned for the umpteenth time down the hill against the flow to quizzical looks. The path I had traversed a few times was getting compacted and easier to traverse now, (as long as we used the same foot holes). I found K2 atop its heather hag, down from the opposite side of the col to where, in my exercise-induced retarded condition, I KNEW it was supposed to be. What a sad case.

With K2 finally visited I turned around to climb that oh so familiar trod back to the col and left turn up into a wind-blown icy wilderness. Anticlockwise runners were now passing us. Julian Brown loitered contentedly at the top. Why was there so much ice up here when elsewhere was pure snow? Everything was encased and frozen hard. The descent from K1 towards K9 had us crunching through ice crusts into the softer snow beneath. It was hard on the shins, even with full leg cover. Perhaps the previous night's precipitation had fallen as rain here.

 Ice-bound K1.

The final descent towards K9 was steep, exhilarating and long. I was running with Hanno at this point. Our feet soon slipped out from underneath us as we blasted our way downwards, barely in control. We ended up tobogganing most of the way at speed on our backsides. It was fast, effortless and smooth, until a half submerged rock got in the way. A painful bruise it its legacy.

 Hanno at K9.

K9 was in the woods, after which a somewhat boggier undulating route brought us to the base of William Clough and steep climb up to K4. A few more minutes were wasted taking the long way round to the left of the fenced-off enclosure that didn't appear on the map (not that it would have made any difference if it was on the map, because I was still putting in close to maximum physical effort, and we all know what that means for map-reading skills).

I found myself running with Julie and Hazel after K4. Julie was obviously running well within herself because she was still navigating well (she'd taken the direct route to the right of the enclosure). Final checkpoint K6 came and went. I'd given up taking photos now; I was just hanging on to the finish. A magical mystery tour eventually brought us to the valley I recognised and the Snake Path back down towards Hayfield.

I returned to the scout hut in 2:53:51 and some welcome soup, tea and cake. A bottom 26.6% finish was a distinct improvement on last year's bottom 8.8%. I'll take that as an emphatic PB. The glow of success will be slow to fade. I may need an easing tool to fit my head through doorways for some time yet.

Some good came of it in the form of a few pictures (map just scanned and added to the album a day later). I would have taken more if I'd just been out for a bimble, but this was balls-out competition (we're talking eyes). There were some good views I had to miss.

Thanks once again to Andy Howie and team for the excellent organisation, care and attention, and thanks to Steve Temple for his informative website with results service.

That's the second in the Hayfield Championship Series done already, but a long gap until the next one in April (Kinder Downfall fell race).

Monday, 21 January 2013

The Hebden 22mi. 19/01/2013.

Dire snow forecasts meant that I travelled to Mytholmroyd on Friday afternoon by train and lodged across the road in the Dusty Miller (only just reopened after the floods of last June). As it turned out, the roads were clear and I could easily have driven there and back on Saturday as normal, but I did enjoy the relaxing alternative for a change.

Registration in the church hall looked packed, but numbers were apparently well down due to the alarmist weather forecasts. Wales and the south were getting the brunt while we further north were escaping relatively lightly. We were sent on our way by Alan along the pathways, across gardens and up the seemingly private driveways of Calderdale in light snow. It formed the majority of the fine powder on the ground, which had fallen for a day or two.

Running at lower levels through the woods, away from any breeze, soon brought on an attack of the overheats, so off came the featherweight waft-proof / spot-proof top to set the 1.5-layer scene for the day. Optimum thermal comfort would be maintained by Buff around neck for the breezier moor tops or Buff around wrist for the woods.

This was the seventh running of this event and the second time of an imposed diversion along the road after checkpoint 5 due to snow drifts. The wind-blown snow sculptures grabbed attention like they always do. Spot the smiley face:

Checkpoint 3 in the woodwork shop provided sanctuary. I penetrated the inner sanctum for a sweet cuppa, which proved too hot to down quickly. In the outer vestibule were salty beef dripping sandwiches, marzipan-filled stollen and other luxurious comestibles. I loitered longer than I had ever done in the previous six years, before forcing myself back out into the cold towards that railway bridge and right turn up the track.

