Monday, 20 December 2010


In a moment of madness a month or so ago I entered 'Le Tour De Helvellyn - En Hiver' and have spent the rest of the time leading up to the event fretting over weather, kit and my fitness! In the end it wasn't to be, the weather beat me.

We were very lucky to arrive back home in Wigan Friday night during a blizzard, an hour later and we would have been stuck on the M6. There was no way I was going to try and head further North early Saturday. It turns out they had a successful event and I was a bit disappointed not to have been there.

So Saturday afternoon I went for a trot up Winter Hill, it was a bit of a struggle to just get there in the car the roads were so bad. I was glad I did though; I took the camera and shot a few pictures.

The cafe at the Lower Barn, where I was going to park, was closed. I took this from up near the other barn as I turned the car round.

On the way up to the Pike there were some lads snowboarding, something I have not seen before up there.

It was getting quite hazy near the top with the wind whipping up the dry snow.

There were still a few people out on the hill enjoying the snow, one bloke was wearing a pair of snowshoes the size of tennis rackets. On my way back down I was breaking the path down from the mast and almost broke my leg, the snow had drifted over a culvert which my right leg fell into banging my shin on the concrete cover over the stream. I dread to think what may have happened if I was moving that bit faster and it served to remind me about the importance of taking proper kit and a means of alerting people when you are in danger.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

An LDWA hat-trick.

The Long Distance Walker's Association run many events throughout the year and I find them a great way of getting a long run in during the weekend.

I recently managed to do 3 on consecutive weekends, the first one being: 'Bottom's Up' from Hoghton Village Hall near Blackburn. This took you through Samlesbury and Hoghton Bottoms and followed the Witton Weaver's Way for a while. I did the short route since my wife was 'encouraged' to enter (by me of course), it was the furthest she has ever travelled on foot and I was really impressed with her for completing it on just 3 weeks of preparation. I'm not sure she enjoyed the mud, hills and lane of cow slurry we had to negotiate though.

The weekend after I was back down south for the 1st Roding's Romp which is a new event (obviously) organised by the essex trail-running club Mid Essex Casuals. The route took you through 'The Rodings', a collection of villages in Essex around the River Roding, a tributary of the River Thames. This time I opted for the long route (full marathon) since I was by myself and had a really good run, though crossing freshly ploughed fields became a bit of a struggle after 20+ miles; I swear some of the farmers had been out deliberately beforehand just to make it harder. We ran past many ancient Norman churches and also past the only surviving windmill in the area:

I was pleased with the way the run went, taking my time since it was the furthest I had run in over a year.

Finally the weekend after me, Mark and Albert made our way to Hollinsclough in the Peak District for the John Knox Challenge Walks. We did the short route partly due to the state of the weather when we got there, a bit of a shame since the long route goes over the Roaches and I haven't been that way before but I just couldn't gather any enthusiasm to be out in the mist and rain for that long. Thankfully it cleared up while we were out but the first few miles were a bit grim, and the whole route was very muddy. Here's a picture Mark took on the last track down to the finish:

You can't beat these ldwa events for value and laid-back atmosphere. Invariably there are many checkpoints all with food and drink then a hot meal at the finish, all for the price of a couple of pints. I plan to do as many as I can between now and Spring next year when hopefully I will start getting out to do some fell races again.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Cami De Cavalls

The 'Cami De Cavalls' (route GR223) is the recently re-opened medieval coastal 'Path of the Horses' around Menorca and when we spent our holidays there in early August it was an ideal opportunity to go and explore some of it.

Being marked all along its 140 or so miles by posts such as these it's easy to follow, my first run was South-East to the next resort down the coast at dawn. I took this picture after the climb up onto the small cliffs behind the hotel we were staying in:

The best routes were North-West of where we stayed, heading past Binigaus (leaving at dawn meant I didn't have to avert my eyes at this secluded nudist spot). Not wanting to cover the same ground twice I stuck to the coast one day then headed inland on the main GR223 route another. The coastal path was very rocky in places with many hidden coves and I didn't see another soul apart from those just waking up on their yachts by this lovely hidden beach at the northern-most point I reached. On the way back I saw a bunch of people who were still asleep under the trees who I hadn't noticed on the way out and I was a bit jealous, it looked a cracking place to spend a night in the open. There are some pictures of the walk here that give you an good idea of the terrain.

The GR223 route was hillier, though remember this is Menorca so there were no big climbs to contend with. You head inland up a small wooded valley where there was plenty shade in the trees...

Just South of the hotel, half hidden slightly off the path there was a large entrance to a staircase that seemed to head underground. Just over the other side of the hill I noticed some steps cut into the rocks...

I couldn't resist exploring so headed down into the darkness being really careful since it was a tunnel built through the rock with lots of loose boulders on the ground and I couldn't see anything apart from the room at the other end. It lead to this small room:

You can see the entrance/exit on the left where I came from then the other hole in the back wall that seemed to have been added sometime after the original construction. This led to a 20ft drop to a cave...
this cave led out to sea by the steps I mentioned earlier. I never found out what the purpose of this construction was but I can only assume it was used during some of the many military campaigns the island has seen over the centuries. In the next picture, taken from the main beach you can see the two slits cut out through the rock that afforded a view from the room a long way up the coastline (just to the left of the car at the same level as the boat on its roof). It really did seem a very well chosen defensive position.

I had a great stay on the island, being so flat it was hardly the best preparation for Ben Nevis but there was still plenty of good running to be had though I will think twice before going and doing hill reps up the few hundred foot climb up the ridge behind the hotel again in the midday heat.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

3 Shires 2010 and sore legs!

I’d not done much running in the previous weeks but with Ben Nevis, then the Horwich Downhill Race, Orienteering on Formby Dunes I don’t think I’d let my legs recover from the Ben. Whilst they had felt fine after the race I maybe should have rested them a little more. Anyway, the Thursday before 3 Shires I went for a training run with Albert and Tony up on Winter Hill, nothing to hard and only out for 1 1/2 hours. I do have to push a little harder when in company as I don’t like people having to keep waiting for me and if I run alone I tend to go easier on myself. Anyway, after the run I felt fine. The Saturday morning of the race I woke at about 3AM to make Lucy’s bottle and couldn’t walk down the stairs. My calves were murdering me! This wasn’t a good thing on race day.
I really like this race. I don’t think it is just one thing in particular. It’s a race I took Chris to twice before doing it myself and I like the village of Little Langdale. I like the buzz of the race. I like the run through the ford at the start. I like the spectacular route the race takes and I love watching this video on youtube  and up to last year it was the longest fell race I had ever entered. It’s just great!!
Me at the startI’ll not got through the full details of the race route as I have already done that in blog entries from last year (1, 2). Parking this year was at Hodge Close quarry because the recent rains made the field too wet for cars which meant a 25 minute walk from the parking to the start. We met Ian and Pauline Charters and Mick Green on the way so there was plenty of chat as we went. My legs were still feeling sore and I was already having doubts about completing the race. The race was delayed starting so Albert bought a 2nd round of tea which meant I would need a couple of toilet breaks en-route.

The race headed of and with the narrow bridge over the ford out for repairs it meant everybody got wet at the start. After the ford my legs felt slow and heavy with a steady stream of runners passing me I felt slow too. By the start of the climb up Wetherlam I think I was about 20 from last and by about Click to see larger picture. Runners look like ants heading up the hill 100m into the climb I was considering retiring. I had to keep stopping to stretch my calves, of course losing the odd position when I did. By the time I got 1/2 way I decided I would just see what my time was at the top and if it was much off last years then I would retire.
Surprisingly I made the top in the same time as last year so carried on however this didn’t remove the thoughts of retiring. The run towards Prison band and up to Swirl How still felt slow and heavy but I did manage to make up a couple of positions on the climb. The 3 Shires stone would be my next opportunity to retire and on the descent round Great Carrs and down to the stone the retirement feeling was starting to fade. Hitting the checkpoint in 1hr 50min (the same time as last year) I continued onwards to the top of Blisco. Again I managed to pick up a couple of places on the climb. At one point a sugar rush kicked in so I started running but after about 25m slow running up hill the sugar rush ended and I carried on walking.
On the run from Blisco the runners trod was pretty well defined in most places. Eventually it starts to drop before cutting across to the fence crossing but I always seem to stay too high and veer off the path. I have a marker that I head for and it works for me. Not sure if it is much quicker but it definitely isn’t slower.
Passing Blea Tarn (without falling and getting cramps this year) the climb up to Lingmoor was as hard as I remember from last year. Slow steady steps, pushing on for the top which isn’t too far (on fresh legs) but eventually it comes. The marshalls guided me along the right route as last year I ended up sticking to the wall which isn’t the best way as there are a few more ups to tackle on those “fresh legs”.
Running in to the finish I noticed the line of runners queuing for the free tea and pasties after the race and the thought of a pasty made me smile. Imagine my disappointment on finding all the Meat & Potato ones had gone and only Cheese and Onion were left. So I sulked and just had two cups of tea and some left over flapjack.
I finished the race in 3hr 36min which was 3 minutes quicker than last year. Considering how I felt slow and had heavy legs all the way round I’d hope that on good legs my time would be quicker still. We’ll see how it goes next year.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Ben Nevis 2010 – From the back!

