Tuesday, 19 August 2014

April 2014 - main event The Fellsman

I returned from China at the end of March just in time to squeeze in the Woodbank parkrun on the 29th and Lad's Leap fell race on the 30th. It was my first Lad's Leap or any other race from Crowden for that matter. Anything from there is going to be steep and tough. This one certainly was, and as proof it is rated 'AS' in the FRA ascent and distance categories. At 6 miles it still took me 1hr 11mins to complete. I may have been slowed further by something I brought back from China (I always manage to 'pick up' something there no matter how careful I am). We were blessed with sunny weather, which was ideal for the photographs. Photo album.

Nearing top of first climb at Lad's Leap.

Sat 05/04. Lyme Park parkrun followed by Chicken Run fell race.

Lyme parkrun is more like a fell run than a parkrun. It's only recently started and this was my first time on it. It's steep and intense so great fun. Time is around 2 minutes slower than for Woodbank.

Later that morning was the first running of the Chicken Run fell race from Hayfield Junior School. It's 6 miles via Little Hayfield, the shooting cabin and past the top end of the reservoir to turn around and rejoin our outward route back to the finish. Nice organisation, nice route and nice home-made cakes at the finish. A time of 0:57:58 suggests it's a little easier than last week's Lad's Leap. Photo album.

A damp day at Chicken Run.

Sat 12/04. 36th Calderdale Hike 37mi.

This was Race 3 of 12 in the Runfurther series but the first one I was able to do due to my absence in March. It was the third and final year of this route before a change for next year. Conditions were cool and ideal for running without overheating. The rain held off until around the same point as last year (between Grain Water Bridge and New Bridge for me). I had my usual slowdown after the moor crossing from Hoof Stones Height, when everyone began to overtake me. I didn't get going properly again until after Top Withins. Every year it's been the same. In the end I was pleased to get a PB by 36 minutes with a final time of 7hrs 58mins. Photo album.

Walshaw Dean Middle Reservoir.

Wed 16/04. Herod Farm Hill Race 3mi.

I always look forward to this because it's the first of the local evening races and it signifies the lengthening of the days and the beginning of summer racing. Organised by Glossopdale Harriers it was a very friendly affair once again. It is an an intense burn for half an hour (give or take) with two climbs that give you no choice but to walk. Then you get to run downhill on jelly legs back to the finish. The ground was dry (apart from a couple of stubborn bogs) and the air was balmy. We enjoyed al fresco tea and cakes afterwards in the forecourt of the Reliance Garage while we waited for the results and awards ceremony. I cannot think of a better way to spend an evening. My time was 0:33:36, which was 23 seconds off PB. Photo album.

The first climb.

Thu 24/04. Mobberley 'Round The Runway' 5.3mi.

I kept myself on the boil between Herod Farm and this with a Woodbank Parkrun on Saturday.
This was the 4th race in the inaugural Stockport Harriers race series. It was the only reason I did it. It was in the race series of a few other running clubs as well, so it was rather busy.
It was also my first visit to Mobberley, which I discovered is trapped in the middle of a maze of country lanes. I had trouble finding it and trouble getting out afterwards.
The race was novel in that it went on country lanes, tracks and paths, alongside Manchester Airport runway and underneath the runway beside the river. The easy runnability of the route (compared to that of fell races) is reflected in my time of 0:38:39. The conditions were mild and dry and could not have been better. Photo album.

Don't worry, we're not trespassing.

Sat 26 - Sun 27/04. 52nd Fellsman 61mi.

This is a tough fell race from Ingleton to Threshfield that takes in every available peak on the way. Distance is 61 miles with total ascent of nearly 12,000 feet. Much of the route is off path and requires good navigation, good kit and good survival skills. It demands respect. (Nowadays however, a 'Fellsman trod' seems to have evolved, which has become boggy in places due to the foot traffic.) This would be my 8th start and hopefully 8th completion.

We set off at a new half-hour earlier start time of 08:30 to avoid the Three Peaks Fell Race runners coming in the opposite direction off Whernside. (They would also set off half an hour later.) The air was damp and we were soon into the cloud and windblown drizzle as we climbed Ingleborough. I played cat and mouse with Brian 'Stolly' Stallwood as far as the summit, after which he was gone never to be seen again. I would struggle again with the speed. In retrospect I can never understand why this event feels so tough, but at the time it always does. Others say the same thing.

The familiar wet micro climate continued on Whernside, after which the sun made its usual appearance as we descended towards Kingsdale. On the climb from Kingsdale to Gragareth I drifted further right than ever before on the quad bike track before forking left again uphill. This took me to the top right of the rough pasture, where I discovered a gateway we could go through which I'd never seen before. I was glad I didn't have to climb the wall this time. I always felt terribly guilty about that. Around this point I noticed I seemed to be going at around the same speed as Amanda Heading as we kept re-overtaking each other.

Grough photographer waits to photograph Amanda Heading on the climb of Gragareth.

On the approach to Dent (where the sun always shines) I knew there was a footpath around the back but had never been able to find it. This time I did and took the timekeepers by surprise by arriving from the top of the field. It saves all of 30 seconds compared to going via the road.