Arriving at CP3.

The next steep, stiff climb from Eastwood brought the annual greeting of the SportSunday photographers, who were almost manic in their cheeriness. Is cheeriness the final stage before hypothermia and death? I pitied them having to stand still out there.

I was wearing my Kahtoola micro spikes all the way round. I was grateful for the assured grip they gave me but on balance I think they slowed me down. Running on snow-and-ice-free roads was skew-whiff knobbly crunchy noisy and not very comfortable, so the diversion after CP5 was where I got overtaken a bit more. After running more than usual in splendid isolation, I finished within 2 minutes of my slowest ever time. 4:34 compares with 4:08 fastest (frozen, no Kahtoolas, no snow) and 4:36 (the usual mud fest).

Many thanks once again to organisers Carole and Alan and all the willing, cheerful marshals and helpers. This really is the ultimate tough trail race for care and attention. Its reputation results in deserved popularity and selling out well in advance.

This is why we do The Hebden - F-O-O-O-D:

Here are the pictures I took on the day. SportSunday's splendid mementos are here.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Lamb's Longer Leg 5k+ fell race. 13/01/2013.

Race 1 of 9 in the 2013 Hayfield Championship series.

"Strange name", I hear you say. I can explain the 'Lamb' part - the race begins near The Lamb Inn above Hayfield, but the 'Longer Leg' part has me a bit baffled. This is the first race of nine in the Hayfield Championships (next up Kinder Trial in two weeks' time).

This was the second year on the trot for me and second year when I cycled for an hour uphill to get there. My quads were already suffering from DOMS AOMS (Advanced Onset Muscle Soreness) even before the tough beasting began on the fells.

We started off uphill on a concrete track, which soon veered left onto a grass track and steepened. The steepening set the tone for the duration as we slogged up and down field and fell, lungs bursting, vision blinkered, every part of our being concentrating on placing our next footsteps as quickly as our cardiovascular system would allow (at least that's how it is for me).

The weather this year was very similar to how it was last year - bright and cold with the ground mostly frozen, which was fortuitous. I'd seen the forecast and expected a photogenic day, so I had my camera with me for the first time in a good while. I was glad I did. The day was superb.

After finishing we lounged, recovered and chatted on the sun-soaked finishing field while watching the runners continue to trickle in, some of them sprinting each other to the line (how DO they do that?).

When the cold began to bite, The Lamb Inn provided the perfect retreat for a pint, a leg-of-lamb roast dinner (naturally), rhubarb crumble and custard and a pot of tea, before the (mostly) downhill high speed blast back home. I slept well and contentedly that night, savouring a third PB of the year (by nearly 2 minutes).

Here are the pictures.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Belle Vue Racers Hit The Trail 5mi. 06/01/2013.

The day before this I got a surprise 30-second PB on the Woodbank Parkrun with 22:02, so I was filled with a feeling of nostalgia as I cycled through the park on my way to Reddish Vale to 'Hit The Trail'.

Billed as approximately 5 miles, this trail race is perfect to start the year. Expertly organised by Belle Vue Racers, it winds back and forth in the valley of Reddish Vale Country Park in Stockport and hides a cruel uphill sting-in-the-tail to the finish line. It is all-welcoming rather like the Parkruns, with all speeds and abilities catered for, which is great to see and be a part of.

A short cycle ride, including a high speed chase down New Zealand Road, soon had me there. With bike stashed at the finish line I went back down to the bottom to wait for the start and chat to other runners. The temperature was nudging the teens Centigrade and felt amazingly balmy. Shorts and vest were warm enough even while standing around. Sweating brows would be wiped once the race got underway.

Although the day was dry there were plenty of puddles and mud this year as we slogged our way out to the loop under the viaduct at the far end. The return leg involves a brief climb up some steps. Others less blown-up run this. I use it as a chance to walk for 15 seconds to stave off collapse. Then the run continues, zig-zagging back and forth on the other side of the river presumably to make up the distance. Most of the overtaking has been done by now and we find ourselves swapping back and forth with one or two other runners as we climb and descend the little hills to the right turn and final climb. I expect to get overtaken but manage to be the one doing the overtaking instead as we shuffle, lungs bursting, up to the line.

