Saturday, 18 February 2017

Catch up

Reading Mark's recent updates has prompted me to write a few things down for no other reason than I do occasionally enjoy looking back over these posts and reminiscing over what we've been up to.

Me and Mark trotting up to Two Lads with the Lostock lot on their mince pie run 2015

I didn't really do many events last year, other things in my life took over. I got the hump with the Ben Nevis race since they spurned my usual advances, it had become a yearly ritual sending my form off on the day they were released - last year would have been my tenth consecutive race. I was a bit upset when I checked the entries ready for booking what has become our annual weekend away in Fort William to discover I hadn't got in.

I mailed the organiser during that week only to receive a somewhat curt response telling me I was on the reserve list; I didn't hear from him again. I doubt they'll miss me being there from now on.

I fancied a go at the Fred Whitton again, it being long enough since the last time I did it for the memories of how punishing it is to have faded. I didn't get into that either! Beginning to feel a bit paranoid I had one last try at entering an event and got in the Etape Du Dales instead which is the weekend after the Fred. So early last year most of my spare time was mainly spent spinning on the turbo trainer and cycling progressively longer routes around Hertfordshire in sometimes dire weather.

A couple of weeks after getting the Etape entry the Fred Whitton organiser mailed me to say they had a place for me if I wanted it! I now had the tough decision over whether to do the Fred, Etape or both. I decided to do the Fred Whitton then see how I felt during the following week.

On the climb in the Causey Pike race. Paul Dobson was hiding with his camera (thanks Paul!)
Thinking back the only fell race I did last year was Causey Pike in March, a great little race from a lovely part of Cumbria. I had a good run but my lack of descending showed; partly from going face first in the long grass coming off the top and also from the state of my legs during the following 3 or 4 days!

Great fun on the descent, this was what destroyed my legs

After the race I rode the loop over Whinlatter and Newlands in the late afternoon sunshine
My Fred Whitton was a bit of a nightmare, I started a bit later than I'd hoped then as I was climbing Kirkstone an ambulance passed with its siren on. Heading down the other side at 40+ mph I had to brake sharply to avoid a cyclist in front who had seen what I hadn't - the now stationary ambulance and marshals in the road, just as I slowed to a crawl my front tyre blew. Some bloke had hit the wall; he was already in the ambulance but his bike was ruined. My rims were red hot as I changed my inner tube and I was now slightly concerned about making the cutoff that I was vaguely aware of. I needn't have worried, though my bottle had now gone (metaphorically) and all the steep descents from then on had me arse-clenching and once or twice actually unclipping and tip-toeing down. I got round anyway, even though I had to walk Honister and most of Wrynose but was spent at the finish - I don't think I drank or ate enough, it was unusually warm if I remember rightly.

 I felt ok during that week so the following Sunday saw me in the Yorkshire Dales for what ended up being a much better ride than the week before. I loved it; though again there were a few descents where I just couldn't descend like I usually do. The road was bad in a few places with road closures but it was a great route overall and showed me a few places in the Dales I hadn't seen before, finishing much stronger than the previous week.

My only other trip to the lakes was with Mark for a trot round the Langdale route towards the end of May. This was a good day out and a nice short break from all the diy I was deeply engrossed in.

Mark just after we left the car

Posing looking over the Scafell range
That was the last time I was in Cumbria. I'm hoping to get up there more often this year since most of the work I've been doing at home is now done (don't tell the wife I said that). Mark's been trying to persuade me to do some of that orienteering thing and in turn I've been trying to get him to do a traverse so I can tag along.

We stayed in a nice part of Scotland towards the end of last year; in the Cairngorms where I hadn't been before. Had a few good runs there and was really pleased to get out with my eldest son plus my eldest daughter's boyfriend who seemed to enjoy themselves and once or twice had me feeling like an old goat trying to keep up!

The boys on their way up Cairngorm mountain
On top of Cairngorm. It was quite cold up there, not somewhere for hanging around too long
So hopefully niggles permitting I'm hoping to do a few more events this year, or at least head up north more than I did last year and spend some time outdoors with friends.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Marmot Dark Mountains 2017

Mist, snow and a cold wind was the theme for this years Marmot Dark Mountains overnight mountain marathon.