Receiving care and attention at Dent.

On the approach from Blea Moor towards Stone House I was sad to see that 'Blue' the turkey and his guardian were no longer there. That oasis we pass through felt lonely without them. Once out onto the lane I was running quite well down towards the checkpoint, until a tractor with hay bales got in the way. I managed to overtake it eventually.

My passage was blocked by Varrmer Joiles' hay bales.

Stone House is at marathon distance. After that comes the slog up Great Knoutberry. Amanda Heading and Barnaby Crawshaw were descending as I climbed to the summit on the out-and-back. By the next checkpoint at Redshaw I was an hour down on my PB pace but a shorter stop meant I was only three quarters of an hour down at the next checkpoint (Snaizeholme fell). Barny and I had teamed up after Redshaw; this was his first Fellsman. We made haste towards Dodd Fell then Fleet Moss. A shower over Ingleborough and Whernside threatened to our right (there's that micro climate again) but it passed by with hardly a drop deposited on us.

Barny gets clipped on Dodd Fell.

On the approach to Fleet Moss I had wondered about the left-hand approach, which I did once in the early years. Runners ahead were going that way so I followed them. Mistake! The logical route on the map does not work out on the ground due to rough, unrunnable terrain and a wall that has to be climbed at its corner. It is very much the worse for wear as a result. As I waited in line for my turn I felt terribly guilty at the damage over the years. Back to the right-hand approach for me next year.

I checked my watch on the approach to Fleet Moss and realised that we were ahead of the 19:30 grouping time as stated in the 'hiker' instructions. Imagine my surprise when the marshals announced that we would be grouped. Their instructions stated 19:00 and their explanation of this fact was getting increasingly heated. They showed me the piece of paper to prove it. I wish the organisers would get this right to avoid misunderstanding and unnecessary friction. Last year it was the opposite: hiker instructions gave 19:00 and marshal instructions gave 19:30 as the grouping time. Perhaps in 2015 they'll compromise and go for 19:15 instructed to both. ;-)

I was grouped with Barny, Amanda and Mark Aldridge. This was Mark's first ultra marathon. What an event to pick for a first Ultra! We turned out to be a fantastic group and we made good progress through Yockenthwaite Moor and on to Grey Horse on Gilbert Lane, having to switch on our head torches along the way.

Heading for Yockenthwaite Moor - Mark, Barny, Amanda.

Barny and Amanda with marshal checking our grouping card at Yockenthwaite Moor.

After a rest and refuel at Cray I was unsure once again of the wall-hugging route up Buckden Pike, so we floundered and wasted time. I wished I'd taken Amanda up on her suggestion that we take the more direct route to the right of the cleft (which we had done successfully in 2009 with daylight to spare).

After the minor hiccup climbing Buckden Pike our navigation went perfectly, but speed was moderated by nausea with me and Amanda and Mark's trashed quads forcing him to walk in utter pain after Capplestone Gate. I was pleased that most of the trendy new beacons were working this year to guide our way across the fields to Yarnbury. Last year most of them had failed (defective batteries?).

At the degrouping checkpoint at Yarnbury, Mark had to stop to recover while Amanda had to stop to be horribly ill in the middle of the road. She told Barny and me to carry on but I felt guilty about leaving her in that predicament and kept stopping and looking back. A little while later as I shuffled my way down as fast as I could go, she came breezing past, much better for having emptied her stomach contents. I still worried about Mark. As we ran down to the lights of Grassington an ambulance raced up the road in the opposite direction with blue lights flashing. I immediately worried about Mark being taken ill at the last checkpoint and the marshals having to call out the emergency services.

I chased Barny and Amanda to finish 1 minute behind them at the school in Threshield. My time of 19:39 was within 3 minutes of the previous two years. How's that for consistency on an event where so many variables influence the outcome. As I gathered my senses with some restorative tea I was mightily relieved to see Mark arrive 22 minutes later, seemingly none the worse for wear. WELL DONE MARK for completing such a tough event as The Fellsman for your first Ultra. 
Photo album.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

March 2014 - New Zealand, main event Tarawera Ultra Marathon

I squeezed in another Woodbank parkrun just before going away for a month of business travel in Asia with a break sandwiched in the middle to visit New Zealand North Island once again. (In case you were wondering, it was more expensive for me to fly return from Asia than it would have been to fly return from Manchester.) The main dish would be to run the Tarawera Ultra Marathon (TUM) again but there were plenty of side dishes to keep me admirably nourished before and after. I spent most of my time in Rotorua. Ex work colleague Wayne Richards acted as excellent guide around his home town and a little further afield for things to see and do. Thank you, Wayne, for acting as such a wonderful host. You live in a beautiful part of the world.

Mon 10/03. First day was spent on an 8-mile run in the redwood forest of Rotorua before paying Paul Charteris, TUM Race Organiser a visit to help out with anything that needed doing. He needed any help he could get with the enormity of the task at hand. Photo album.

Looking out over Rotorua.