35:48. Phew! Another PB, by 3mins 10secs this time. First weekend of the year and two PBs already. Can't be bad.

'snogardnet' was hiding in the trees near the finish line to capture our suffering. Below is an example of the handiwork. SportSunday were also there to capture somewhat more intimate images of every runner in glorious high res.

Photo courtesy SNOGARDNET

Monday, 14 January 2013

Something new for 2013?

Happy New Year. 2013 is bringing new challenges to look forward to.

I've been asked to join Team Krypton, so I shall be running the Runfurther races as a team member for the first time. You can rest assured that I will always give of my best even if I do end up bringing up the rear (I've seen the speed of the other team members!).

Coincidentally and somewhat annoyingly, this will be the first year in a while when I cannot take part in several of the Runfurther races because I'll be occupied with other challenges, principally a couple of Ultras in New Zealand and the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc.

Since a Runfurther Grand Slam is out of the question, an alternative Grand Slam I'd like to get my teeth into that's not affected by the foreign excursions is my local Hayfield Championship of 9 fell races. Doing that would rule out the Brecon 40, High Peak 40 and possibly the Calderdale Hike, which would leave just 6 out of 12 Runfurther races I could do. Without the Hayfield Championships I could force 9 Runfurther races, maximum.

It would be a real shame to miss the HP40 as it's one of my all-time favourite Ultras. The fell race it clashes with (Lantern Pike fell race) is not too far away from the route. I would have done both (one race within the other) if the timings hadn't been 3 hours adrift. Oh the dilemma.

Anyway, here's this year's tentative agenda:

06/01 Belle Vue Racers Hit The Trail 5mi.
13/01 Lamb's Longer Leg fell race 5k.
19/01 The Hebden 22mi.
26/01 Kinder Trial orienteering fell race >11mi.

02/02 Rombald Stride 23mi.
09/02 Anglezarke Amble 25mi.
17/02 Beacon Bash 21mi.
(Go away on business with a bit of pleasure/leisure on the side)

16/03 Tarawera Ultra 100k (New Zealand).
23/03 Te Houtaewa Challenge 63k (New Zealand).

(Return to Blighty)
13/04 Calderdale Hike 37mi.
14/04 Kinder Downfall fell race 10mi.
27/04 51st Fellsman 61mi.

04-06/05 Glossop 3-day running festival: Chunal 4mi. / Moorfield 5k / James's Thorn 5mi.
10-12/05 Race series: May Queen 3mi. / Mount Famine 5mi. / Lantern Pike Dash 1.2mi.
*DILEMMA* 11/05 Brecon 40mi.
25/05 Camel-Teign Ivor's Dream 100mi.

02/06 Northants Ultra 35mi.
08/06 Baslow Boot Bash 26mi.
23/06 Kinder Trog fell race 16mi.
29/06 Whaley Waltz fell race 5.5mi.

06/07 Osmotherley Phoenix 33mi.
13/07 White Peak Walk (as a run) 26mi.
26/07 Lakeland 100mi.

04/08 Dovedale Dipper 26mi.
07/08 Cracken Edge fell race 7mi.
10/08 Long Tour of Bradwell 33mi.
30/08 The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc 166km.

07/09 Bullock Smithy Hike (I wish but I can't).
21/09 Lantern Pike fell race 5mi.
*DILEMMA* 21/09 High Peak 40mi. Can I do both?

05/10 Wye Valley One Way 50mi.
19/10 Round Rotherham 50mi.
26/10 Snowdonia Marathon 26.2mi.

19/11 Six Dales Circuit 25mi.
24/11 Famous Grouse fell race 5.2mi.

01/12 Gravy Pud fell race 5mi.
08/12 Stockport 10mi.
21/12 Tour de Helvellyn 38mi.
29/12 Adlington Winter Warmer 10k.

Parkruns and additional fell races may be slotted in to stave off boredom and atrophy. Prior to UTMB, longer events with lots of climb may be added and substituted for essential training purposes.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Closing another successful year.