Having entered the Ben Nevis Race early this year I have been a little worried about if I would be fit enough to make it. I had plenty of time to try and do more training/lose more weight but it didn’t happen. Then in June along came my little princess Lucy. I’d not really done many long runs or been up to the lakes much to get some climb into them. So after cramming in Kentmere, Rydal Round and a failed Borrowdale I was still feeling a little less than confident about making the cut-offs at Ben Nevis. In fact I have to admit that at one point I thought about not starting race at all.

DSC02231DSC02233Heading up on Friday I collected Chris at Glasgow Airport and we took the wonderful drive up past Loch Lomond, Rannoch Moor and Glen Coe. Arriving in Fort William around 7PM and straight out for food to our favourite restaurant the “Grog and Gruel”. Food seemed to become my topic for the weekend after eating some Stornoway Black Pudding. This has to be the best black pudding I have EVER tasted.

After a morning wandering around Fort William and bumping into Ian & Pauline in the butchers (whilst looking for Stornoway Black pudding, not pies as was suggested!) we got ourselves ready for the race.

Before the race the runners are required to line up behind the pipers and they walk round to the start with the pipers playing. The race sets off around the field, out of the gate and off for a mile down the tarmac road to the inn before you start the climb up towards the peak.

Once off the tarmac I started up the path which had plenty of supporters cheering people on. It was at this point I passed Suzanne Budget cheering me on but finished by reminding me about the cut-offs. So now having managed to stop worrying about the cut-off and with them firmly planted back in the fore of my mind I pushed on as I felt I could.

Running/walking along the path the line of runners unexpectedly split off through the bracken. Given the choice I decided that less climb was good and stayed on the path. Of course the climb had to be done and not long after this the path turned back on itself and the rest of the runners I’d followed then headed off on another path up through the bracken to meet the runners that previously split. I felt that taking this route was quicker based on the runners i joined back with. Onward and upward the climb just goes on and on and everytime you look up you can only see more climb ahead of you.

With the first cut-off (1hr) still in my mind we split from the path as it again turned back to head up towards Red Burn. I did get held up a little here but not enough to make a difference, this didn’t stop me checking my watch constantly. Eventually I passed the marshall at 58 mins.

The path from here zigzags up the mountain but the runners turn straight off the path directly up the scree. The climb now is much more intense and the loose scree makes it even harder. After what seemed like about 15 mins of climbing I could hear some cheering from up ahead. On looking up I could see the leaders coming down. These guys make it look so easy! I carried on up the scree but by now was finding the climb very hard work and had to stop a few times to recover, losing a few places.

Eventually rejoining the path the climb eases off now and the route is mainly on the paths to the summit but it’s still a bit of a trek. The route was very busy with walkers and now all the runners descending made it even busier. It did look like a lot of the walkers were non too impressed by the constant stream of runners coming past. With the marshalls in sight I checked my clock to see how far off the cut-off (2hrs) I was, making it to them in 1hr 58mins.

Thanks to the marshalls at the top for the Jelly babies and then the descent. For some reason I found running over the rocky ground very difficult. I was passed at some speed by a few local Lochaber runners and also managed to pass a few runners myself, particularly once I got to the loose scree and was able to pick my speed up. I had to stop a couple of times as I’m not used to these big long descents and my legs were shattered. Reaching the grassy bank I managed to pass a couple of people by sliding on my bum. It wasn’t the comfiest part of the descent!

After crossing the stream the majority of the descent is now on the paths and i was again able to pick up speed a little. At one point another runner (of Wold Veteran Runners) fell in front of me and I stopped to help him up (Any excuse for a break, eh). Looking at my clock I wondered if I would be able to make it back in under three hours, thinking there wasn’t much descent left but I was wrong. Despite making it back to the tarmac in under three hours, the run in down the road is a killer and I eventually crossed the line in 3hr 07min 52sec, exhausted.

After a few cups of Tea and a slice of cake, we headed back to the hotel to clean up and then out for tea. Back in the Grog and Gruel I was looking forward to the black pudding again, and managed to talk the waitress into serving up a large portion instead of me having to order two starters. I tried to get black pudding added to the burger but she was having none of it. Id had the steak the night before and found too much fat on it, then I tried to warn Chris on the Saturday about ordering it and in the end he was wondering if he should have ordered the burger instead. After the meal it was off to the presentation and few beers with some of the runners.

DSC02251 DSC02252 DSC02255 DSC02250 DSC02253 DSC02254

On Sunday morning Chris had considered going for another run and I was contemplating going for a swim, but in the end none of it happened. After a quick walk up the high street to see if the butchers was open (still searching for black pudding), it wasn’t, we checked out and took a leisurely drive back.

On the way back we took in some of the scenery and stopped of at a hotel where Chris and Lisa stayed a few years back.

DSC02256 Stitch

I had a great weekend and am already planning to enter for next year. Hopefully I’ll be aiming to beat the 3hr mark next year.

NB: Some of the above pictures were taken from here....


Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Ben Nevis Race 2010

Only someone as clumsy and accident prone as me could smash my knee on a bedpost so hard that I had trouble walking, let alone running 6 days before I was due to run the Ben Nevis Race. I managed a bike ride 4 days before with some success but tried running 3 days before and didn't last more than 400m so I was a little apprehensive on my way up the day before the race.

Mark picked me up at Glasgow airport and we made our way to Fort William on a beautiful evening; me in a hurry to arrive, Mark getting tired after more than 5 hours in the driving seat. Even the stairs in the hotel had my knee complaining but to be honest I think it was more down to me worrying about it and noticing every niggle.

Saturday was a lovely morning and with a bit of time to kill we had a stroll around Fort William where Mark was spotted in the local butchers of all places by Ian and Pauline so he was soundly ribbed about being in search of pies already!

While warming up on the field I was happy with the fact that my knee would hold up, at least uphill! Mark was looking a bit nervous, he had been worrying about making the cutoffs since entering and there was nothing I could say to him that seemed to help. With the sun out it was reasonably warm and I was feeling great lining up for the start.

I'm not a fan of the first and last mile of this race but I think it's a necessary evil due to the size of the event. I took my time up the road, impressed as I always am by the quality of the runners at this race; the field was already stretched out far up the tarmac. I enjoyed the climb, I left it until as late as possible to cut off left through the Bracken following one other solitary runner off the path while everyone else had already headed up and this was quicker probably due to the fact that you don't get held up being bunched together on the narrow trod.

The clear skies were a blessing giving us views all around and it was inspiring heading up towards the Red Burn being able to see the huge line of runners slogging up to the summit. I had a gel and filled my bottle up at the stream before beginning the hands-on-knees trudge straight up through the scree, hot work where there was no breeze but thankfully most of the time the wind was there to cool you down. It wasn't much further along that the leaders came crashing down, just as I was passing the cameraman from the TV crew that were filming the race.

As the path became more rock than scree and the flow of runners steaming back down increased I ate a little coconut treat I had brought with me and drank the rest of my water, picking up the pace as the gradient eased. It was quite busy up there; in places it was hard to keep up a pace while trying to keep out of the way of runners heading back down and negotiate your way past all the walkers out enjoying their day.

Handing my tag in at the summit there was a rush of noise coming over the cliffs which at first I thought was a gust of wind but it was the rescue helicopter heading up over the north face, maybe they had another tv crew on board? I hope so since they would have got some fantastic shots from where they were.

I made a real effort now to pick off the people in front; my descending is much better than my climbing and I had a lot of fun crashing down over the rocks and through the scree, the only drawback being you have to concentrate really hard on the ground in front so you can't enjoy the view. I heard Mark shouting some encouragement to my left and I was glad he had obviously made it that far then a bit further down I had to slow down a bit since my knee had started complaining after a stumble where my leg got a little bent underneath me.

Reaching the grassy bank I was surprised that there was no sign of the taped off ground we had been warned about. It's steep here; my thighs had started complaining as I got near the stream at the bottom, relieved again to have only fell on my arse a couple of times.

