Monday, 17 February 2014

2013 - what a year

This was the year of highs and new experiences, the year when I finally cracked UTMB, the year when I became a serial compulsive fell racer, got some speed and decided I wanted to join Glossopdale Harriers on the fells. Here are some stats:

Number of races: 88;

Number of Ultras: 12 (total since 1996: 170);

Number of 'Hundreds': 2 (total since 2000: 18);

Total distance: 1,577 miles;

Total ascent: no idea, not never I ain't;

PBs: 17 (only when there was a previous completion with which to compare);

Number of continents raced on: 5.

The highs
- Paying my first ever visit to New Zealand and meeting up with ex-pat Jan Danilo and family, completing the Tarawera 100k and a week later completing the Te Houtaewa Challenge down 90 Mile Beach.
- Storming past L50 and L100 runners in that storm to pull off my most storming Lakeland 100 finish to date.
- Completing the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc in all its awesomeness in the most perfect conditions imaginable.

The lows
- Suffering so much survival death-march in achieving that UTMB high. The highs overcame the lows.
- Nearly, so very nearly dropping out of the Lakeland 100 with digestion on strike, until total body reset that turned me into a bit of an animal and ultra machine. The low became a high.

So, no lows then, only highs.

The surreal moment
Mingling with the fresh-legged fell runners at the start of the Lantern Pike fell race already mud-spattered and feeling somewhat used; I was 26 miles into the High Peak 40 in the "Race within a race". My HP40 time with fell race and travelling time in between wasn't a Personal Worst either. I'd call that another high.

Two Grand slams
Hayfield fell race championships (10 races) and the Goyt Valley fell race series (4 races) and earning some rare bling as a result.

I can't finish this final post for 2013 without mentioning the camaraderie. Runners are a great bunch wherever you go, from the humble Parkrun (yes, I did plenty of those) all the way up to the world class athletes at Tarawera. It's all one big happy family. (Opposite - with Tarawera 100k winner Sage Canaday.)

Here's to 2014.

Adlington Winter Warmer 10k. 29/12/2013.

(Photo Alan Burton.)

This was the second year for this 'fun run' in aid of charity. As it's mid-festivities it has become very popular very quickly. It's based from The Miner's Arms in Adlington and takes in lanes, tracks, Middlewood Way and canal towpath - and the weather's always sunny. :-) The chosen charity this time was 'Barry's Project 150' and I quote from the man himself:

This year we have launched 'Barry's Project 150' and with your help we are aiming to raise £150,000 to fund a specialist room at The Christie's new teenage cancer unit."

This is a 10k with a twist. Timepieces are banned and prizes are awarded according to how close you are to your predicted finishing time. Unlike last year when I was 14 seconds out and just in the prize bracket, this time I was 58 seconds out. Although I knew I'd be slower than last year I thought I'd be even slower than I was, so a good result then. :-)

During the run and not far from the finish, as I emerged through the stone squeeze stile back onto the canal towpath and turned right, I was confronted by the sight of a runner stretched out across the towpath with foil blanket over him and people fussing round. As I stepped carefully between his head to the right and canal a couple of feet to the left, he looked as if he were sleeping peacefully. I feared the worst and felt quite morose, with thoughts of heart attack and such like filling my mind. We were told at the presentation that he was in hospital and well taken care of. Thankfully, later reports on Facebook from the man himself confirmed that all was well - no heart attack, just a fit of some sort. I felt so relieved. Glowing reports of support from marshals and bystanders were brought forth by the incident. Well done all, and thanks to organiser Tony Ward once again for putting on such a fine, well-supported race.

When everything had been totted up, £1,165 had been raised, which is fantastic. Many people (including me) owe their lives to The Christie. That charity can never get too many donations in my opinion.

Pictures were a bit limited this time, not to mention more blurred than they had any right to be.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Tour de Helvellyn 38mi. 21/12/2013.

This was the 4th running of the Tour de Helvellyn (a nice little pre-Christmas workout to assuage the guilt of imminent decadence and debauchery). Each one has been milder than the previous one. This year for the first time there was no sign of snow or ice anywhere. We just had gales, water and more rain to contend with. Deluges leading up to race start had left the ground swilling with water and springs in the most improbable places, while lakes expanded their boundaries across fields and roads. I had never seen the Lake District so awash (see top photo).

After the kit check I emerged a little later than intended to join the trickle of runners on the climb towards Askham Moor and into the teeth of the head-on gale. At least it wasn't raining. Blood flowed freely from my right index finger after its first of four stabbings. I had offered my body for the medical research that was being conducted by the University of Central Lancashire, in which blood glucose and lactate levels had to be recorded. We were spared the temperature-recording telemetry pills that had previously been threatened.

Stu checks kit.

I soon found myself running with Martin Thomerson. It was good to have someone to chat with to take our minds off our battle with the elements, since forward progress was proving difficult. The dark blue gloaming slowly gave way to daylight as we chatted our way towards Martindale.

