Saturday, 27 June 2015

Western States 100 week Thu 25th

This was the first day of official activities, which began with the Western States welcome by Race Director Craig Thornley and WSER Foundation President John Trent. The RD has changed since I was last here. The previous RD was Greg Soderlund. The only familiar face for me was Mo Livermore, who has been a part of the race since its inception. You would never believe it to look at her; she never seems to age. Our greeting was a reunion of old friends. She remembers me for completing the very hot 2006 event with no heat training and without a single salt tablet, when most other runners were popping S-caps like there was no tomorrow. (There nearly was no tomorrow for those who overdid it. Vomiting and DNFs were common.) Latest medical research recommends doing exactly what I did instinctively back then - drink to feel as thirst dictates and take an electrolyte drink or soup at aid stations if salt in food is not enough.

After the welcome we hiked to Emigrant Pass for the brief ceremony at noon. I joined WS volunteer 'UltrAlena' Hansen to share the flag carrying. Alena will be volunteering at Rucky-Chucky nearside this year. On the way up we breathed the dust of heavy construction vehicles as they climbed to chair lift construction works.
A big crane that reminds me of Jez.
A cement mixer kicks up the dust.
The ceremony at the top with Mo Livermore and Tony Rossmann was moving. Tony's description and pointing out of the route to beyond Robinson Flat was particularly interesting. I recall while running the race in previous years that, as we leave Robinson Flat and run around Little Bald Mountain, the trail briefly turns back and we can see all the way back to Emigrant Pass. This is with more than 30 miles behind us. After that we begin to lose altitude as the route descends towards the canyons (even though we've already been through the first canyon before the climb to Robinson Flat).
Tony Rossmann and Mo Livermore conduct the ceremony.
At the top I met up with three other UK runners James Poole, Chris Howe and Henry Church. James had been feeling so energetic he went mountain climbing as soon as he arrived.

James descends his mountain.
After the ceremony we descended back to High Camp where we met the oldest entrant Gary Knipling, who does pretty well for a 71yo.
With 71yo Gary Knipling, oldest competitor at WS this year.
The 4th cable car ride of the week to the bottom saw us proceed by way of the newly erected starting arch to lunch at Fireside Pizza. It took my mind back to the pizza eating competition I had with Jez Bragg and Paul Charteris back in 2008 (I think). There was none of that shenanigans this time.
Henry, James, Chris, me - time to race start.
Here are the day's photos.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Western States 100 week Wed 24th

I had an easier, 6-mile day today with a jog down to the village and a trek up to Emigrant pass on the official Western States route, followed by a third descent by cable car (free if descending only). As I approached the village I noticed the floodlights blazing up the ski slope. No doubt they were testing them for race day because we use their light for the initial climb before dawn finally breaks.
Testing the ski slope lights.
The slog up to the top was not easy in the blazing sunshine. I'm thankful for the much cooler conditions we get at 5am race start. A water bowser climbed the trail spraying water to keep the dust down before returning to the bottom and repeating.
Track is dampened temporarily behind the bowser down below.
I arrived at Emigrant pass with another runner hot on my heels. He was Sam Fiandaca. As we chatted, another runner joined us, who turned out to be none other than Ian Sharman. Ian has 5 consecutive top ten finishes at Western States. Although a Brit (obvious when he speaks, but I think I hide mine well ;-)), he lives here in the US. We spent a while admiring the views out to the horizon along the Western States route and chatting about all things ultra-running before Sam set off down into the Granite Chief Wilderness for a run and Ian and I descended in far more leisurely fashion back towards High Camp. (We elites know how to save it all until race day. ;-))
Ian Sharman and Sam Fiandaca joined me at Emigrant Pass.
The day's pictures are here.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Western States 100 week Tue 23rd

That's more like it. I could keep up a more respectable uphill hiking pace today despite the temperature ratcheting up and the sweat flowing freely, and I even managed some running! After yesterday's struggle amidst much puffing and panting and pauses to admire the view (actually to recover and catch my breath), and zero inclination to run, today I felt a bit more energetic. The acclimatisation must be working. It's following the same pattern as the four previous times I've been here.