Then it was just a case of trying to keep up a decent pace on spent legs, remembering where the little short cuts through the bracken were and trying to get to the finish quicker than in previous years. I thought I was in with a chance at first but I just couldn't run fast enough; all the downhill had taken its toll on my thighs so all I could manage was to pick off a couple more runners in front who were struggling even more than me before reaching the tarmac.

This was the usual torture; fighting off the urge to just walk back then on reaching the first little incline in the road some walkers tried to sound encouraging and said: "Well done this is the last little hill", "Oh no, I mean one more.... no two.... no hang on..." to which I had to laugh and just shout: "Stop it!".

Entering the sports field I realised I could just about beat 2h20m if I picked up the pace so a last spurt with a grimace for the cameraman there had me 2 seconds under by my watch at the finish. I couldn't have felt much happier!

It's always good to get a drink and a sit down in that field after the race, especially when the sun is shining. After a little rest I went to the car to drop my kit off and get the camera before waiting for Mark to finish by the entrance to the field. Just as I was getting a bit concerned for his time he appeared down the road, looking as knackered as everyone else does by that point. He was well chuffed to have finished in 3:07.

After loitering for a bit, chatting, eating cake and drinking tea we headed back to the hotel for a clean up and then headed out to the Grog n Gruel for the second time that weekend to eat. I was feeling ok, Mark seemed to be suffering a bit and we were both a right state travelling back Sunday. Even today 3 days after racing my legs still complain when I walk downstairs, whereas Mark reckons his aren't too bad; maybe I should try his black pudding diet he ate about 12 of the things over the course of 2 days. The Stornoway ones were nice though and I don't usually eat them.

I remember at my first Ben Race thinking it's a long way to travel and that I would only do it that one time, now I am counting down to getting my plaque: only 17 more to go! It makes for a great weekend in the Highlands and a bonus for me this year that we were blessed with good weather. Well done to all who ran, it was good to meet lots of friendly people and also finally meet some of the 'virtual' people I had previously only known online.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Two Weeks Off

Just got back from my summer holidays. This began with a well overdue trip up to Wasdale for the weekend to see friends, my excuse being to pick up some stuff from the father-in-law we needed while passing through Wigan. I got up to Wasdale late Friday night as usual and as expected it was busy with 3 peakers even after 11pm, a very contentious issue with the locals. The farm was quiet however since they had given up waiting for me and gone to bed!

Most of Saturday was spent chasing sheep around Miterdale. I got to meet Mark's next door neighbour Anthony at Low Farm on the other side of the screes since he was gathering and Mark had agreed to go and help with me just tagging along. With Mark's 2 dogs and Anthony's 7 or so (I couldn't count them all - he has about 40 in total!) we made a bit too much noise on the way up the fell, not good since you don't want the sheep to scatter and make the job even harder. This was mainly down to a young pup Anthony was training getting far too excited with all the activity and yelping away.

I was amused by a story Anthony told us about the sign in his farmyard, one of his ancestors got fed up with people asking the way to Eskdale so got a sign made up and built into the wall, for some reason he decided to word it in broad Cumberland so then the questions just increased: "What does the sign mean?".

There was lots of forestry work going on up the valley and quite a few trees were down in the woods due to recent past storms, the forestry commission are slowly replacing all the pines in the area with more traditional broad leaf trees. We carried on climbing up Great Grain Gill, splitting from Anthony who headed towards Whinn Rigg but the weather turned for the worse and just as we neared the path across the top the mist came down and we lost any chance of gathering the 15 or so sheep we had seen up towards Illgill Head. We headed back to the 2 tarns to meet up with Anthony and see what he had in mind.

The rain started coming down here and I found myself chuckling at the different attitudes of people to the fells. There I was in borrowed boots and hooded fleece, Mark and Anthony with similar clothes with only a club, caramel and Galaxy chocolate bar between us. No water (Mark hasn't drunk from streams since picking up Cryptosporidium up near Red Pike a few years ago) and certainly no map/compass. This is their back yards though and they know virtually every boulder, we were out for about 5 hours and I was gasping when I got back.

I find it fascinating watching them work with their dogs on the fells; those dogs work hard and travelled miles over the fells at speed all the while listening out for and responding to the commands Mark & Anthony were issuing. It takes a loud voice and a very good eye to farm those hills, they were pointing out sheep to me in the far distance that I could hardly make out then sending the dogs off to collect them. Slowly, tiny black & white dots on the distant fell side gathered into groups and made their way to wherever the dogs were shepherding them.
We slowly headed back down to the farm, stopping off to try and find a small group that had managed to break off into some woods. The bracken here was shoulder high in places and it was a nightmare to keep track of the sheep; you had to watch for the bracken moving. This was proper tick country as well, some of the sheep had the telltale signs of infestation on their heads that occurs from rubbing to try to remove the ticks.

Back at the farm the sheep were sorted into those that had already been sheared and those in lamb from those that weren't then it was into the farm for a well earned fry-up which I washed down with about 2 pints of juice.

Sunday morning the weather was a bit grim again so I went for a run up onto the screes first since it looked a bit clearer that way, it wasn't so I headed back down then climbed Scafell and came back down the main path over the crags; I just wanted to get some climb in my legs as training for the Ben in a few weeks time. The views here were stunning below the mist, it's a shame I left my camera in the car! I climbed back up a little though later on before heading off and took some pictures:

Then came the long drive home before an early night due to being up at 3:30am to catch a flight to Menorca for 2 weeks. Got some running done there but not far (it was a family holiday after all!) I will post some pictures from that soon.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Borrowdale Fell Race – Unplanned!

On Friday (6th Aug) I decided I needed to get some miles and some climb in my legs with the Ben Nevis race only around 4 weeks away. Tony Varley and Albert Sunter were entered in the Borrowdale fell race and I had a plan to catch a lift up with them and go for a run around some part of the route maybe from Styhead to the finish and watch the runner pass me along the way.

If you have never heard of the Borrowdale race before, it is a race covering 17 miles and 6500ft of climb around the northern lake district. The route starts in Rosthwaite in the Borrowdale Valley and has checkpoints at Bessyboot, Esk Hause Shelter, Scafell Pike, Styhead Tarn, Great Gable & Honister Slate Mine with the last point having a timed cut-off of 4 1/2 hours. It’s a tough race and I haven’t seen the race run in anything but wet weather. For about 3 years now I have watched Chris do the race and met him at Styhead to cheer him on and give out food and had no inclination to attempt the race myself, until earlier this year when I decided to myself I would possibly attempt it NEXT year!

So, Albert replied to my query of a lift with “Why don’t you do the race? There are a couple of numbers going spare!”. I couldn’t really think of any good reason why I shouldn’t have a go (other than I hadn’t trained for it, and didn’t know the route) as I could always drop out at Styhead. And so the plan was forged. Saturday morning I grabbed my kit, rucsac and bumbag, a few gels and a flapjack and off I set to Tony’s, with a little nervousness.

By the time we arrived in Rosthwaite I was pretty relaxed. I registered to sub Colin's number and went to buy a map from Pete Blands van. I was AMAZED they had run out of race maps though, bit of poor planning there on Mr Blands side! Anyway I had an Ordnance Survey map with me so that would have to do. I packed my rucsac and put my food in my bumbag then headed to the start.

At 11AM the race started and it was a gentle trot through the village to the bridge where 400 people all try to fit down a narrow track. Eventually the group now spread out heads off down the valley towards Bessyboot. I always find that at the start of any race I am out of breath in no time and seriously wonder what the hell I am doing. Billy Bland was stood at the at the foot of the climb to Bessyboot giving us some encouragement and then I looked up to see the stream of bodies heading up this steep first climb. At this point I was about 5th from last!! After about 3/4 hour (I think) I reached the first checkpoint with a small gap to the people in front of me and a lady very close behind me.

I descended from the checkpoint and tried to play catch-up with the runners in front of me. I was a little worried about the route and would rather follow someone who knew the route than be left alone to navigate it myself. After 25 mins running behind Glaramara I eventually caught up to the guy in front (Colin) from Long Eaton. I had noticed though that for the last 25 mins I had not seen ANYBODY behind me and I think the lady had retired. Keeping a steady pace we plodded on to Esk Hause shelter (Checkpoint 2) which is as far as I had ever made it on a previous recce with Chris (I had an abscess and was on strong medication at the time so I can be excused!)

On the ascent up towards Scafell Pike, not knowing the route and not wanting to stop to get my map out I chose to stay with Colin. Had I known the route I probably would have pulled ahead a little but I wasn’t bothered about that. I hadn’t studied the route up here at all and was surprised when we started to descend having not yet made it to the top. Eventually though we made it to the top and out of the mist appeared about 30 people sat right on the peak having their photo taken. I recall Chris saying the path up from Wasdale is like a motorway sometimes and i can imagine it is now.