2012 was another full year of running pleasure, with a few ups and downs. Well, there was just one 'down' really - the chest infection in July that prevented me taking up my place in the Lakeland 50. However, even that became a big positive when I got to watch everyone else play instead and empathise in their pleasure and pain (been there, done that, know what it feels like). I gave my voluntary services for the weekend in between grabbing a few hours' sleep in my car and capturing a photographic record until my camera battery gave up. A few days later I wondered if my 2012 entry fee plus dragging myself off my sick bed and travelling two hours northwards to volunteer might allow a discounted entry for 2013. I made a tentative enquiry.
Err, no chance, your money's already gone to charity (stupid boy for asking).
Oh, sorry, please excuse my impertinence. I'll just settle for a small token of your esteem in the form of a 'thank-you', then. (Dream on again.) I felt even more grateful for the free cups of tea I'd enjoyed over the weekend. ;-)

The big 'high' of the year of course had to be the Runfurther series, Grand Slam number 3 and the party in Ringinglow in November. Many thanks once again to outgoing team Karen MacDonald, Simon Berry and creator Mark Hartell, and best wishes to new man at the helm Mark Barnes, and Jon Steele.

The scarcity of PBs that began a year or two ago continued this year, with a few PWs thrown in to remind me that I'm getting old and (even) slow(er). Then the Runfurther series of regular weekend Ultras came to an end and I concentrated more on short sharp races like Parkruns and fell races, plus running to work on some days. Things suddenly clicked at the beginning of December with a 5th PB of the year at the 5k Parkrun, followed the next day by PB6 on the Gravy Pud fell race. The roll continued to the end of the month with PB number 10 on the 10k Adlington Winter Warmer. Talk about finishing with a flourish!

2012 summary:
Events/races = 61
Total miles = 1,592
PBs = 10
Ultra marathons = 16
(Total ultras since the first in 1996 = 158.)

Next year I become a V50. How novel it would be if the PBs continued.

Finally, on a poignant note, October saw the passing away of inspirational Pennine fell runner Darren Holloway (DazH) at the tender age of 42 while running the Ian Hodgson Relay fell race in the Lake District. I had followed his blog (Laidbackfellrunner) for a few years and found him truly inspirational. I had run a few local fell races he'd also run but always missed him. I always intended to make his acquaintance as soon as I recognised him but that chance is now gone. The outpouring of tributes on the FRA forum was immense and reduced me to tears many times as I read it (still does in fact). In his memory a large sum (over £10,000 so far, original target £2,000) has been raised on Justgiving for Woodhead Mountain Rescue Team and North West Air Ambulance.

Rest in peace, Daz.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Keeping the fire burning over Christmas

TdeH was followed by a slothful Christmas week of no running, so I thought it prudent to show up at the Woodbank Parkrun on Saturday 29th. I was happy to finish only 6 seconds outside the PB from the beginning of the month. My younger brother was over from France for Christmas. Although not normally a runner he was happy to be dragged along for a jog round. I know he enjoyed it and I know he could be faster than I if he decided to take up running seriously.

On Sunday 30th we both made the short journey down to Adlington for the Adlington Winter Warmer, an almost impromptu 10k trail race with a difference. Race organiser Tony Ward decided only 4 weeks beforehand to put it on. He set up a page on Facebook and peddled it mercilessly. Every entrant would make a minimum charitable donation of £4, all proceeds going to the Seashell Trust.

It seems that everyone was hungry for a bit of fun exercise between periods of over-indulgence because 170 runners set off from the Miner's Arms in Adlington, on the outskirts of Macclesfield, to run along the canal towpath, the Middlewood Way (ex-railway line) and a few stretches of country lane. The weather was cool, bright and dry - perfect for running.