I entered Squaw Valley village via the front door today for the first time instead of from above via the back door. I joined the Shirley Canyon trail from the top end of the village to the right of the cable car. The footpath climbed variously through pine and fir trees, alongside a tumbling stream and across wide expanses of steeply sloping granite. The cable car to the left was soon out of sight on the other side of the mountain as the path took me on a now familiar wilderness journey.
Entering the village via the front door.
Guess where the trail goes.
The trail was marked in parts by markers of blue spray paint, known locally as blazes (blazing the trail with blistering blue blazes), which were fading and easily missed. Across the open granite slabs and boulders they disappeared completely. Scanning left to right revealed nothing blue with nothing to follow apart from my nose uphill. Inevitably I lost the trail and the nose-following continued up terrain that required hands, feet and a dash of daring. I was thankful for the extreme grip provided by the rough granite. Seemingly any gradient could be climbed without a single slip.

I knew I was aiming for Shirley Lake. I aimed right towards a clump of trees that seemed to surround a depression and it wasn't far from the stream, so I guessed the lake might be there. The ground foliage beneath the trees was impenetrable but a steep granite slope appeared ahead which I climbed, mountain goat style, to get a better view from above. There was no lake. I contoured back along the precipice with increasing sense of urgency because I had to catch the last cable car from High Camp at 5pm and I hadn't even reached the lake yet!

Climbing now to the left brought me back to the trail with a massive sense of relief. The markers were newer and more frequent for now and led me to Shirley Lake. Across the other side of the lake was a cable car terminus. I guess the lake forms a winter playground for the skiers from the High Camp area high above.
Shirley Lake.
The path climbed around the lake to join the steep access track left up to the wide plateau above High Camp. After power walking to the top I ran (note, "ran") down to High Camp in time for a sandwich and taking in the views before taking the penultimate cable car down at 4:40pm. The 1.5 mile climb back up to the guesthouse completed a reassuring afternoon's exercise and another 7 miles under the belt.
High Camp down below. Fire smoke still lingers on the horizon.
Here's the photo album.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Western States 100 week Mon 22nd

I arrived Saturday evening in Reno before moving up to Squaw Valley on Sunday. The weather was uncharacteristically cool and windy but characteristically dry and wall-to-wall 'sunshiney'. It was great to meet Herman and Ann at the guesthouse again. It's been 6 years since I was here.
Squaw Valley from the deck.
Yesterday (Monday) was a hike to High Camp (top of cable car) the long way round (probably 10 miles). After a lot of floundering and asking for directions I found the secret, un-signposted entrance to the footpath between dwellings perched on the valley side. The path wound back and forth and climbed to meet the Pacific Crest Trail way up top. The cable car and High Camp station grew further away to my left as I climbed until it was out of sight behind the hills. I was completely alone on that little-used single-track trail. With thoughts of mountain lions and bears, my senses were heightened. I heard that distant deep groaning sound again which I recall hearing when I was last alone on the trails around these parts. The hairs on the back of my neck rose. I have no idea what makes the sound but I always imagine mountain lion (cougar).
Leaving Squaw Valley.
 Last glimpse of High Camp (top left).
Squaw Valley down below. The 'cloud' on the horizon is forest fire smoke.
I met the first hiker at the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. He had come from Tinker Knob to the right. I was reassured that he was puffing and panting with the altitude as well. After a brief conversation he sat down for a refreshment stop while I turned left towards Granite Chief. My refreshment stop would wait until Emigrant Pass.
Now on the PCT I met several hikers, all striding purposefully with walking poles, wearing big rucksacks and coming in the opposite direction. One of them ('Marathon John' Patterson, pictured right) stopped for a long chat. It was then that I learned all these hikers to be thru-hikers doing the PCT end-to-end from Mexico to Canada. I'm blown away by the very thought of something so big, something I would never consider taking on. We must have chatted for a good 20 minutes, he telling me about thru-hiking and how much weight he'd lost already, and me telling him about Western States (he'd noticed my buckle and T-shirt). Now suitably informed I was able to interact appropriately with the next hikers who passed. One of them said: "Only ten days to halfway". Wow!
At the cross-paths with Tevis Trail with Granite Chief mountain rising to the right, I turned left back up the Western States 100 route to Emigrant Pass. At the top were panoramic views of High Camp down below with Lake Tahoe in the distance and fire smoke billowing up from behind the mountains beyond. (There always seems to be a forest fire somewhere when I'm here.)

Fire beyond Lake Tahoe.
After lunch at the top and a slippery, dusty descent to High Camp I was happy to take the cable car down to the valley bottom before walking back up to the guesthouse. That little jaunt took more out of me than is decent. I hope I'm more acclimatised to the altitude come race day.
Cable car down to Squaw Valley.
All the pictures I took are here.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

After the hypothermic hiccup let the PBs continue....