Now off the Pike and heading for the scree run and the corridor route down to Styhead tarn. Colin started to pull ahead of me here as I tried to negotiate the scree. Once onto a path I tried a couple of short cuts and at one point fell over as my left leg slid from underneath me and my right stayed where it was. Luckily I managed to avoid the rocks and carry on. Further down though I passed a large rock on the path and caught my knee. Then further along still my weak ankle (been problematic for a few weeks now) stopped me for about a minute or so after stepping funny on a small rock in the ground. At this point I had made my mind up to retire at Styhead which was getting ever so close. Taking a trod across the grass I managed to shave a couple of minute from two runners in front who stuck to the path and on arriving at Styhead Colin was there with some friends getting refreshments. Stubbornly I headed on for the climb up to Great Gable followed by Colin.

The climb up Great Gable is a tough one and after the previous climbs my energy levels were low. At one point I was feeling so low that when a woman on her way down told me I was doing well, I nearly burst into a flood of tears. Slowly I plodded up and up this huge lump of rock which still had its head buried in the mist. But then through the mist I managed to pick out the shapes of the mountain rescue guys manning the checkpoint. After a minute or so rest on the summit I headed off, following the cairns on the descent to Windy Gap.

I’d never been on this side of Great Gable and was surprised when I saw the steep descent (just hadn’t expected it). The path was rocky and steep(ish) and a couple of times I worried about the wet rock and my useless Mudrock shoes. It was at this point too that I notice 6 million teeny tiny flies buzzing around my head. After much wafting of my hat I realised that it wasn’t going to make much difference and just proceeded to eat them as I moved through them. At one point, as I came down from the mist I wondered if I had taken the right line (Not that I knew is there was a wrong path to follow) as I saw the path heading down to Styhead Tarn and wondered if I was somehow going too low. I passed a couple of walkers stood browsing the OS map and they confirmed that this was Windy Gap and I was in the right place.

Rough guide to the route I tookTaking a minute I took on water and ate a sweet and heard someone descending from above. It was Colin, who had made the climb up Great gable look harder than I had. Anyway it turned out that he had retired at the top of Great Gable. I looked up towards Green Gable and into the mist, then looked at my watch… 4hr 23min meant I had only 7 mins to make the cut-off at Honister. Knowing I wouldn’t make it and with the thought of wandering round Green Gable in the mist somehow not seeming the least bit appealing, I decided to take the descent down to Styhead Tarn.

I know I could have made it over to Honister OK, but as I hadn’t planned to do this race and already making it about 11 miles and 4000ft I was happy I had done enough for the day anyway. It certainly made an impact on me and I’ll make sure I’m more prepared for the next time I may attempt it.

Despite retiring at Windy Gap and with tired legs you still have a good way to head back to the start making the total distance covered around 15 miles and I was out around 6 hours. When I got back to the car Albert was asleep on the back seat, he hadn’t run well and said he was all over the place but still finished in 4hr 29mins. I couldn’t though see Tony. After washing my clothes and legs in the stream I saw Tony enter the parking field. It turned out that he was only about 20 mins ahead of me at Windy Gap and after Green Gable decided to retire. He then made a bit of a hash of coming down off the mountain first heading for Seatoller, then deciding to carry on to Honister and actually coming out at Seatoller. He even managed to catch the bus back to the start. I however had to walk (running wasn’t really an option) all the way to the main road and every time a car came passed I tried to look more tired than I was in the hope that somebody would give me a lift. Fortunately somebody stopped and it turned out to be the  people who were supporting Colin at Styhead. Colin was no longer with me at this point as he had run ahead to the finish when I could run no more.

Overall I was quite happy with the day although part of me thinks I should have tried to make it to Honister to get timed out. The aim of getting some more miles and climb in my legs was achieved and after 3 1/2 years of running I finally made it to the top of Scafell Pike.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Gallopen – High Brow (11/07/2010)

With the challenge of Orienteering up in the lakes Tony Varley and I decided to take on the Gallopen at High Brow. On arrival at the event it was very windy and I have to say that I thought about just letting Tony head off and I would just stay in the car and go to sleep, but I didn’t. Tony headed off while I was still faffing and getting changed and I headed off about 10 mins later.

With both of us on the Brown course I knew it was going to be a hard run on the way to the first point. The ground was very tussocky and it was difficult to get any sort of rhythm. Finding the 2nd control first was my first error but then just seemed to drop on to the next few controls. After number 6 though I went disastrously wrong. I read the map wrong and then didn’t believe the compass when it told me north was in a different direction to what i knew it to be. After 15 mins of messing about on the wrong side of the hill I ended up back at point 6 and realised the error of my ways. On reaching point 7 I saw Tony just in front of me heading for point 8. This was a little frustrating as I had already passed him on the way to point 4.

From here the rest of the controls were found without much problem, my other issue now is to try and increase my speed over the ground. The windy weather eased as the event went on and I finally made it to the finish, but with a mild twist on my ankle, in a terrible 2:06.37. Tony followed behind in 3:19.40. However all experience is good experience and Tony is feeling more and more confident with the map and compass.

Results Here

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

MDOC Town & Country Orienteering Weekend (26th/27th June 2010)

Having only done one Regional orienteering event I have had my sights on the Town & Country weekend for a month or so. I enjoy the bigger events with the longer courses and a good challenge! Along with this I have only had 1 qualifying entry on the BOF rankings so I’m also keen to get 6 Regional/National events under my belt to get a ranking!

Saturday – Macclesfield Forest
Held in the North part of the forest the course was challenging as I foolishly turned up with shorts on (It was hot!). Tackling the black course was good fun and the trees helped to shade you from the intense heat of the day. I had the odd navigational issue but on the whole, after the first couple of points, finding the controls wasn’t a problem. Some of the controls in the later stages did however seem to have been strategically placed in or behind brambles, thorns and nettles and at one point, not being able to find a route through, I had to just make a route through and let my legs take a battering. However, at the end I can say I was happy with the course and felt thoroughly challenged. I certainly won’t be challenging any of the front runners on these courses but I’m getting better.

Finishing in 16th position, I have something to improve upon.

Sunday – Stockport City Urban
Starting right in the centre of the Stockport Shopping area this urban event did have the same lure of Nettles and brambles as the previous day however the temperature would have a greater effect as all of the running is in the open rather than in the shade of the forest.

Plenty of route choice is available on the urban events and with many alleys and split levels in the centre it was easy to take wrong paths (Which I did). The Black course had lots of points requiring running larger distances across the map with the last control being added, I’m sure, just for the sheer pain value. I made a few mistakes and the heat took it’s toll which had I not could have moved me up a position but then I'll put it down to inexperience.

Finishing in 9th position on the day I needed a stop at the poundshop on the way back to the download station to top up with water.

I left as soon as I had finished on the Sunday but was pleased to find out that I had won my category (Being as only 2 M35’s completed the Black course on both days).

A win is a win!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Tockholes Fell Race 2010

After much ummming and ahhhing during the week we decided to stay local and head for Tockholes. I had my mind on an ldwa event in Langdale but it just looked too far for me in my current state plus we would have been out all day again which probably wouldn't have gone down too well with the better halves.

So it was we lined up in the sunny but slightly breezy conditions outside the village school where the annual fate was also on. It's four years since I last did this one and the first time I had seen a gala here for even longer so it was a nice surprise and gave the kids something to do while we were off running.

There was the usual warnings from the organiser, along with some about cows on the course and killer dogs then we were off. You run down the lane then climb back up, crossing the main road that goes through the village then joining a farm track that heads towards Sunnyhurst Woods.

I was enjoying myself, taking it steady in the sunshine. Through the woods the path undulates for a while then you start the main climb up past Darwen tower. It was quite windy on top but it was a relief to get cooled down a little and I managed to pick up my pace here heading across to the top of Aggie's Staircase. As paths go the one down there is not great but I managed to pass a couple of others and stay upright then saw 'NotOnYourHelly' from the fra forum marshaling so had a quick chat with him while climbing the stile at the bottom.

The woman in front of me went wrong here, she turned right heading back to the tower so I shouted her back then we headed back down towards the other main road crossing past Vaughn's Cafe. I was having a good run and felt strong running down through the woods to Roddlesworth Reservoir, my favourite part of this route. The path then undulates for a while along the side of the reservoir before you turn right and climb back up out of the woods heading for the village. Looking at my watch I was surprised to see I was a good 5 mins quicker than last time I ran four years ago and if I pushed it I could beat 50mins. So that's what I did, we passed the cows and the killer dogs (they hadn't killed anyone, not that I could see anyway) and as I reached the tarmac road back to the school I put in a final spurt and made it with about 4 secs to spare.