I had checked the forecast and I was bracing myself for the next brief belt of rain. It had looked ‘interesting’ on the weather map because it had green and yellow in it. I guessed it would hit us around Patterdale or shortly afterwards. Sure enough as I left the Patterdale checkpoint (relocated to a much better place than the broom cupboard of last year) with blood flowing freely once more, the first spots of rain could be felt borne on the head wind from the lowering, darkening cloud ahead. We waded along the icy access track (see top photo) that was now an extension of the lake that would normally be out of sight.

Martin descends to flooded Patterdale.

As we ascended Greenside Road towards the youth hostel, all hell suddenly broke loose with lightning, violent swirling gusts descending from the hills and torrential RAIN. I was thankful for having planned ahead and set off from the start wearing waterproof top and bottoms. I didn't have to stop and faff with kit in doorways like others did; I just zipped-up and carried on in my own comfortably warm cocoon. I felt strangely secure in such a hostile environment, and a little smug if I'm brutally honest. I was quite pleased that the blood that encrusted my hand and drink bottle was now getting washed away.

Thankfully the squall line passed within 15 minutes or so and by the time the climb to Swart Beck began in earnest, the rain had stopped and the cloud had lifted. A later-starting, minimally-attired and far-too-fit-for-our-own-good runner overtook on the steep rocky climb of the quarry, running as if we were doing a 5k fell race. “How on earth can he do that?” I remarked to a fellow human (as opposed to the superhuman who had just disappeared over the crest).

Stuart Smith formed part of the familiar NAV4 welcoming committee at the Swart Beck checkpoint (he must have raced there after doing the kit checks). He's the one with his head on upside down but always a pleasure to meet every year nevertheless. ;-) He was putting his camera to good use.

From Swart Beck the landscape opened up like never before. We could actually see where the path went. We climbed to Sticks Pass as the wind took our breath away. The descent towards Stanah was treacherous as the icy gale from Helvellyn on the left did its best to blow us over.

As in every other year I was depleted by the time I reached the self-dib at Stanah so I made sure I refuelled as I trudged and stumbled clumsily along the rocky path to Swirls car-park. Another competitor overtook me on the run, hopping and skipping over the rocky trip hazards (how do they do that so far into a race?). As he disappeared into the distance I realised it was Ant ‘Forest’ Bethell but my glucose-starved brain had not worked fast enough to call out a timely greeting.

More good fuelling (ham sandwich, pork pie, you name it) at the Swirls checkpoint had me jogging more energetically than ever before along the forest track. It was warm and calm in the shelter of the forest and the sun was even trying to shine. Hoofin’ ‘Little Dave’ Cumins had caught me up in time for the second SportSunday photographer, which was nice. I shall treasure those photos that tell a little white lie; I'm not really as fast as Little Dave, you see, but who's to know apart from me? ;-)

Another SportSunday masterpiece.

I had decided before the start that I would continue along the forest track that every other member of the public would use rather than deviate left onto the permissive path that they would not. However as we approached it, everyone else seemed to be taking the path. I asked Dave what he was going to do. “The path.” That’s my plans scuppered then. Not wanting to be the odd one out taking the easy but logical option, I dutifully followed like a sheep. NEVER AGAIN! It was a joke, abandoned, neglected, unmaintained and impassable due to multiple fallen trees. We detoured and stumbled off path around the obstructions, trying to regain the path again. I glanced down the hillside to the right and glimpsed through the trees that were still standing another runner who had taken the sensible option along the track, but we were now committed to our obstacle course. I gently seethed. Dave bounded on ahead with indecent perkiness under the circumstances and rapidly disappeared through the trees. By the time I’d reached the next self-dib at Birkside Gill with Dave long out of sight, I reckon the detour (because that’s what it is) had cost me 6 minutes. Next time it’s the track, regardless of what others do.

My fuelling was still going well as I overtook others on the climb up Raise Beck, leaving Martin behind (sorry Martin, it was nothing personal). I was feeling fresh as if starting the race. We were mostly sheltered from the wind, now from our right. I topped out and looked down onto Grisedale Tarn on the right. It looks a lot bigger when it’s not frozen over and snow-covered.

The descent of Grisedale Beck was treacherous with its steep, technical rockiness and wind from behind that came in waves of gale-force gusts. You had to brace yourself while each gust passed by. I was doing alright until I had to cross a swollen stream. I made the mistake of stepping on the rock under the water. The algal surface was the equivalent of ice. Within a second I was lying in the water, my left forearm and elbow having taken the full force of my fall. I cringed as the wave of pain joined the water in washing over me. A passing runner asked if I was alright. His pace didn't slow to catch my answer, let alone check if I actually was alright. If the tables were turned I know I would have stopped and checked properly.

The bone still pains me to this day if I catch it wrongly.

We waded along the flooded track a second time on the approach to the Patterdale checkpoint (see top photo). The water level seemed to have dropped an inch or two. A caravan rested on its roof in the field.

Windy day.