After being entered for the event last year, despite my objections, I hated it so much I entered again this year too. The location for this years event was the northern Pennines, near Warcop, an area I have never been in before.

On arrival at the event, the weather was calm with a clear sky. The number of stars visible in the sky was unreal and it spurred me on with the hope of some great stargazing during the event. This wasn't to be!

Before starting the event, all competitors must complete a kit check and have a GPS tracker fitted. Despite only getting my kit ready for the event, an hour before leaving the house I had everything I needed, but Michele (my running partner) seemed to be missing a key item, her sleeping bag!

Michele Sunter
After some searching in the rucksack, Michele rushed off to check her bag. No sleeping bag. After a call home, the sleeping bag was found on the coffee table in the house. Some discussions followed and a chat with the organiser suggested we would be able to set off on the event late if we were able to rendezvous with Abigail who had agreed to drive half way up to meet us. However, Steve Wilson became our saviour on the night as he had brought a spare sleeping bag so we were able to use this for the event. Thanks Steve, crisis avoided.

The start was around 3km away from registration and on arrival at the village hall, as I got off the bus, I couldn't help but notice the lack of stars in the sky. The mist had started to draw in.

We set off on the event at 22:33, with 8 hours on the hills in front of us. The event started off well; we approached the hill and hit the first, second and third controls bang on. The third control, on top of Murton Pike, introduced the cold wind (estimated at around -9 with wind chill) that would be with us on the higher points for most of the night.
Slightly off on the forth control and then a mistake misreading the map. An uncrossable wall on the map followed a stream down a gully but I hadn't noticed the uncrossable boundary until I saw the wall. The only option that remained was to climb up the hill alongside the wall heading for a different control. It was here that the mist started to descend and the visibility started to draw in.
With the fifth control found, I took a moment to review the map before Michele and I headed off.

Michele and her frozen hair
I knew control six (223) would be a difficult one to find. The area around the control didn't really have many features and with the mist drawing in, although the controls had reflective tape on them, it was going to be difficult to find. We headed on a bearing and I started to count my steps. Then lost count, and lost count again, so it became a judgement call guessing how far we had gone.
Stopping on the way to put more clothes on, the cold breeze was beginning to be felt. The featureless landscape did nothing to help reassure you that you were on the right track. Eventually, when I had convinced myself we may have gone too far two other competitors came towards us. After a few words, we all checked the are around where we met and the control was found. It's reassuring to know you were right even though you begin to doubt yourself.
By now, the visibility was felt like it was down to about 10-20m. We headed off on a bearing for High Cup Nick and our seventh control. On the way we found another team that were off course looking for the same control. I knew we weren't far off and we headed into the control together.
On leaving control seven, we looked for a path. We found something that may have resembled a path but by this point it had been snowing for a bit and the ground was starting to lose some of its features. By the time we reached control eight the mist, wind and constant white dots now appearing in front of my face started to get at me.
Which cairn??
The route onward to control nine saw me constantly checking my compass and scanning for a cairn I'd plannined to use as an attack point. Eventually, the cairn appeared and we took a bearing to the control (shelter). We searched for what seemed like 15 minutes before returning to the cairn to try again. After a second attempt with no luck we gave up on the control and headed off for the next control. After the event I examined the GPS trace only to realise I was taking my bearing from the wrong cairn.

Right now the night had started to take it's toll. I'm not sure exactly what made my mind up. The mist and cold? The constant map checking and compass checking? The ache I had started to get from a knee injury I've had since Xmas but I'd already considered retiring and now I convinced myself it was the right thing to do. I discussed it with Michele and we agreed to head back.

The route back went without issue, other than a fence that wasn't mapped trying to confuse me. The temperature on the lower slopes felt almost tropical. By the time we finished I'd started limping as I ran. The knee was starting to ache more and I reassured myself, coming off the hill was the right decision, despite feeling like I'd given up.

Now, a few beers and a few days later, I feel the map/area for the event this year was very technical. With a lack of handrails in places, some of the controls were already difficult for night nav but with the mist, snow and wind included these controls were made even more difficult. I also felt the map was difficult to read in places, only now I have found myself noticing things I should have seen on the night.