I was really chuffed with the whole run, the fact that I had run it faster than ever and also that my knee finally seems to be on the mend. I had a quick drink then it wasn't long before Mark finished just under the hour saying he struggled a bit with the heat. We met up with the others, had a quick pint in the pub while the results were done then headed home for a well deserved curry.

The question then was what to do Sunday. The forecast wasn't great so again we decided to stay local, Skiddaw Fell Race was on but I didn't fancy the drive and was also struggling to find all the kit I would need. I wanted to go somewhere I hadn't been before so we ended up going for a trot round Pendle Hill. Mark has done a couple of the races they hold on there so he showed me a few of the routes. We parked in Barley and headed up the half tour route to the trig point then carried on round to the 'Nick of Pendle' road. It was quite windy but the predicted rain never arrived, I was having a great time but Mark started suffering a bit with tightness in his legs as we headed back past the reservoir.

Back up the climb to the top of Geronimo I was surprised how dry the ground was, you could tell this could get really slippery though in wet weather. Geronimo seemed like a great descent, once we figured out where we were going anyway! We split up here, Mark headed back past the reservoirs while I headed back up to the trig point for a bit more climb. I was also surprised how few people we saw, maybe the weather forecast kept them away. One good thing about the weather was the wind seemed to blow me up the hills making me feel much stronger than I actually was.

I had a cracking run and was still feeling good as we got back to the car, I could have stayed out all day. A brew from the cafe there before leaving for home with me promising to spend more time training around there. Those that did Skiddaw seemed to get the bad weather though, the race ended up being shortened due to the conditions.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Richmond Cyclosportive... all by myself.

Another early start Saturday 29th May saw me heading east over the Pennines for a change and up to Richmond in Yorkshire, this time with most of my family in tow (less my eldest daughter who is old enough to find an excuse not to come!). I had entered the 5 Dales Cyclosportive a few months ago, looking for something different to do on the Bank Holiday weekend (I usually do Hutton Roof Crags) since we were back home visiting anyway. There was me thinking I would be nicely recovered and feeling fit from the Fred Whitton Challenge at the beginning of the month, the reality being that I got caught a cold a few days after doing that which developed into sinusitis after trying to train through it so I had only been out on the bike about 3 times since.

The forecast had been for heavy gusts and rain spreading during the afternoon but it didn't look too bad on arriving (late) in Richmond. I wanted to set of as soon as the start opened but roadworks on the A1 and various other bits of me faffing about meant I only set off about 9:30 when it seemed virtually everyone else were already on their way. The 10+% hill out of Richmond made for a nice warm-up then came what seemed like miles of quiet lanes heading out towards the first climb of 'The Stang'. Being so close to Catterick Garrison there was quite a military feel to things with many different warning signs such as those in the villages of speed limits for MoD vehicles and big red triangles with silhouettes of tanks in them.

I caught some stragglers here who seemed to be taking it easy and a few groups passed me who I couldn't stay with, the scenery gradually changing to open moorland. There were more cyclists about thankfully on the climb of the Stang, quite a steep drag up onto the moor and there were more than a few who had got off to walk. I remember reaching some switchbacks through the trees that were pretty steep but just after those we were on a lovely sweeping road across the tops, this gradually dropped off and I got some good speed up heading down before turning right for the climb up Tan Hill.

I got chatting to a local here who had caught me; he had lost the group he was in due to stopping to take his jacket off and it was good to pass some time with someone else it was becoming a lonely ride but he slowly pulled away though, I couldn't stay with him on the steeper bits. I noticed a nice lady sat by the side of the road taking pictures, I was quite enjoying myself on this section; the bad weather hadn't arrived and the views across the moors were lovely. I was surprised to see the Tan Hill Inn, the local I was chatting too earlier had said that the first feed stop in Keld was before Tan Hill so I was pleased to have done 2 rather than one of the main climbs.

Turning left here though things rapidly went downhill, though not just in a good way. The wind, which we had so far been sheltered from by the hills was now fully head-on and gave me a taste of things to come later on though it was still a nice descent down to the first feed at Keld. One poor young lad was looking for first aid here for a gash on his knee and was struggling to find anyone who could treat him. The food was great: sausage rolls, jelly babies, flapjacks, jaffa cake bars, cereal bars, I was stuffing my face. One bloke commented on the value saying they did an event last week which cost 30 quid and got no food!

The first route split is here for those doing the 50 and I was a bit disheartened to be the only one of the large group of people at that time to be heading right to do the longer ones so it was back to lonely old me for the ride over Birkdale Common. At least the wind was no longer in my face. This was another really nice, quiet section of the ride with great views and virtually empty roads where over the top I was a little surprised to find we were entering Cumbria.

The descent from there into Nateby was fantastic and thinking back was the best part of the ride for me, apart from one point where 3 sheep appeared out of nowhere and darted across the road in front of me; I must have been doing 40mph+ and did a huge sideways skid as I slammed the brakes on, it's a good job the roads were still dry at that point or I think I would have been off.
Turning left through Nateby meant facing that awful wind head-on again plus the dark clouds were gathering now threatening rain. All the way from there to the second feed at Hawes was a real struggle where I spent a surprising amount of time on the smallest front ring - I was riding a triple! I was desperate for some respite from the wind but none came, even those that caught and passed me I couldn't stay with it was torture. I saw a few 'travellers' heading the other way in their traditional horse-drawn caravans that Yorkshire always seems full of May Bank Holiday and I found myself wishing for one going my way so I could get a tow!

Turning left onto the main A-road into Hawes it had started raining which didn't make for a good ride into the second feed, what with the fast traffic as well. I had told the wife I would get there around 12, it was now about 1:15 and she didn't seem too pleased to see me. My youngest was asleep in her pram and the boys were off getting their lunch at the chippy round the corner. I stuffed my face again while complaining about the headwind, I could see the wife's eyes pleading with me to take the 80 mile option here when she said: "You're not doing the full route now are you?". The organisers had also put a note in saying if you reach Hawes after 2pm *please* do the 80 mile and not the 100. It was only half one though and there were the odd one or two still setting off on the 100. She didn't complain though bless her when I climbed back on and headed off up towards the next climb of Fleet Moss.

This is the first of the two hardest climbs that are only done on the 100 and I was expecting something steep after reading reports online so took my time on the lower section, holding almost bottom gear all the way up. I passed a couple of riders at about half way up and they turned out to be the last riders I would see until the finish. You can see almost all the climb up through the valley which helps with pacing but this also meant you could see how much it kicks up near the top. I had to stop for a breather part way up (what I thought was) the last bit and there was a little sting in the tail as you think you have reached the top where there is a last little kick to the summit.

There were a few walkers here, one of whom said: "Well done!" as I passed then quickly: "Almost half way up!". To which I thanked him and also said that wasn't funny, trouble is since we were virtually in the mist and I had never been up there before I almost took him seriously!

Up there it was windy, wet and cold but at least it was mostly downhill along some great descents through Wharfedale heading for the last stop in Kettlewell. It was a shame the weather was so bad because the scenery was wonderful I just couldn't bring myself to enjoy it; I was already beginning to wish it was over. Riding alongside the river past the houses and farms towards Buckden the rain got heavier and it seemed to take an age to do the 4 miles or so from Buckden to Kettlewell; the air was blue as I entered the village, I hit a pothole just past the school and swore out loud I hope nobody was around.

I almost missed the last checkpoint outside the Blue Bell Inn since the lady and her son, along with the guy from St.John's Ambulance were wisely sheltering in the pub doorway. I was pleased to see there was food and drink as well since the course notes said it would just be a dib station. They were curious as to how many people were still out but all I could tell them was the time I left Hawes and that I had passed 2 people on the way. I needed the loo so went into the pub (The Blue Bell Inn) and really, really did not want to leave; the warmth, the smell of the wood burning fire and the real ale were such a strong pull it was one of the biggest struggles of the day to walk back outside into that weather for the last 25 or so miles back to Richmond.

The climb out of Kettlewell got some warmth back anyway it kicks up straight away, I didn't even know there was a road that goes this way. I like Kettlewell, it being where the Great Wherside fell race is held late autumn which is a cracking short race and from this road you could see the campsite the race is held from and the lower slopes of that hill. After a really steep bit you drop back down where you can see the road snaking up the next hill in the distance and it looks very steep. This was definitely the sharpest climb of the day; I resorted to zig-zags across the road to try and get up and stopped for a breather as well at one point just before the s-bend where it was so steep the road surface was falling apart similar to the way it does on hardknott pass, thankfully there was no traffic so I was able to do whatever I needed to do to get up. After that horror there was still quite a gradient and for some reason I kept expecting it to kick up again but I must have been remembering something wrong since after a few more smaller inclines it flattened out.