And the difference? There would be no winners based on speed. We had to guess our finishing time. The closest guesses had the pick of the prizes on the table. All timepieces, heart rate monitors, GPS devices, etc. were banned to ensure we didn't adjust our effort accordingly. I like it. My 10k PB was some considerable seconds over 48 minutes, but after the recent run of PBs I was feeling a bit raunchy in the athletic department, so I put down an ambitious 47:30 on the entry form. ;-)

Tony set us off running along the country lane from Wood Lanes (familiar reminiscences of the Bullock Smithy Hike there) for a km or so. We soon joined the canal towpath southwards for another km or so's running to the location of the final Bullock Smithy Hike checkpoint at Whiteley Green. From there we followed the BSH route down the short stretch of country lane to descend to the Middlewood Way and a run in the reverse direction northwards back towards Wood Lanes.Our spectators and cheerers gave encouragement from the bridge above as we ran underneath. (I wished I could run that stretch as fast as that on the BSH with more than 50 miles in my legs.) We carried on to Poynton Coppice, where we exited onto the lane and climbed to the canal. Here we turned southwards again to run back to the finish line on the towpath near Wood Lanes. The appearance of the finish line took a lot of runners by surprise, including me.

My brother finished a little while later. He was secretly hoping for a sub 1 hour finish. I wasn't sure whether he'd achieve it. We all had to wait until the presentation back in the pub to find out how we'd done. Tea and bacon rolls were consumed a-plenty and the pub buzzed with happy conversation while we waited for the results to be finalised. Eventually, Tony bellowed and everyone sprang to attention to hear the results, announced in order of closeness of guess. First place was just 2 seconds adrift of prediction. Then there was a 3, three 4s, a 5, a 7, an 8, a 10, a 12, two 14s, .... I was equal 11th with a 14 second difference, which earned a prize. What a novelty. I'll come back next year. My race time was 47:44. WOW again, my first sub-48 10k and sixth PB for December. That'll do me.

My brother excelled himself and got his sub-1 hour finish with a 58:05. He enjoyed it even more than the Parkrun the day before. Well done bro. Be careful, you might get addicted.

The view from the bridge at Wood Lanes looking down onto Middlewood Way
 (courtesy budding professional photographer Harry Barclay). Harry's Facebook album is here.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Tour de Helvellyn 38mi. 22/12/2012.

I left it rather late entering this year due to a certain lack of enthusiasm. However when long range weather forecast predictions began of another cold repeat of the previous two years, thoughts of breaking out the Kahtoolas flooded my mind and my enthusiasm suddenly rose. If there was still accommodation available at the Queen's Head in Askham, I'd enter. There was, so my 100% attendance record would remain intact. (As it turned out, the weather did the opposite of what it was supposed to do: it returned to normal. We were to expect a day of rain and wind, with no snow or ice.)

I chatted to a couple of other runners over Friday evening dinner in the pub. One of them was Mick Cooper, who would be loaded down by a big rucksack in training for The Spine multi-day race in January. The other was a ‘young pretender’ called Edward from London, who was asking about suitable attire for the event. I was mildly concerned over his leanings towards minimalism. I may have offered sage advice with a sprinkling of dire warnings on survival strategies on the fells in winter. (This is one event where my sense of self preservation would not let me venture out without being covered from head to toe like a hiker for a day's survival unless the forecast was for dry, calm, mild conditions, and the chances of that are virtually zero. It’s probably why I’m always so slow on this one.) After dinner we popped next door to the village hall to get registration out of the way before retiring for a good night's sleep.

By Saturday morning the rain had already started when I toddled next door once again. However it was only drizzle on the gentlest of breezes, while the temperature felt almost tropical compared to what we'd grown accustomed to on this event, and it was set to rise further. The micro-spikes would not be leaving their box this time. It was 06:30 and the last sleepyheads were stirring (it had been possible to sleep overnight in the village hall). Runners began to mill around in the gloaming, silhouetted by the single pair of lights that had been switched on so far.

I planned to leave earlier than had been possible previously thanks to the bringing forward by half an hour of the opening time of the first manned checkpoint at 10.1 miles. Patterdale would now open at 09:30, which made a great deal of sense. Previously, if we departed at the earliest start time of 07:00, even the slower runners would have arrived at Patterdale well before checkpoint opening. It always struck me as crazy for runners like me, who were among the last to finish, having to delay our start because of this. Thankfully that anomaly was now gone.

