Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Fuerteventura August 2011

Finally had chance to upload some pictures from my holidays! While I'll not admit to being obsessed enough to plan our family holidays around the mountains, this year I did manage to steer the decision towards somewhere a bit more rugged than last year's trip.

View from the pool where we stayed. Mount Esquinzo (around 1000ft.) in the background was a short run away.

Fuerteventura is generally very windy, and when the direction is towards the Sahara (only about 60 miles away) the cooler air from the Atlantic creates clouds off the mountains which were sat over the higher peaks for virtually the whole of the first week.

The main ridge was in cloud for the whole time the wind was blowing in off the sea. It looked fierce too the way the clouds were tumbling down the valley.
Thankfully (in some respects) the wind finally changed direction and one evening the sun set on a clear sky so I set my alarm for dawn the next morning to head up to the highest point of the island.
The track up Pico de Zarza can be driven almost all the way as I found out when the maintenance men arrived for work at the weather station at the top.
View of the summit ridge. This was the only place outside the artificially watered towns & villages where I saw any green vegetation.
View west from the ridge. It was a drop of around 2500ft straight down to a deserted beach, you could hear the rumble of the surf.
Looking down the ridge to the south. You can see how steep the drop is in the bottom right hand corner.
The view from here was incredible and as usual my pictures don't do it justice. If I ever go back I would like to visit that beach, it can only be reached by dirt track being mostly cut off by this ridge so it must be such a peaceful place.

Being virtually a desert island there was no water to be had anywhere, I carried over a litre and half with me and all that had gone before I reached the summit. Although the change in wind direction had cleared the summits it had also brought the hot, dry air straight from the Sahara so despite it still being before 10am I was quite dehydrated by the time I got back for breakfast.

Summit marker on the hill next to the hotel.
Could have been Spanish humour, a crutch had been left tied up here.

View of the resort where we stayed (complete with photographer's shadow). We really felt just plonked down on the edge of a desert.

Same peak, looking southwards towards Jandia beach. You can just about make out the lighthouse.
I had a great time, not the best of places to run in the mountains but quite a different experience for someone more used to the soggy mud of rural England.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

3 Shires Fell Race 2011

Saturday morning saw us off to Little Langdale in the pouring rain to run the Three Shires fell race. Parking this year was again from Hodge Close quarry and the road to the quarry was flooded in various places.

As usual Pete Bland was there, this time in the car park.
Albert, Tony and Mark before we left for the start.
I found it sorely tempting to stay in the pub once we had registered and not bother with the race, there was still a huge queue for numbers by the time the race was due to start and the weather wasn't looking too inviting.

By the time everyone was ready I just wanted to get going so I could warm up. We all had a rudimentary kit check (they just checked whether we looked to have a decent bumbag/rucksack - it's always nice to be trusted) then we were off down the lane. Usually I start a little too close to the front on this one - not one for all the bumping and queueing that goes on further back. Nobody was going to ford the beck this year it must have been nearly chest deep!

It always seems much longer to the start of the first climb than I remember, it was still raining and the paths were like streams in places. The climb up Wetherlam is a bugger; as usual I had judged the conditions wrong and put my helly and thicker waterproofs on so I was getting far too warm . It was a nice surprise though for the clouds to clear as we got higher towards the summit and it stayed that way pretty much for the rest of the race.

I struggled most of the way round, all the climbs seemed tiring and the whole route was very wet and slippy. I enjoyed the descent from Blisco to Blea tarn though, this being the only point where I managed to pass a few people.

Passing Blea Tarn. Thanks to jellybabyfairy for taking this photo.
I filled my bottle from the Beck at the bottom of the climb up to Lingmoor and stuffed the rest of my food down but it didn't help much with that climb.

Struggling up Lingmoor. Thanks to Sport Sunday for the photo.

It wasn't long before I was over the summit and on my way down to the finish, not a bad descent but I missed a few of the short cuts through the bracken. Albert was already at the finish so after washing my legs in the beck and having my pastie with a cup of tea he dragged me back to the car to get warm and wait for the others. The sun even came out once or twice so I took a couple more pictures:

Looking out towards Wetherlam (in the distance) from the car park.

Across Little Langdale to Lingmoor Fell.

As usual thanks to everyone involved with putting the event on; I finished in around 2h52m so a little slower than my best but considering the conditions I should be happy. I was glad to get round in one piece, there were a few tales of cuts and broken bones after the finish; hopefully nothing too serious!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Ben Nevis Race 2011

Ben Nevis race weekend has become an annual fixture in both our calendars it seems and something I really look forward to, as much for the weekend spent in the Fort William as the race itself. It was quite a contrast sat eating a sandwich in the warm sunshine outside Stansted to arriving in Fort William Friday teatime in the pouring rain.

I think locally this weather would be known as 'Dreich'

The weather wasn't that much better Saturday morning as we milled around the shops passing the time before the race, Mark looking at 200 quid jackets while I was looking at getting 5 presents for my family for under a tenner.