The weather had lightened a little and what had been helping was the wind was almost behind me here but it wasn't long before the rain came again during the long, lonely descent through Coverdale. I had been soaked through since well before Kettlewell and had even forgotten about looking for the route arrows. From here it's just back through Leyburn and onto Richmond but I still didn't know how long I had left, I saw a sign that said it was 6 miles to Leyburn and with me thinking at that point it was 6 miles to Richmond from Leyburn I perked up a bit thinking it wasn't far to go. Every incline was slowing me down now and I needed to get the rest of my food and drink down me so I stopped near what looked like the edge of a racecourse on what google maps tells me is Cotescue Bank. It didn't do me good stopping like that for too long I was so cold my teeth were chattering as I set off and I got worried about punctures; if I had to stop for any length of time I would struggle.

My heart sank as I reached Leyburn and saw a sign saying Richmond was another 12 miles, twice as far as I had been thinking but there was nothing else to do but get my head down and push through the rain. This last stretch down the main A-road into Richmond was not good; the traffic was fast moving, the rain was heavy and I wanted so much to be somewhere warm and dry. After an eternity I saw a yellow sign saying '1Km to go' and I pushed up the pace but I couldn't even hold that for long; I started to wonder whether that sign was for some other event since it seemed like another 2 miles before I saw another sign saying '200m to go'. I also saw our car heading the other way, the family got fed up of waiting and decided to come see if they could find me!

Thankfully just on arrival into Richmond there was a welcome sight of a small gazebo with a lovely lady waiting to dib my card. Lisa parked up just up the road but I rode past her wanting to ride the last bit to the school, she said: 'Don't bother there's nobody left!', I had to give my dibber in though anyway. I almost forgot the way back!

Arriving at the school I said hello to two blokes stood under a white gazebo who just glared back at me without smiling, 'Nice welcome' I thought but maybe they were as cold and wet as I felt! I gave my dibber in and got a printout with my time: 8hr04min which was a bit disappointing but what with the weather, the feed stops and having ridden virtually every mile by myself I can't complain.

I was drenched, I had to get changed then picked up some hot food which again was included in the entry fee, a bargain for twelve quid! Just a shame the weather wasn't right on the day but what can you expect for England in May? They also gave the time bands out wrong; according to the website I should have got 'bronze' but got a 'merit' instead, not that it makes any difference!

Bank holiday Monday I went for a run round Winter Hill, alone since I was unsuccessful in persuading Mark to drag himself out! It was a good run and I felt ok considering I hadn't really ran more than once or twice since April, my intention being to test my legs before deciding what to do about the following weekend. I really wanted to do Duddon having never done it before but with spending so little time running in the hills this year I was not very confident. I was still undecided by Friday but I had almost made my mind up to do Pen-y-Ghent instead, more due to Duddon being yet another long day out for me than any worries about getting round. I had spent all week alone at work while the family were staying up North for half-term and yet another day spent with me doing something for myself wasn't really fair.

Pen-Y-Ghent Fell Race

So it was we found ourselves in Horton-in-Ribblesdale for the first time in a few years on the gala field eating cakes before the race! It was quite warm in the sun but there was a nice breeze blowing. I honestly didn't know what to expect from the race; with all the cycling I have done this year my climbing has really improved but at the expense of leg speed due to doing almost no decent running to speak of so I just started mid-pack as usual and settled in to a steady pace through the village to see what would happen. I obviously started way too close to the front since I spent most of the climb being steadily passed (this always happens!) so I'm not sure whether it was the mental effect of this or the heat that ground me down but I just felt so slow, all the way round. The wind was behind us on the way up so there wasn't much to cool us down and I was really hot on reaching the 'steps' up the back. Over the top though the breeze was in my face which was good but I just couldn't get any speed up on the descent, I quite like this run down and still passed a few but felt like my legs just wouldn't keep up with what I wanted them to do.

I found myself following a couple of the runners in front towards the gate before Whitber Hill however to me it felt like we had gone too far right, I was sure I hadn't been this far out before. It seemed like I had been out ages (I hadn't brought my watch) as I crested the hill and the flagged section to the finish started, it's still a bit of a run back from there though where again I felt so slow. Down the stony track where you can see the finish field then out onto the road for that painful tarmac run-in. I finished in about 1h14m which is about 6mins slower than my best for this route.

I wasn't sure whether I had a good or bad race. It certainly didn't feel too great while out and I was a bit disappointed with my time but at least I was back running and I got round even though I have hardly run at all this year.

I was relieved not to have entered Duddon though it would have been a huge struggle judging by the way I felt at the finish. Proves to me though that all the cycling has at least kept some of the fitness at the expense of the speed. I'm not sure what my plans are now, I'm doing Ben Nevis again this year and Mark is entered too so I might just concentrate on that. It's a shame I couldn't get some points in the Lakeland classics like last year (not doing Ennerdale this year, it's a champs race plus I'm not quick enough) but what can I expect with my knee playing up earlier this year!

(Thanks to Dave and Eileen Woodhead for taking the pictures on the fell - )

Monday, 24 May 2010

Pike O’Blisco Regional Orienteering Event

With clouds on the peaks that promised to lift the Langdale valley played host to the LOC Regional Pike O’Blisco orienteering event. An early registration for this event was required (depending on your start time) due to the start on most of the courses being some 1.5km from registration and about 350m up the path towards the Blisco summit. The trek to the start made for a good warm up though, not that a warm up would make much difference.

I’d been planning to enter this event but hadn’t managed to pre-enter. Uncertain of which course I should attempt I plumped for the Black, the basis being it was no harder than the Blues/Browns just longer (10km as the crow flies). I hadn’t run much this week so I needed a long run out anyway. On meeting a few people in the parking area I was beginning to wonder if Black was the right course for me, one comment being “are you mad!”. I enjoyed the slog to the start as it helped loosen me up as I’ve been suffering lately. Just after 11:00 I lined up at the start and headed off.

Once I looked at the map I had a good idea which direction I thought I should be heading in, just ahead off me was Paul Turner (SELOC Chairman). Then about 50m from the start Paul stepped in some soft bog and his foot came out without his shoe. After stopping to help him recover his shoe from the vacuum that was holding it in the bog I headed for point 1 and decided to take a bearing just to check I’d read the map correctly but for some reason the bearing just seemed VERY wrong. I carried on and found the 1st control then decided to take another bearing. Again it seemed wrong so I head off in the direction I thought I should go. Finding another control (Not the one I wanted) I got the compass out again and this time compared somebody else's version of NORTH to my version of NORTH. It turned out my compass has de/re-magnetised itself and now SOUTH = NORTH.

From here I seemed to drop on to the points quite well with my only problem being speed over the ground, which I knew would be my dis-advantage. I ran the three shires fell race last year so had been around this area a little and able to pick out a few points that I had run over before. After point 6 a long plod over toward Cold Pike again managing quite well to drop on or very close to the controls. By the time I left Cold Pike and started heading for point 18, I was tiring a little and there were quite a few people darting in all directions across the landscape. However point 18 took me a little longer to find after finding two other controls in the same area before the one I actually wanted.

The final few points were dotted around Blake Rigg and Bleaberry Knott and by this time I was tiring, thankful that the last three controls didn’t have much distance between them, then lastly the finish tent and a nice jog back down the hill to the parking area and a cup of tea. Back in the parking field, there was a tent selling cakes. It seemed a shame to pass by the opportunity to eat cake. I resisted the opportunity to clear out the whole stand just buying 3 small cakes. A thoroughly enjoyable event, now if only I can try and speed up a little I can do something about my position!

I finished 19th out of 20 on the Black course in 2hr 28 min which I suppose isn’t too bad, for a 10km


Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Fred Whitton Challenge 2010

What a cracking day out the Fred Whitton Challenge is. I was determined to start as early as I could due to having to drive the 300ish miles home after the event so I set my alarm for 4:45am the night before, after popping round to see the Sammons and take over their kitchen for my pre-race meal. Mark said he would come and support me which was good of him, though he did have an ulterior motive which was to go for a trot round the Coniston Fell Race route while I was out. I picked him up just after 5am then we headed up there, the weather looking really promising it was quite clear with little wind.