This early May bank holiday weekend sees a welcome return of Des Gibbons' 3-day Glossop running festival. It's my 4th consecutive year on the triple challenge.

Sat 02/05/2015. Chunal fell race 3.25mi.

Coolest conditions I've experienced so far but the ground was still dry. The closure of The Grouse Inn meant registration in a mini tent city on the sloping starting field. Some of us were thankful for the tents' shelter from the cold breeze before and after the race.

This is one tough, steep fell race that gets the heart and lungs bursting out of your chest and gives you tunnel vision through brain starvation (I'm not joking). It's short enough to push beyond the limit from beginning to end. I did and continued my string of PBs since 2012. The 2 minute improvement was an even bigger surprise.

First stage of first climb. Start is top left of picture (labelled).

Jack Ross beat his own course record by 52 seconds.

Full photo album is here.

Sun 03/05/2015. Moorfield 5+k road race.

Overnight rain stopped in time but its passing introduced much warmer, humid conditions. The sun came out to add to the discomfort as we powered our way on the anticlockwise hilly route. The sting in the tail before the finish doesn't get any easier. I have to walk it before the gradient eases off to allow the pace to be picked up to the finish line and another PB. Don't know how many more of these I can muster.

On the starting line.

Team Glossopdale.

Winner 3rd year on the trot: 15 y.o. Alex Jackson of Stockport Harriers. He really had to work hard for the win this year.

High intensity with only one walking break mean only one in-race photo, but there are plenty of before and after. Full album is here.

Tomorrow's James' Thorn fell race promises to be spectacular as far as the weather is concerned. Another PB would be very nice.

Mon 04/05/2015. James' Thorn fell race 5mi.

I exceeded my wildest dreams. It was the usual intense suffering from beginning to end but it yielded a PB by 3 mins 22 secs! I don't know where this speed is coming from but I like it a lot and I want it to continue. Beginning with Herod Farm hill race on Wed 15 April (first evening race of the season), every race I've completed has given me a PB (Fellsman DNF excepted of course). That's an 8-race unbroken record, and counting. Next races are Rainow 5 fell race on Wed eve, Buxworth 5 road race on Thu eve then Marlborough Downs Challenge 33 mile trail race on Sunday.

Back to today. The weather rewarded us with its usual sunny warmth. Conditions could not have been better for the slog up to the top of James' Thorn hill and back down with the small loop at the top to avoid the worst of the clashes between the leaders returning and the rest of us still climbing. Race winner Simon Harding of Macclesfield Harriers was too fast for me to get the camera ready. I think the first three passed me on the way down before I began the anticlockwise loop to the top.

On the downhill I was a bit spent from the climb, but with the runners I overtook on the climb I only lost 2 places on average. Final time was 43:02, placing 46th out of 111 finishers. Not so long ago I struggled to finish in the top half of a fell race. Now it's happening every time.

A rare backward-looking photo on the climb.

Number 2 Ian Mills powers back down.

Approaching the summit from round the back.

Downhill (almost) all the way to the finish.

Winner Simon Harding.

I took a ton of photos and uploaded 105. Here's the album.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

I gambled and paid the price.....

The 53rd Fellsman. Sat 25 – Sun 26/04/2015.

I had been studying the forecast avidly in the 2 weeks leading up to The Fellsman. I knew the early summer we'd been enjoying would come to an end right on cue just to 'keep it real' Fellsman stylie, but the last forecast I saw before heading up to Threshfield on Friday afternoon suggested a big improvement with much less rain than originally predicted. It all seemed to be coming true by Saturday morning. The temperature was milder than in previous years and what little rain there had been on Friday night was little more than dampness in the air now. The dry ground would only be dampened.

With a string of recent PBs under my belt (5 in 9 days, the latest being on the Thursday evening) I harboured thoughts of making this the 6th in 11 days. I was so confident of my fitness I’d not kept my ambitious thoughts to myself (first mistake). In the interests of athletic performance (not wanting to burn up) I elected to leave my waterproof jacket and trousers in my rucksack (2nd mistake) and set off with lightweight windproof top whose only waterproofness was that offered by the waterproofing wash I’d given it. It would shrug off the wind and some light rain, which was all I was expecting. I wore no waterproof trousers and only wore leggings to avoid having to faff around putting them on at grouping time.