Mark waiting for the place to open (or stealing their Wi-Fi, I wonder which he will admit to).

It was nice to catch up with a few familiar faces at registration then it was time to line up behind the pipers for the start. I wore my windproof top in the hope that it wouldn't rain too much during the race and as Mark has already mentioned I had bought a new pair of Mudclaw 333s; the older 330s have always been perfect for me but I couldn't get hold of any so had to shell out for some 333s in the hope that they would perform similarly.

On the way back down the lower slopes. Thanks to Richard Cowan for the photo.

I was feeling quite good this year and was hoping to maybe set a PB but the conditions put paid to that. I made it to the top at least 5 minutes quicker but on turning I had to take my glasses off with the weather being so showery, I can usually get away with a cap and maybe my hooded top but not today my glasses were getting wet and it was getting a bit dangerous trying to see the rocks. I really should try some of those disposable contact lenses that various people have been recommending.

As it was I didn't lose too much time on the way back down though I made the mistake for the second year running of going straight through the bracken near the bottom of the path rather than cutting left just after the metal bridge, there were a few runners I ended up passing twice due to this! At the finish my time almost matched last years, I think I was about 10 or 20 seconds slower finishing in just over 2h20m. I couldn't fault the 333s either, let's just see how long they last.
Ian, Mark and myself having a brew at the finish. I must have blinked!
We had a great weekend, not only doing the race itself; the longest climb in the country followed by the longest descent; but the stay in Fort William as well. Thanks to all involved with putting the event on... oh and those back home who put up with my training! I'm already looking forward to next year.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Ben 2011

Well the end of January came and the entry form was written and posted as soon as possible. The Ben race fills up quickly so you have to get your entry in  soon. 4 weeks later the provisional list of entries was published and …… my name wasn’t on it  Sad smile

I mailed the race secretary to see if my name was on the provisional list and he kindly mailed me right back to say that I hadn’t completed my date of birth and that if I mailed him back with it then i would be in. So by return e-mail it was sent and he confirmed my entry. Cool!!

With the Ben in mind I planned to do a few more bigger races. I started entering longer LDWA events early in the year and also planned to enter Borrowdale (intentionally) this year. But as the year went on the longer races didn’t happen as I planned. But on a few shorter races I ran a little better and I was happy that my general fitness was at least similar to that of last year.

Chris and I make a weekend of this race, well it is a 6 hour drive from Wigan. Chris flew up from Stanstead to Glasgow again and I drove to Glasgow Airport to collect him and continue the drive on. Albert was supposed to be joining us this year but the weekend before he’d gone off gallivanting to the Pyrenees to do a 100 mile ultra race and come back with his feet in tatters so pulled out.

The main thing I was looking forward to was the black pudding. I love Stornoway black pudding and this weekend gives me my fix. We arrived at the hotel, threw our bags in our rooms and went straight out to the Grog and Gruel. it’s a great pub and always busy on this weekend. The best bit though is the starters, Black pudding with oat cakes. Personally I don’t eat the oat cakes I just want the pudding. A few drinks with the meal and a couple after and it was an early night.

Saturday morning and a tasty fry up with another portion of black pudding. Then a quick wonder through town allowed me to stumble upon the ONLY shop in Fort William that sold Stornoway black pudding only to find out they had SOLD OUT! All my plans to bring 3 whole puddings home with me were scuppered.

The Race

With our new shoes on, Chris’s Mudclaw 333’s, my Walsh PB Ultras, we wandered to playing field. The weather wasn’t quite sure what it wanted to do. The forecast had suggested it might clear with occasional shower but I don’t think anyone told the weather that. Occasionally the rain and mist tried to lift but minutes later the rain would start again and the cloud would close in again. I have always been a little worried about running races in the mist but I wasn’t today. Maybe this is because I had already done the route and it wasn’t new I don’t know.

Having collected my race number, tag and free bottle of Ben Nevis Whisky (minature) we chatted to some familiar faces; Ian, Pauline (NLN), Emma and Daz H and Debbie Cooper from Lytham St Annes who I keep bumping into at races more and more.

After last years run my hope was to beat the 3hr mark which meant knocking at least 8 mins off last years time. Given conditions last year were clear and dry I was wondering of it was going to be an ask but it didn’t bother me too much I felt good.

The pipers started to play and the runners all walked behind them to the start and the random kit checks. I had no soon got into the start box and the race started with a lap of the field and out on to the road. Passing the pub at the end of the road the climb on the hill starts and early on the runners start to split. The lower section of path has a few points where you cut off on to a higher part of the path (tourists would typically stay on the path zigzagging back and forth). My preference is to stay on the lower path until you have no choice to cut up. With the wet ground this year i felt these sections were a little slower to climb (or there was more traffic holding me back).