We got there around 6:30 and the centre was already busy with people getting ready and setting off. I picked up my dibber and some goodies then set about faffing around my bike; first lesson learned of the day was not to buy stuff on the way to an event and use it for the first time in the event. I wanted a mini-pump that would fit in my saddle bag (it didn't fit) so I had to try and mount it on the bottle cage mounts, the allen key for which I had only gone and left at home! Anyway while I was faffing around trying to find a suitable tool Mark just went and borrowed a multitool from someone and we used that. One more toilet stop then I was ready, about an hour later than planned.

Don't forget to dib at the start then I was off down the lane. Hawkshead Hill is not marked as a pass on the route map but it still makes for a good warm-up, I fell in behind a few blokes who like me were taking it steady at the start chatting away amongst themselves commenting on how many fast lads where there and muttering things like: "It's a marathon, not a sprint" every time someone shot past us. Over the top a good sized group caught us so I went with them on the descent down through Ambleside to the start of the long climb up to Kirkstone. The views as we got higher were lovely, early on a sunny spring morning looking out over Windermere it couldn't get much better!

Through Troutbeck and down onto the main A-road up to the pass I was a little surprised to see marshals in the road, the first event I had done that you didn't have to give way at every junction. I noticed a headwind here too, blowing down from the pass so made an effort to catch up with a small group in front; the weather was looking a bit more gloomy further up which made me glad I had decided to put an extra layer on before heading off. I got chatting to a guy nearer the top who commented on the paramedic cars that were following us round he reckoned that they are usually kept busy each year on the descents. Kirkstone is more of a long drag than a short, sharp slap in the face that some of the later climbs are but nevertheless I was glad to reach the top and get some speed up. There were lots of people up here supporting the event which was really good to see as was the view. Not that I got much time to take it in. This descent is fast; I tried not to think about the 'what if?'s and concentrated on passing the slower cyclists while at the same time allowing room for the nutters who were flying past lying flat on their top tubes 'Le Tour' style. This as well as keeping an eye out for vehicles coming the other way and potholes in the road, we must have been touching 50mph at some of the steeper bits.

The gradient finally eased and I had a big smile on my face; it gave me a similar rush to a long, runnable descent in a fell race such as Great Whernside. It was here we caught up to a guy on a hand-cranked bike and I was impressed, his hands still frantically pedalling with the speed from the slope, he seemed to be loving it and I wished him luck as we passed.

I got some food down me then fell in behind a couple of riders for the flatter section past Ullswater, they were going a little slow for me but I would rather have waited for a faster group to catch us than try and catch one up. It wasn't long before I looked back to see quite an impressive sight, there seemed to be a group of around 30-40 riders spread out across the road as a peloton and they were gaining ground fast! There was no way I was going to be able to stick with this lot but it made for an enjoyable few miles before the climb up to Matterdale watching these guys work together as a group, steadily dropping people like me out of the back.

Climbing up to Matterdale End I was becoming mindful of trying to stick with some others for the drag down the A66 to Keswick, I needn't have worried though there were so many people out today if you lose one group another one will be along shortly! One guy was going slow here and a Saddleback support van pulled up alongside to offer him some help, I didn't know what the problem was but it was reassuring to know they were there to help out just in case.

Blencathra came into view here, left onto the A66 where there was some good supporters cheering us on then began for most people the only bad section of the route. This can be a busy road so it is just a case of sticking to the last metre or so of tarmac at the left in a long train of bikes until you reach Keswick. We passed the odd slower rider though and some faster lads came through, I noticed on the flatter sections I was struggling to keep up with those in front but it seemed more of a mechanical thing than me feeling tired; the guys in front just seemed to have less rolling resistance than me I found myself pedalling much more often than the guy whose wheel I was on. There was a group in a car here who must have been the family of one of the blokes in the group since they were stopping periodically in laybys and jumping out to take pictures and shout encouragement as we sped past, then back in the car to catch us up to do the same again!

I lost the group at the roundabout where we turned for Keswick due to a car (not every junction was marshaled unfortunately) so flew through the town trying to catch them up but this was unnecessary, again I was killing myself trying to stick with a group when I should have just slackened off a bit and waited for the next one to come along. The next group at this point though I had no chance sticking with since it was the wheelbase lot with Rob Jebb in tow; there were plenty hangers on however so it made for good progress down past Derwentwater and into Borrowdale. The road had a new surface in sections down here but there was still the odd pothole; I caught one while distracted struggling to keep up with a car behind trying to get past so I slowed down, drank the rest of my water and readied myself for the climb up Honister, I was going far too fast anyway. Rosthwaite was nice, I have fond memories of camping there (and some not so fond - have you ever camped at Stonethwaite?) and from doing the Borrowdale Race in August; the sun was out and I was feeling good with only a niggling worry of puncture from the pothole, my tyres were feeling a bit flat especially the rear.

Through Seatoller I almost stopped at the toilets there, I remember reading recommendations to do this since at the feed stop in Buttermere there is only limited facilities but in the end I didn't - a decision I regretted. Then began the climb up to Honister, this starts off really steep through the trees and I saw a couple of riders get off right there and start walking. I was in bottom gear and stayed there for most of the way up to the slate mine but I had managed to find a nice steady rhythm and was getting a bit warm now the sun was out. The traffic got worse further up but people were patient enough and I don't remember anyone getting in the way. Sweat was dripping off me as we climbed above the trees and again I was aware of the bumps through my back tyre much more than usual, there just didn't seem to be enough air in it. I was climbing at about the same rate as a Swedish bloke who breathlessly commented on how another 2 riders could just breeze past chatting away as they had just done, I could hardly reply. There was loads of support again here one woman was shouting out "Come on lads you're doing well" at which point a girl climbing just behind us shouted back: "and lasses!". It wasn't much longer until we rounded the corner and passed the slate mine then it was brakes on straight away, the road drops off steeply and quickly so you have to be really careful not to let your speed get away with you or else it becomes really hard to slow down due to the bumps and ruts in the poor road surface. Two riders had come a cropper further down; it was a bit of a blur but one bloke was sat with a foil blanket on next to a paramedic on the right-hand verge and someone else was off on the left. The road bends to the right there with a dry stone wall at the left, on top of which was a slightly mangled looking bike. From reading some other reports after the event this could have been the guy who built up too much speed, slid sideways into the wall breaking his collarbone and knocking himself out.

Once again I tried to block out the 'what if?' thoughts and focus on the road, luckily there was little traffic coming the other way and I was thankful for that my brakes were taking enough abuse. One bloke with no fear at all came flying down the outside shouting out: "ON YOU'RE RIGHT!".

It's a nice ride down towards Buttermere once the steep stuff is behind you but I had forgotten how far it was from Honister, the descent had cooled me down nicely but my gloves were now quite damp so as soon as I stopped at the Hostel I packed them away. It was very busy here, they were even running out of sandwiches. I was feeling a bit queasy which is always a sign for me of not eating and drinking enough so I got some food quick, settling for a banana, some jam sandwiches and flapjack then plenty juice. Once my water bottle was filled I debated leaving then and stopping for a pee in a bush somewhere but the climb to Newlands starts almost immediately so I went inside the Hostel to find the loo. Thankfully there was only about 4 people in the queue but what with only having 2 toilets it still took about 10 mins. While in the queue I overheard a guy on the payphone talking to some supporters: "Where are you Whinlatter?".... "Aye, I'm at Buttermere I couldn't get a signal"......."I will carry on to meet you but I'm quitting, I'm covered in bandages I dropped it down through Borrowdale". At which point everyone in the queue turned round to see the damage the guy had done to himself, poor bloke he looked in a bit of a mess.

I contemplated checking my tyres here, or getting them checked but just wanted to get off; it was busy and I had already spent far too long there. I dibbed and set off down the road then before you are even settled you turn right and head up Newlands Pass, a guy in front said he didn't remember it being so close to the food stop but I said it's one thing they mention in the route notes: not to eat too much due to the next climb being so close. This is a nice climb with some fantastic views, unfortunately I heard a "POP!Hiiisssssssssss" from just behind me where another poor bloke's front tyre went. Still, better here than about 5 miles back coming down from Honister.

Having never been up this way before I wasn't sure what to expect and the climb does kick up steeply towards the top but I was still feeling ok and even managed a smile for the photographer at the top. Another steep drop off here similar to the Honister one then it was a nice descent down through the quiet valley where the only drawback was the headwind. It seemed to take ages to reach Braithwaite where again there was lots of support before the climb up Whinlatter. I don't remember much about this climb apart from there being lots of trees and quite a few cars on the road, it certainly wasn't much trouble on my granny ring. I nearly went the wrong way at the top following the bloke in front who pulled off to the right where the mechanics were, again the support here was great.