With kit check complete and the time at 07:15, I joined the trickle of runners emerging into the night – a first time for starting with head torch. I was banking on a PB performance getting me to Patterdale within 2hrs 15mins this time. I looked forward to having more daylight at the end of the day before having to use the torch once again. I would still be out from dark 'til dark, whatever. I jogged up the lane and track towards Askham Fell, soon entering the low cloud base. The rain was light and drizzly at worst and it wasn’t windy, which was a bonus. I was soon toasty warm, done up as I was like a dog’s dinner in full body cover and waterproofs, and rucksack with extra chest pouch for easy accessibility of the day’s survival rations. It wasn’t conducive to speed, that’s for sure. My one acknowledgement of the warmer conditions was that I wasn’t wearing gloves – yet.

There was no ice to skate around on this year, just big puddles and bogs to soak the feet. A few head torch beams were visible ahead and a few more behind. The atmosphere was beginning to take on a dim blue hue just sufficient to make out silhouettes in the distance, but daylight proper was a long time coming. We looked out for the fork left at the top of the fell. We crossed the cross-track and continued on the same heading on the path (linear bog) that was so easy to lose in the dark. We paddled and sloshed our way past The Cockpit (ancient stone circle) on our left. Another runner shone his head torch at the stones to highlight them (my aged Mk1 version Myo XP was too dim for such activity). I looked forward to the end of the day and the successful navigation (hopefully) back in the opposite direction.

At The Cockpit we joined the Lakeland 50/100 route up from Pooley Bridge (to where I understand runners have strayed on their return leg in the past. OUCH!). Head torches finally got switched off on the undulating technical trail to the first unmanned checkpoint at Martindale Church (5.9 miles). The cloud base was lifting to give decent visibility in all directions. However the rain was beginning to increase in fits and starts and the wind was making its presence known at times as it turbulated around the mountains.

This year we were using Sportident electronic timing for the first time, so the dibber had to be easily accessible among the layers of body cover. On the inside of my right wrist pointing downwards worked well, as proven by the first ‘dib’ at Martindale Church.

From CP1 we ran down the lane and up the valley towards Boredale Hause. There was a steady stream of later-starting, faster runners overtaking me. Strong gusts of wind hit us at times as we climbed higher. The wind seemed to be waxing and waning, as was the rain, which never became as heavy as I had feared. Near the top of the col was StuStod taking pictures. He frequently had to wipe his lens as the easterly wind drove the rain onto it. (Sporting injury and surgery had forced Stu out of running and into photography for the time being.) Stu, it was great to see you out there and to ‘ave a bit of a chat. Get well soon, buddy.

Over the top and down to the right into Patterdale we went, running like mountain goats. At least I did whenever there wasn’t bare rock, since my LaSportiva Crosslites mistake wet rock for ice. In such cases I have to mince instead. Much of the Lake District is rocky, so I had a mincing good day.

A location change for CP2 to the George Starkey Hut meant we were back to a right turn at the kissing gate at the bottom instead of a left turn onto the lane like we did last year. I was looking forward to the opportunity to get inside to swap head torch for cap to keep the increasing rain off my glasses, to get some food out and to put my gloves on in readiness for the more exposed section over Sticks Pass. I timed it perfectly to arrive virtually on the dot of 09:30, to what can best be described as a broom cupboard that opened to the outside. “There go any ideas of ‘getting inside’”, I thought to myself. I shouldn’t have expected such decadence, such frivolous mollycoddling on the TdeH, should I? ;-)

Said broom cupboard was just big enough to serve drinks, which were flooding all over after the tap on the barrel had jammed in. I gave it a few stabs with my thumb to see if it would pop out, but all that achieved was a bruised thumb and broken nail. I dumped my junk on the wet ground to get myself sorted out: torch, cap, drinks bottles and food taken care of. The rain fell and I was getting rapidly chilled. I took my waterproof lobster gloves out, only used on special occasions like this, and tried to put them on. There was nowhere for my fingers and thumbs to go. They looked like proper gloves on the outside, yet the lining obviously had other ideas. I don’t think I’d worn them since last year’s Tour de Helvellyn and the lining was misaligned. I ran off down the road with my fingers twisted in all directions in their restricted palm-sized cocoon. The linings refused to cooperate so I took them off again and stuffed them in my front rucksack pouch. They were bulky and there was hardly room for them alongside the pork pies and Soreen. The zip was under considerable tension and I feared it might be torn asunder at any moment.