Because of the medical research and because I was taking more care of fuelling, I was spending much longer than ever before at the checkpoints. With that and the farce of the permissive path, I should have been haemorrhaging time. I had noted down my PB times from 2012 and had been comparing this year’s as I went along. So far it was looking like this:
CP1 (Martindale) -3mins;
CP2 (Patterdale) -5mins;
CP3 (Swart Beck) +2mins;
CP4 (Stanah) +4mins;
CP5 (Swirls) +4mins;
CP6 (Birkside Gill) +6mins;
CP7 (Patterdale) 0mins.
I was now level with last year but more time would be lost for the third blood-letting and for a nice cup of coffee.

The latest refuelling put lead in my pencil for an energetic climb back up to Boredale Hause. The next forecast rain was beginning to make itself felt as spray began to blow on the wind once again. It started to come down properly as I descended the other side down Boredale in splendid isolation. No-one else had been in sight since leaving Patterdale. I like it that way because I feel like the hunter and hunted and it makes me push harder. I pushed the pace back to CP8 (Martindale) -5mins. The wind was rising again and the rain intensity was increasing in fits and starts but I didn't care. I was warm and comfortable and I was fuelling to keep the engine going and the mind sharp.

The last flooded view after Martindale before nightfall.

I hit the trail back towards Askham Moor. I was running as best I could and putting off the moment when I would switch my head torch on. I hadn't removed it all day because it was serving such a useful purpose keeping my cap from blowing off in the gale. Could I manage without the light as far as the Cockpit? No; perhaps on a clear night but not this time. A couple of female competitors overtook me around this point running very strongly. They were the only other runners I would see from Patterdale to the finish.

The gale drove the rain like mini bullets from the right as I climbed back on to Askham Moor. I glimpsed dark shapes to my right which I assumed to be a group of fell ponies. I shone my torch at them and saw the stone circle. THE COCKPIT! I thought I would have passed that by now! I continued on the same ENE heading like I know we have to, on the less obvious path. I pulled my jacket hood around and ran half sideways and hunched over to present more of my back and less of my face to the driving rain. I was on the cool side of comfortable despite being wrapped up to the eyeballs. I ran to keep warm and I was able to run efficiently because I wasn't overheating.

I climbed towards the dark mass of the trees on the horizon while scanning the ground to the right to pick up the path I knew should be there. Amazingly I found it – a barely discernible smooth grass strip that cuts the corner and avoids a few feet of unnecessary climb. It was downhill from here to the finish. I glanced behind to see if there were any chasing lights. There were not. I headed for the next dark mass of trees on the horizon which brought me to the gate with wall and the trees on the left (always keep the trees on the left). Continuing the descent brought me to the lane, the welcoming PIR security light on the first dwelling, the dazzling wall of green and white Christmas lights a little further down. As I ran back into Askham still wrapped up to the eyeballs, I was amazed at how much colder gale and rain at +5°C feels compared with calm conditions at -10°C. [In 2010 when it was minus 10 and we ran across virgin snowfields by the light of the moon, I was having to strip off on the final descent to Askham.]

I ran into the hall via the tradesman's entrance (it's quicker that way) at 9:35:49 elapsed, -17mins compared to last year so new surprise PB. I felt elated. However, before refuelling on nourishing home-made soup, cakes and lashings of tea (thanks Pauline!), a final finger-stabbing was required. The long run to the finish without food intake had resulted in the lowest blood glucose reading of all, and I felt it. I couldn't have kept that pace up for many more minutes without a slowdown for yet more refuelling.

My post-race weight of 63.9kg revealed 2kg of weight loss. Although that will be from water loss I was not dehydrated as such because I felt fine. Electrolytes were perfectly balanced and everything was still working as nature intended as far as I could tell.

Later, during an interesting chat with Charlie Sharpe, James Harris, Dave Cumins et al over a cuppa and hearty wedge (of cake) at the ‘elites’ table’, I learned that Charlie got blown off the trail and down the hillside on the descent of Grisedale Beck. Multiple parallel gouges up the side of his leg and hip were evidence of the ground slide he had enjoyed. I also heard that someone else had to retire after getting blown off-piste. Charlie used this event as an easy training run in preparation for The Spine race in January. He had an easy bimble round in 7:34:37. Makes ya sick, dannit. ;-)

Charlie heads the elites' table. ;-)

There were a few cases of hypothermia in that later wind + rain onslaught. Jon Steele staggered into the hall 2 hours overdue and on the point of collapse after going off course before the Cockpit. People sprang into action to get him sitting down, warming up and refuelled with warm soup. It worked wonders because he was back to his usual self later on that evening in the Queen's Head.

Many thanks once again to Joe Faulkner, the NAV4 crew and the providers of THAT FOOD for a 4th bout of pre-Christmas racing pleasure with added spice. See you same place, same time in 2014.

SportSunday professional photographs are here.

My blurred snaps are here (but I was trying to run and my equipment is considerably smaller).