That'll do for now and I'll try to ensure the blog gets updated more frequently.

Running buddies!
Steve Wilson
Josie Greenhalgh
Albert Sunter
Tony Marlow

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Another year, another Hebden

At the start of the year brings on The Hebden.

I've been struggling with a knee injury since Christmas Eve which may be cartilage related. Visiting the physio the day before the event I was advised that my knee needed some TLC. The Hebden probably wasn't the sort of TLC he meant.

It's usually the first long run of the year, this LDWA organised event is well attended by runners and entries fill up before Xmas. Along with it being a good quality route, it's also a well fed event.

Starting in Mytholmroyd, the event offers 2 routes. A 22 mile and 16 mile route are available with the longer being my preferred option. Both routes follow the same course from up to the 4th checkpoint where the short route then takes a direct track and road back to the start/finish village hall.

Arriving at the event, other friends (Mike, Mark, Matt, Andy, Pete, Darren, Elaine, Josie and Tony) were waiting to set off next to table serving free tea/coffee and toast.

The organised called the competitors to move outside ready to start, however I waited inside the venue as I wanted to start late. The benefit (to me) of this is that I get to use the loo with out a 10 minute queue but also it means I don't head off too fast, trying to keep up with other and burning myself out too soon.

The route takes an anti-clockwise route around Hebden Bridge, passing through Hardcastle Crags, close to Stoodly pike and through Cragg Vale. However, the best part of the route for me is the food.

Start: Tea and Toast
Checkpoint 1: Cake and juice
Checkpoint 2: Jelly Babies and juice
Checkpoint 3: Butties, cake and a nice cup of tea.
Checkpoint 4: Crispy flapjack and Juice
Checkpoint 5: Butties, cake and juice
Finish: Tea, Pork pie and Peas, cake and custard, Mulled wine

I'm not really a mulled wine fan, but I'm up for pretty much most of other food with the exception of the dripping sandwiches.

You have to love an event which has the potential to be calorie neutral.

Finishing this year within just seconds under the 5 hour mark, struggling with cramp, I was happy with my time. I was also happy that i'd burned off 4400 calories over the course of the event, although I'm not quite sure on how many calories I consumed.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

A year in review

Blogging hasn't really been top of the list in recent times. We tried to keep it up busy lives leave little time for blogging.

For me, I've been trying to run more and lose weight. I'd hoped to do more next year but a couple of niggly injuries won't go away (it would help if I listened to my physio too and did my exercises). Firstly I got plantar fasciitis, but it's now being overshadowed now buy an ache I get in the hamstring. This later ache comes a little when running but mainly after running when driving and it's really getting on my nerves now. I don't let it stop me getting out but it hits my mojo sometimes and I don't run.

I'm doing less races now. I prefer to just get out with friends for long runs with no pressure. Occasionally I'll enter an event but I'm not always worried about where I finish.

My highlights of 2016....

Strava Summary

Dark Mountains
January saw me enter taking part in the Dark Mountains. I was very nervous about this event as I wasn't sure how I would perform in the vast expanses of the northern Lake District in the dead of night, in freezing temperatures (and a blizzard). My partner had been injured in the months before the event so we started the event taking the view that we'll see how far we get. On the night we scored ok and covered 16 miles. It was a good night out but bloody cold!!

This year I entered the Saunders Mountain Marathon with Josh (my son). It was great and he made me really proud. Having only done a couple of days in the lakes in the build up for the event he coped admirably and we finished just outside of the top 10 on Day 1 and a little further down on Day 2. Day 2 was a little harder and I think the consecutive days running took it's toll however, his competitiveness kicked in at the end when he nearly sprinted off and left me to try and pass another team in running in to the finish.

Rab Mountain Marathon
I enjoy the Rab MM because I can compete as an individual. I know I said I prefer to run with company but in an event I hate the thought of me spoiling somebody elses run because I'm having a bad day. If I compete alone, I can only spoil my own day
Over the weekend I managed to finish within the top 20 on both days which gave me the best finishing position I'd ever had. I was totally amazed as on day 2 I nearly jacked in at one point when I hit a bit of a low.