I was getting overtaken quite comprehensively as our route took us past Glenridding, past the Yoof ‘ostel and up into the disused mine workings. I had never seen it without snow. The cloud was above the hill tops and we could see where the paths went (usually). For some reason while playing ‘follow the leader’ we ended up having to climb up the fell-side to regain the path. We never made that mistake when it was covered with snow.

As the path began to level out before CP3 at Swart Beck footbridge (13.3mi.) and I continued to walk as I recovered from the steep climb, a minimally clad runner ran past as if he was on a short autumn fell race. “Bit reckless”, I thought. “It’s raining and cold and not even a Pertex?” “Anyway how can he be running, right here, right now?” He was soon gone and forgotten as we got our heads down to survive the heaviest bursts of rain of the day on the climb up to Sticks Pass. I was thankful it was blowing onto our backs. I was also glad to be able to see where the path went this time. I could see where we were off-path last year in the thick snow, and where we climbed the snow wall out of the stream gully. We had only been a few yards to the left of the proper path!

We topped out at Sticks Pass then began our descent towards CP4 at Stanah footbridge (16.0 miles). I had forgotten how long and steep the descent was. A few more runners overtook me on the steep grass next to the fence as I did some more mincing down the rocky path that zigzagged its way downwards.

The rocky path back from CP4 above the fell wall forbids running by those weakened by the crossing of Sticks Pass. Every year this is a low point for me, and time to get some food down to get energy back into the enfeebled body. I may have cracked out a Marmite and cucumber sandwich to add to the gels I’d already been eating. I tottered my way along to CP5 at Swirls car park (17.6 miles), where Garry Scott caught up and soon left me for dead.

I’d finally emptied my drinks bottle of Chia Charge by combining squeezing with various industrial suction pump techniques, so that could be consigned to the rucksack. The bottle of water could go in the bottle holder, which would leave two free hands. I decided to give the gloves another go as I continued my totter along the forest track. After much manipulation and finger-writhing, they just about felt right. I marvelled at their warmth, which lasted until they’d soaked up water like a sponge. (What’s the point of putting a sponge on the outside of the waterproof membrane? Where’s the manufacturer's common sense? Would they do the same for a waterproof jacket?)

I was surprised how strongly the wind was gusting through the trees. I had expected to be in shelter here. I began to brace myself for our return over the watershed, but not before I’d ‘dibbed’ at CP6 (Birkside Gill footbridge, 20.6mi.).

By the time we turned left to begin our climb up Raise Beck from Dunmail Raise, the wind and rain seemed to have died out. With the exception of the occasional frigid feet as we once again sloshed along a path that had become a stream, the experience was generally quite pleasurable. I enjoyed seeing the cloud-free, snow-free terrain for the first time as we topped out at the pass with Grisedale Tarn below to the right. The fell-side was a pleasure to run down but as soon as we hit the rocks once again down to Grisedale Beck, pace dropped dramatically in the interests of survival. I got overtaken plenty once again, including by Chris Davies (his running fitness amazes me).

On arriving back in Patterdale, with my gaze fixed further down the road I ran merrily past CP7 at the George Starkey broom cupboard (26.5mi.). Fortunately someone called me across. It had taken me just over 7 hours to complete just over marathon distance. I was on for an emphatic PB at this rate (yes, really). This time I forced my way in (shame it wasn't the Tardis) to sit cross-legged in the corner to drink a mug of sweet tea (pure nectar), sort out some more food and the head torch for later. The door to Narnia in the rear wall opened a couple of times and banged into my left knee, but I don't think I caused too much of an impediment to free passage.