Things after here got a lot quieter and I continued to enjoy myself, a nice steady descent through the lanes towards Loweswater where I spent long stretches on my own without seeing any other cyclists. At one point my mobile rang in my back pocket, it was Lisa asking how I was; due to having no signal for most of the route I hadn't managed to speak to her to let her know how things were going and it was a bit odd for both of us to be talking while riding the event. Heading down through Loweswater you could hear sirens echoing up the valley, I never saw the vehicle but whoever it was they were speeding up towards Honister.

This part of the route dragged for me, I was starting to feel tired and my mind was wandering; with the various slight ups and downs you couldn't stick in one gear and find a rhythm and I just wanted to get through Ennerdale Bridge and reach the feed stop. Fangs Brow was the next climb and not too long or taxing; there were a few groups of cyclists heading the other way here presumably on the coast to coast, most of them had huge panniers with them. I think the guy next to me on the climb must have hit a real bad patch since he stopped pedalling and dropped his head into his hands resting on his handlebars letting out a huge groan. My knees were starting to ache a little above the kneecaps which made me wonder whether my seat height had dropped a bit, either that or just another symptom of fatigue.

Once up Fangs Brow the view got even better, you could see out over the coast to the Isle of Man on the horizon. Western Lakes is my favourite part of Cumbria by far, it seems quieter than other parts and somehow more remote. The ride was good over from here down into Ennerdale Bridge, we must have had a slight tailwind since the speed came easy. On reaching another cattle grid at speed the guy in front hardly slowed and did a little 'bunny hop' to clear the grid which looked a great idea so I had a go; this might have worked if my tyres had had enough air in them but as it was I could virtually feel my rims hit the road so I wasn't going to try that little trick again.

We passed some nice downhill switchbacks on the way down to Ennerdale Bridge then picked up some good speed on the lanes before the village, definitely a tail wind. I was already thinking that we were almost at the food stop but then remembered the sign at Calderbridge saying 9 miles to Ennerdale and that is over Cold Fell. On the climb up there I started getting cramps in my left thigh on every 'pull' of the left pedal so that was another sign telling me to drink the rest of my water and eat something.

More often than not in the reports I have read people describe this climb as a real drag into the prevailing wind off the sea, thankfully today that wasn't the case as the wind if anything seemed to be helping. It didn't take too long to get over the top and gain some speed, it was a decent run over to the second feed; the view spoiled somewhat by the blot of Sellafield on the coast. A few tricky hairpin bends later I pulled into a busy, sunny Calderbridge at about 2pm.

First thing I wanted to do was get my tyres checked so I went over to one of the support mechanics who was stood next to two big track pumps and said something like: "Have you got a trackpump?". He gave me an odd look as I realised what I had just said so I just smiled and asked him whether he could check my tyres, sure enough they were about half what they should have been which explained the bounciness over the bumps and maybe even the decreased rolling resistance. I can't believe I rode so far without checking them.

Once again I wasn't hungry but that shouldn't stop you from shovelling the food in however I had grown sick of sugary and oaty things so was pleased to see plenty of tuna sandwiches, they tasted fantastic! Surprising how the quality of food seems to improve the further into these type of events you get it must be a biological thing, something to do with the body making sure it gets what is lacking. There were some nice fresh orange segments here as well as lots of cake and flapjack, I even tried the energy drink but it tasted foul. Off inside for another toilet stop where I could hear somebody dry heaving in one of the cubicles. More juice then I sent a quick text message while listening to the paramedics planning their logistics over Hardknott then it was time to get going. The atmosphere at that second stop was great and I felt like I could have stayed there a lot longer but I just wanted to get back.

The roads down that way are quite familiar to me now since we have spent some time round there the past few years, it's not far to Gosforth but that road can get a bit busy. My phone bleeped just on the section with the depressing view of Sellafield, it was Mark telling me that Rob Jebb had just finished. Through Gosforth then down towards Santon Bridge I was feeling refreshed and led a small group down through the lanes, pedalling hard, burning all those calories I had just eaten so that I reach empty just in time for Hardknott! Up over Irton Pike we passed a few slower people, though I'm sure they were just sensibly pacing themselves.

I fell in with a group from a club I can't remember now but they were in yellow and blue, through the lanes of Eskdale. I'm sure it was in my mind but I detected some tension, everyone seemed to have gone quiet and there were a lot more riders taking their time. We had done nearly 100 miles though by that point.

Me, foremost in my mind was my bladder I must have drank a little too much at that last feedstop so I decided to stop after that cattle grid at the bottom of the climb and nip behind the wall. The amount of people I saw who just crossed the grid and got off to walk was surprising. I clipped back in and set off to see how far I would get and it was hard work. I got up that first ramp and past the zig-zags leading up past the fort sweat already dripping from me but I was thankful for the slight ease in gradient; the route notes say to use this to get your breath back and I did. The support up here was again really encouraging even the riders walking would say something good as you passed.

The trouble with Hardknott is not just how physically tough it is with 100 miles and plenty hills already in the legs, I think mentally the fact that you can see virtually all the climb from the bottom up breaks you. I was supposed to be recovering and steeling myself for the last push to the top but all I could do was watch the riders in front reach the next set of hairpins and thinking there was no way I was going to be able to get up those the way I was feeling. It was my lower back more than anything else my hips were swaying all over the place! I passed another guy walking just before hitting the steep bit and as he said:"Well done" I said I wouldn't be that far behind him in getting off and walking, I had obviously made my mind up and on reaching the last viciously steep hairpin I could take the cramps in my back no more so just stopped, unclipped and got off.

Thinking back I could have just rested and stretched my back but it all boils down to what your goals are; I just wanted to get back, sure it would have been nice to be able to say I rode the whole route but that will have to wait for another year, at that point my main aim was to finish as soon as I could and walking was quicker than battling the gradient. So I did what felt like a walk of shame to the top, even some of the supporters lining the route would be shouting encouragement to those still pedalling while remaining distinctly quiet as I passed.

It wasn't long before I could clip back in and ride past the Mountain Rescue guys at the top and get ready for the descent. This was very steep and really dangerous, the hairpins are really tight and the road surface is rutted and broken which meant you have to be very careful while braking, which you pretty much do all the way down. My brakes were getting louder towards the bottom which I assume was due to them getting hot but they still worked well, more than can be said for my arms! I passed a bloke who seemed to be fixing a puncture, what a place to end up with a flat but he looked to be in good shape so that was a blessing at least.

The wind seemed to be blowing down from Wrynose pass which made progress across the valley slow, or I was just too knackered to be able to pedal hard enough. I got as far as the last steep kick up to the top and had to get off again, Hardknott had broken me I was so slow on the steep bits it was quicker to walk. Over the top and past some familiar running territory at the 3 Shires Stone for another scary descent into Little Langdale, this one is not quite as bad as the last descent down from Hardknot but there are still some dodgy hairpins and I was less lucky with traffic here. Again the pressure on my arms was hurting but it wasn't too long before we were heading down through the lanes past the Three Shires Inn, more familiar running terriotory; it made a change passing the pub completely knackered on a bike as opposed to on foot at the end of the Three Shires Race.

Down past the T-junction and then up onto the main Coniston road it was good to see marshalls and policemen in the road keeping an eye out for you, one of them telling me it was only just over 2 miles to the finish now. There were a few cars queued up waiting especially on the way out of Coniston, all the cyclists who had obviously finished well before me showered, changed, packed up and heading for home! This was a long 2 miles; there is a slight incline for the first stretch but the rest makes for a nice end to the route. I was feeling quite emotional too, thinking back over the months since getting the entry back in winter and the long rides I had done since then. It felt good arriving back in Coniston and heading to the finish, loads of people on the lane and the was Mark wondering where I had got to.

We couldn't quite remember exactly what time I had set off and it seemed I hadn't beaten 9 hours but when I handed my dibber in a got my printout my time was 8h48min so I was reasonably chuffed with that. A bit disappointed to have walked on the last two passes and if I hadn't faffed about at the feed stops I probably could've knocked over half an hour off that but considering I hadn't ridden 100 miles up until the last weekend of April this year I was very happy.

It was good to have a lie down on the sports field and get some food down me, Mark had been for a trot round the Coniston Fell Race route so at least he had something to keep him occupied for a few hours anyway and he even offered to drive back which was good of him. I was completely spent but over the moon, it was a prefect way to spend a day in the saddle and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys long days out riding. Thanks must go to everyone involved with putting the event on the whole day went without a hitch the organisation being flawless. I even wanted to buy a t-shirt but the only size they had left by the time I finished was XL.

Thanks to Mark for the support too :) Oh and don't forget the missus for giving me all the passes to let me train!