Tue 11/03. Run along part of brand new Tarawera Trail and a quick nose around the base of Rainbow Mountain (~10 miles total). Photo album.

Crater Lake at the foot of Rainbow Mountain (4-photo stitch).

Wed 12/03. Rotorua Canopy Tours, followed by a wander along the volcanically fragrant shores of Lake Rotorua to Government Gardens of Rotorua. The Canopy Tour provided my first opportunity for some zip line action (it was brilliant), to see native flora and fauna and to assist the return of the fauna to where it belongs through our entry fees. Human-introduced predators - e.g. stoats, rats and possums - wipe out the indigenous wildlife and must be trapped and removed from the ecosystem. That's what Canopy Tours do with our money. Positive results have included the gradual return of birdsong to the forest, though it's still nowhere near what it would have been.

I hired a GoPro helmet camera to capture some of our journey through the treetops but haven't had a chance yet to edit something together. In the meantime, here's the photo album to be going on with.

Zip lines through the treetops - Rotorua Canopy Tours.

Government Gardens with museum.

Thu 13/03. A leisurely day spent visiting Hamurana Springs and Okere Falls with Wayne before the first official TUM event in the evening - the 8km 'Fun Run'. Photo album.

The end of the TUM 'Fun Run' at the Te Puia geyser field.

Fri 14/03. Official Maori welcome to the Tarawera Ultra Marathon runners at Te Puia followed by race expo and registration. Warnings all week of tropical cyclone Lusi moving southwards to hit us for race day had become a certainty. However we could never have guessed now on the day before, the warm, calm, sunny weather giving no hint of what was to come.

Race Director Paul Charteris announced at the race briefing that the race had to be shortened. With high winds and driving rain forecast, later parts of the course where aid station access was by boat could not be supported reliably or safely. Paul's emotions ran high as he made the announcement that the event would be disrupted for a second year. Last year was high fire risk. This year was headed for the same until Lusi turned it into high wind and water risk instead. Photo album.

Last year's winner Sage Canaday (in green) represents the 'TUM tribe' at the Maori welcome ceremony.

Sat 15/03. Tarawera Ultra Marathon - 100km shortened to ~73km by Lusi.

Waiting to start.

The first spots of rain could be felt as we gathered in the dark at the Redwoods Visitor Centre for the 06:30 start. An emotional Paul Charteris announced that we would run a 12km loop past the water tank before turning right back to the start to begin all over again. Second time past the water tank we would turn left through Okareka to Okataina then 2km beyond to the turnaround point before returning to Okareka to finish where we did last year. For a second year running we would not make it all the way to Kawerau.

Marshal Tim Day guides us back to the start on the 12km loop.

Storm clouds gather.

Plenty of support and very busy at the aid station back at the start.

The rain just about held off for the first loop but the wind was up and the rain was driving in across the lake by the time I arrived at Okareka on the outward leg. I was thankful that we were running in the shelter of the forest for most of the time. I felt sorry for the marshals and supporters who were stuck there in that exposed location. I was slowing down by this point and Wayne and Paulo Osorio caught up with me. I ran much of last year's TUM with Paulo, where we kept each other's spirits up through our low points with stories and anecdotes. He was much faster this year and went on ahead after the next aid station at Millar Road.

Paulo, Wayne, Nick at Okareka on the outward leg.

Paulo makes a quick exit from Millar Road aid station.

A modified out-and-back course has one major advantage - we get to see the faster runners on the return leg. It makes the event more inclusive and involving and gives us a glimpse of what it's like up there near the front. My longest low point meant plenty of walking and plenty of opportunity to take photographs, until the approach to Okataina when I began to let rip on the descents.

Leader Sage Canaday heading for his second win.

Yun Yanqiao second.

Vajin Armstrong third.

Elastic band collection at the turnaround.

A very wet Okataina on the return leg.

Ross Steele on the way back to Millar Road.

Final Coke fill at Millar Road.

Like last year we were running over the toughest part of the TUM course. Apparently there is more ascent over this 73km course than there is over the normal linear 100km course, which I have yet to experience. No wonder I always seem to slow down and suffer, especially on the outward leg to Okataina. With effective fuelling I did fall into the groove by the return leg, though. It felt just like home as I ran down those narrow muddy technical trails as if on a fell race, overtaking all before me. The only unrealistic part was the warmth of the rain. With the temperature at 18 deg C I felt quite comfortable in vest and shorts while others were wrapped up in their waterproofs to protect them from this alien environment. Time splits showed my time was 3:00:55 from Okareka to Okataina and 2:49:55 from Okataina back to Okareka.

Paul Charteris presents the iconic carved wooden TUM medal.

The closing ceremony and awards presentation were held on Sunday. It was still raining.

Male winners.

Female winners.

The Tarawera Ultra Marathon isn't a one day flash-in-the-pan. It's four days of activities and a coming together of the worldwide ultra-running family in a most beautiful part of the world.

My photo album is here, and here's the official documentary by Ninmo Productions:

My final six days in New Zealand were spent sightseeing with Wayne around the Rotorua area and running the Cornwall parkrun in Auckland.