We were sent on our way at 08:30 from the sports field in Ingleton to begin the first climb up Ingleborough. We were soon in the cloud. The light rain or drizzle blew across in fits and starts but it wasn't too cold. When we finally summited on Ingleborough, the cloud was so thick we couldn't see the checkpoint. I followed my nose based on memory of the previous eight times. A checkpoint marshal materialised out of the murk waving his arms wildly to draw us in.

The wind blew and it was decidedly inhospitable as I stumbled onwards, making sure to keep the drop-off to my left. I was struggling to see where I was going and taking it very carefully over the rock-strewn terrain. I was reminded that the old back-up glasses I was wearing (the latest ones had broken a couple of weeks earlier) hold onto the water droplets far too well. The cloud, as well as obscuring our view in the atmosphere also deposited itself with wind assistance onto my lenses to obscure my view even further. As I stumbled clumsily like an old 'un with dodgy knees (well, I am and I have, but I was half blind now as well), fellow fell-runner, 'barefoot' Aleks Kashefi caught up. He had special dispensation from the authorities (Fellsman committee) to run without footwear.


Yes, without shoes.

Or socks.

Aleks was running The Fellsman barefoot (or minimally shod in the skimpy sandals he was wearing at that moment) as part of his training for his sponsored LEJOG in August, but he had to take proper shoes with him as well, just in case, like. ;-) He'd signed a special waiver and everything. That was a real privilege considering the strict kit rules that apply to this event (rightly so). I commend the organisers for their flexibility and understanding. I know Aleks really appreciates this unique privilege. He left me standing as he skipped down the other side of Ingleborough, full of the joys of running barefoot. I could tell by the involuntary whoops of joy he couldn't hold in. It was something special to witness.

Aleks descends Ingleborough.

CP2 at Hill Inn was passed through (cue the first electronic scan whizz-sound, which tickles my childish sense of humour every time). We were informed that the grouping time at Fleet Moss had been brought forward an hour to 18:30. Wonderful. There go my plans for getting through before grouping. Perhaps the forecast really is bad for later. Jonathan had warned us at race briefing about the forecast plummeting temperatures. I was ready for it: I had my best waterproof rolled up in my rucksack for when it does get bad.

The first heavier, thankfully fleeting, bursts of rain hit as we climbed Whernside. The second SportSunday photographer had to uncover her camera from protection to grab quick shots before sheltering it again.

Looking back while waiting to get clipped at Whernside summit.

Gaining the ridge on Whernside brought more cloud-enshrouded windblown drizzle misery. I trudged up to CP3 as faster runners came back down on their way to Kingsdale. It wasn't that mild now. I was half blinded again by my obscured glasses, which became a problem for the second technical descent. The old doddering recommenced while other runners without compromised vision sailed past me. We queued to climb the temporary ladder stile (now aluminium and no doubt much lighter to drag up there) before winding our way down the green pastures, descending out of the cloud as we did so. I could see where I was going again and put a bit of a spurt on down the soft, easy-going terrain. It became less chilly out of the wind. It was brightening a little and I envisaged an end to the intermittent rain that had been blowing in.

Crossing the dried-up riverbed to Kingsdale.

We crossed the dried-up rocky riverbed (first time I've ever seen it like that) on our way to CP4 at Kingsdale. The rain had stopped and I was comfortably warm (if not dry), so I didn't mind the fact that the latest influx had temporarily caused them to run out of tea. I just grabbed a magic home-made flapjack and continued up the third climb, making do with my water to wash it down. As I climbed I heard a "Hiya Nick" as someone caught up with me. Charlie Johnson! What are you doing here? You should be miles ahead. In the cloud he'd descended with others in the wrong direction off Ingleborough so had a lot of ground to make up.

The brightening on the descent to Kingsdale became a darkening as we climbed back into the cloud. Worse than that, the rain was starting again, the wind was rising and the temperature was dropping as we climbed the precipitous slopes of Gragareth. CP5 at the summit had been relocated to within the shelter of the walls. Not having to do the out-and-back to the trig point saved a few minutes. Once queued for tally punching by the tented torso it was over the stile and right to begin the long, undulating run to Great Coum. This is where the wheels began to fall off.

Climbing Gragareth as the rain returned.

Getting clipped by the 'tented torso' at the relocated Gragareth checkpoint.