I've been doing a little more street orienteering this year too and since loosing a few pounds on the midrift, I think I have become a little more competitive too. This has spurred me on to lose a little more weight now, but only after the Christmas period has finished indulging me with it's excesses ;-)

I have been taking part in the local Parkruns at Haigh Hall. It's a nice route that doesn't involve laps and suits me. The weight loss has seen my 5k time drop from around 17 mins to 24 mins too.

Coming in 2017....
Nothing much planned at the minute as I want to sort out these aches and pains. I'm keep to try and get the weight down and also workout some other muscle groups by doing some circuit training.
Events I know I'll do this coming year include The Hebden, Dark Mountains, Two Crosses, Saunders (with Josh), The RAB (Will have a new name) and possibly the OMM for the first time. I normally help out but I might give it a go next year (Gonna be tough to talk my partner into doing it though as she won't camp!).

Anyway, I'm going to try and post more but don't hold your breath. It's said with the best of intentions but we'll see how it goes.


Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Long time no post

It's been a long time! There is a draft of last year's Ben Nevis race knocking around but as this year's race is only a couple of weeks away I think it's a bit late to bother posting it now.

Anyway I had a good run there and it was also the first time for one of my clubmates John (who did the Cumbrian Traverse with me last year). I *think* he had a good run but he's not entered this year, Mark missed last year's due to a second-class stamp and has pulled out of this year's due to orienteering - in fact this is the reason John's not doing it as well come to think of it.

I had spent some time on Gran Canaria leading up to the Ben. It's a fantastic island for cycling.
I explored some of Gran Canaria on two wheels, culminating in a ride from the coast to the highest point on the island (strava trace here). This set me up for a good climb up Ben Nevis where I felt much better towards the top than in previous years.

Suffering on the lower slopes last year
I was lucky enough to get an entry into our club's team for the FRA relays at Middleton in October - me and John ran the nav leg but there was very little nav involved with it being clear, a decent route on fells I had not visited previously.

I did the Yorkshire 3 Peaks race for the first time this year but felt woefully unprepared - the last 2 climbs really took it out of me and I finished about 30 mins slower than I hoped. It's not really my sort of race but I'll definitely be back for another go. I also fluked a win at the Darren Holloway Buttermere Horseshoe, chickening out of doing the long route due to struggling with various niggles and just hadn't done the miles so I switched to the 'short' which in the end only had 6 entrants, I was still shocked on reaching the first summit to be told I was leading on the short course. It's a great route, taking in the wonderful grassy descent from Whiteless Pike into Buttermere, hopefully there will be much more support next year when it's back at the end of June.

Just got back from holidaying on Porto Santo - a small Portugese island off Madeira. Here's some photos I took while out training:

View north from the south of the island. The closest peak you can see is Pico Do Ana Ferreira, which was not far from the hotel. I got close to that summit on one run but it was very rocky near the top and I ran out of time.
'Hidden' bay at the southern tip of the island. This was a tiny pebble beach only accessible using the steep path down the mountainside. The island was full of hidden gems like this.
This was generally how I got round the island while training. It was only around a 15 mile round-trip from the hotel and made crossing the flat middle of the island (where the airport is) easier. Pico Facho and Pico Juliana in the distance.
The previous picture shows the start of the path to Pico Branco and Terra Cha, two peaks in the north-west of the island. I locked the bike to the fence then headed up the 2.3km path.

Lower slopes of Pico Branco. You can just about pick out the path through the volcanic rock (apologies for the poor exposure!)
Panorama from a bit higher up, just before the path splits.
Helpful sign at the split point.
South from the summit of Pico Branco
View of some more hidden bays, north-west from the path to Pico Branco. The drops on either side of the path here were very steep.
Looking South from the path to Terra Cha.
Summit of Terra Cha, looking across to Pico Branco. This building was complete with barbecue.
Path back from Terra Cha, looking to Pico Branco. Viewed at the original size you can make out the path from the following picture (centre left).
Path down from the split point. As can be seen from the previous picture the fence is a sensible addition.
Panorama from the path down, showing one of the few reservoirs on the island.

I took this one evening from the southern tip of the island, watching the fisherman at sunset. The uninhabited Ilheu da Cal just across the bay and Madeira (in the clouds!) on the horizon.