With renewed energy from tea and pork pie and with just over 10 miles to go, I was up and off back up that hill to Boredale Hause with one or two other runners. I luxuriated in the amount of daylight left despite it being very overcast. Last year it was well on the way to getting dark and the skies were much clearer. I also marvelled at how the wind had dropped and the rain had stopped. The running conditions now were nigh on perfect. My clobber would do an even better job at speed regulation via the overheating effect. On the rocky descent where StuStod had sat 6 hours earlier, I got left for dead once more. Further down when it became runnable again, Fraser Hirst caught up with me and remarked that it was around this point that we first met two years ago. We continued together to the end that time. He's upped his game since then, and so he became the next runner to leave me for dead.

I jogged on in my own contented world of blissful solitude, in daylight and without snow cover (how novel) towards Martindale. I allowed myself to be mildly entertained (with a tinge of pity) at the sight and sound of a car trying in vain to drive up a track to a house on the hill. The mud and water were too much and it kept sliding back into the gate at the bottom. CP8 at Martindale Church (30.7mi.) soon arrived. I was alone as I took the quicker low road to the Outdoor Centre to take the footpath up the field. My overheating condition meant that my water bottle was well on the way to being empty, so I refilled it within a millisecond from the torrent that raged along the culvert across the field.

I climbed to the kissing gate to join the high path. Another runner was just coming along, who turned out to be Geoff Pettengell. He must have overtaken me at his faster pace earlier on and I'd caught up with him again. He seemed to be on a bit of a downer. I had just ingested yet another gel and had a second fourth seventh wind. I was raring to go to make the maximum use of the remaining daylight. I hung back for a chat (I always enjoy a good chin-wag). This was his first time, so we agreed to run together to the finish. Since I was already on for a guaranteed PB I welcomed the company and the removal of self-imposed pressure. We picked up another runner around this point whose name I have forgotten. (Forgotten runner, if you read this, please speak up via the comment.)

We jogged up the ascending trail back towards The Cockpit. We had to switch on our head torches shortly before we got there. I knew we had to continue ahead past The Cockpit but I was fooled into following a linear bog (assumed to be the correct path) a little to the left. Unknown runner, who really knew where he was going, pulled me back to the right and we continued on the perfect heading that eventually veered left, across the cross-track and uphill towards the copse on the horizon. I knew we had to veer right before the copse. The grassy path was clear to see by our torchlight and we descended from the top of Askham Fell back down to the village hall in the warmest, darkest (most moonless and snow-free) conditions I have ever known.

My finishing time of 9:52:11 was over an hour faster than last year's previous PB. I make the distance 37 miles, tops, which gives a speed of 3.75mph. That might sound slow to you. It sounds dreadfully slow to me considering the amount of 'running' I was trying to do, but this is a tough event with self-imposed clobber to impede progress. Even so I never guessed I would achieve under 10 hours. 5th PB in December and counting?

Geoff started later than I did. His off-the-boil time was 9:07:23. He would have got an easy sub-9 finish if he'd been as fit as I was. Next year, Geoff.

I found out afterwards that the minimally attired racing snake who overtook me just before Swart Beck footbridge was none other than Edward Catmur, to whom I had imparted my considered advice on attire on Friday evening. He finished second in 6:05:04. It was a good job he didn't take my advice to venture out dressed as a hiker otherwise his athletic performance might have been somewhat inhibited. (Even if he'd been dressed in a gorilla suit as a fun runner I bet he still would have beaten me, though.) Well done Edward. You are certainly no pretender.

The fastest time went to Kim Collison once again with a time of 5:59:53. Third went to Stuart Walker in 6:13:26. Well done all three, and to everyone else who took this on. It is an amazing event at the right time of year. As long as I am alive and able, I shall return. Many thanks to Joe and team from NAV4 for making it all possible. I luv ya for it.

Because of the rainy forecast my camera never left the village hall, so I only have a few before and after pictures.

StuStod took some good shots up Boredale Hause in spite of the rain driving into him.

Official photographers SportSunday were roving about in a few places. Unfortunately, poor light conditions meant that not all the photos were published. I'm missing from the Raise Beck pictures. The ones that were published are here.

One of the marshals took another good crop here.

Finally, here's one of my closing shots from the stage.