The weather came in with a vengeance with wind and driving rain. The temperature was plummeting and the omnipresent cloud prevented any view, save for the bogs at our feet. The ground, which had been bone dry little more than 12 hours earlier, already had its bogs and mud rejuvenated to normal Fellsman standards. We stumbled and sank along the wall line. I was struggling to run/walk and my mind was becoming dulled, with one overriding priority: keep moving, keep warm.

I'd been chasing another runner with green jacket all the way to Great Coum without quite being able to catch up. He ran past the point where we climb over the wall to the checkpoint. I called him back as I climbed over.

CP6, Great Coum, clipped and off. Set compass to N and run blind to survive. I was getting clumsier and slower as I got colder. Check compass: N. Need to keep to the right of Shivery Hole but can't see a thing in the cloud. Climb down the rocky bit. Keep shuffling, need to get to sanctuary. Suddenly the ground dropped off into a gully just to my left. Spot on! Keep going to hit the wall. I was alone in a world of mental and physical haze. Others just behind me had gone too far to the left and were out of sight somewhere in the murk, but I knew where I was going even though my brain and body were shutting down. My knee was complaining bitterly, further hampering downward progress. It’s made worse by a cold body that’s suffering.

I followed the wall downwards through the bogs, emerging once more from the cloud to eventually reach the dilapidated footbridge that’s on the point of total collapse now. The other runners caught up with me at CP7, Flinter Gill. As they disappeared ahead I continued the survival shuffle down the tracks towards Dent. The rockier tracks could only be walked, such was my depleted, bumbling clumsiness.

I entered CP8 via the back entrance once again and descended the field, almost certain that a retirement was imminent. I was utterly debilitated physically and mentally through cold and wet. I was directed to the campground toilet where I could change out of my wet clothing. Off came the windproof top, sodden long-sleeved base-layer and sodden leggings. On went long-sleeved T-shirt, waterproof trousers and the proper waterproof jacket I should have been wearing from the outset. I was shivering and bordering on hypothermic. The forecast as I understood it had not come to pass. The rain was still pouring. Who knew how much longer it would last? I knew it was forecast to get even colder. I was already frozen and with only one spare dry top and no dry leggings, I decided in the interests of personal safety and not inconveniencing the organisers with an emergency to call it a day.

I grabbed a sausage roll and cup of tea and went to the communications tent to beg for a dry spot to wait for the bus of shame. I was welcomed with open arms by a caring matronly sort who chopped off my tally without ceremony to use as evidence against me and sat me down behind the operations desk next to another victim of the elements in the corner who was already swathed in blankets. I got swathed as well – they even broke out the space blankets – and got fed fairy cakes and tea. That became necessary after I splashed it all over with the involuntary shaking. As I languished, more victims piled in, including another fellow fell-runner Barny Crawshaw. Like Charlie he’d also descended off Ingleborough in the wrong direction and lost a lot of time. We were at the depths of the climactic misery in Dent. At that point, barely 24 hours after summer-like temperatures and bone-dry conditions, it was snowing a little higher up on the hills. My memories of The Fellsman are that the sun always shines in Dent and the climb to Blea Moor is the hottest part of the day. That image has been tarnished a little.

As I sat and observed the slick operations of the Fellsman machine from a third angle (1st and 2nd being ‘doing it’ and volunteering), I pondered on my 9th Fellsman and first DNF, all because of an error of judgement on starting attire. I’d fancied myself for a PB and wanted to run efficiently without burning up. Instead I froze, slowed and bailed. I gambled and paid the price, but I lived to see another race. I began to think of the upside and looked forward to witnessing the winning performances before nightfall.

Dent CP from the bus of shame.

The bus journey from Dent back to Threshfield was very long (the longest of all of them). We passed the Stone House checkpoint on the way. With nowhere to straighten my leg my right knee groaned with dull pain, forcing me to a quad-tensed standing position for long periods to get relief. I assume patella tendonitis is my problem.

Back at Threshfield I wandered up to Grassington with Barny and Duncan (another retiree at Dent) in time for the first arrivals. Adam Perry ran home for a third consecutive win in 10:23, Jez Bragg came a close second in 10:44, Konrad Rawlik came an even closer third in 10:57 and Jasmin Paris smashed the women’s record in fourth with 11:09. It was magnificent to witness, and I could not have done so had I still been on my way from Fleet Moss to Yockenthwaite Moor.

Winner Adam Perry descends through Grassington.

2nd Jez Bragg descends through Grassington.

3rd Konrad Rawlik has finished.

4th Jasmin Paris approaches the school (just look at that running form after 61 tough miles!).

My complete Flickr album is here.