The race crowd carry on along this path until it turns back 170 degrees below red burn which is where the runners then follow a trod directly up to Red Burn. By now we were in the mist and the showers had returned along with an occasional breeze. I carried on and although a little tired I felt ok (considering). I’d managed to avoid looking at my watch as there were plenty of people around me so must have been doing ok for time. The sound of Red Burn was getting louder and I could hear voices of supporters and marshals ahead.

Red Burn: 57 mins (last year: 59 mins)

After Red Burn a quick left and up the scree route. In the mist you can’t see that far ahead and I think that helps as you have no idea how far you have gone or even how far you still have to go. This seemed to help on the climb but it’s these steeper ascents that I struggle with and I lose more places than normal.

As I continued up the scree the leaders started to come back down with such a pace that I can only imagine the information from their eyes to their muscles must block out any possible the signals the brain is sending about the potential pain they could inflict upon themselves at any moment.

Joining/crossing the zigzag paths higher up and the route gets a little busier with walkers. For the most part they are all quite friendly. Some cheer you on and others move aside when they hear you coming but you always seem to get a couple that want you to know your spoiling their day.

Marshalls had been placed at various points on the route and one set had been placed at the top of Gardyloo Gully where the path runs just aside from the top of it. SomethBen Nevis Summit with old observatory atoping I didn’t quite realise last year is how steep the drop is of the edge of the summit. I’m not afraid of heights but I do get a little anxious when I think about being near somewhere like that (even just thinking about it gives me butterflies), I didn’t hang around to have a look either. Generally I just keep focused on the path I need to take and only think about it afterwards. At the summit it’s a quick hello to the marshals before heading back the way we came.

Summit: 1 hr 52 mins (last year: 1hr 59mins)

I think by this point the rain/showers had stopped but we were still in the mist. This is the start of “the easy bit” the descent. It’s not easy! 4 miles of downhill is hard work on your legs. The path down from the summit was relatively easy to follow and I was quickly passed by local Lochaber runners. Soon enough you get to the scree run and I seemed to be in traffic. My walshes shoes were performing admirably so far. I dug in with my heels where I could but the traffic slowed me down and I didn’t really want to head off the main trod. But every now and then there was a split in the path and most of the people in front tended to follow each other like lemmings and I saw the chances so took them and made up some places. However by the time I got down to Red Burn my legs were starting to ache and as I started in the grassy bank I had to slow. This The grassy bank: www.justusuk.comwas probably a good thing though as it was very slippy and I can’t blame the shoes for slipping a few times. Crossing the stream at the bottom of the bank we re-join the path and then the lower well paved section all the way to the road.

The path was still wet/damp in places and I’ve still not go confidence when traversing wet rocks. There is still this hesitation that holds me back. But it wasn’t the rock that caught me out but the grass. I tried keeping to the very narrow trod besides the path and somehow misplaced my foot and tripped up, banging my knee in the process. This is probably the worst fall I have had in a race before but thankfully there were no badly placed rocks to cause me any further damaged and I was able to get straight up and carry on, if not a tad slower than before I tripped.

By the time I reached the pub at the start of the final road section I was convinced I had lost time on the descent. The traffic on the scree, the slow grassy bank, the damp rock on the path and the fall must have eaten into my time. On the road section though I did feel stronger than last year (although not too much stronger) and managed to pass a couple of people. Chris was waiting for me at the gate and I turned onto the field for the final lap round the pitch in to the finish.

Finish: 2 hr 59 min 03 sec (last year: 3 hr 07 mins 51 sec)

I was glad to have finished another Ben race and even happier to have finished in under 3 hours but can’t help but think how much faster I might have been dry like last year.

Race over

Heading back to the car Chris and I washed our shoes and legs in the river. Two girls were chatting not far away and as we left and crossed the bridge I heard a slash and one of the girls say “Oh no, ma foone!” and then she started to take her shoes off to go in for it. Might not be much use now love!!

That night, after another visit to the Grog and Gruel where the starter again involved black pudding, we went along to the Ben Race presentation to collect our certificates and then headed to the NevisSports bar where they’d put a live group on to sing the night away. After a couple (or more) Bacardi & cokes the bar closed and we headed back to the hotel.

The morning came and after breakfast (Yep, more black pudding) we headed of and had an easy drive back stopping off at Bonnie Braes for a cup of tea before dropping Chris at Glasgow Airport.

A great weekend and I’ll be completing my entry form again in January for next years attempt.

Total Black Pudding count = 12 slices in two days

I think I can safely say that my iron count wasn’t low for the blood test I took the following Monday.

Saturday, 10 September 2011


i would never have though footwear was such an issue that I would get worked up about it but recently I have.
Here are the shoes I have had for hill running so far..
  1. Adidas Swoops (V1)
    When I first started running on the hills my cousin gave me a pair of Adidas Swoops that somebody had left in his garage. They were a size 10.5 but a smail 10.5 and were a tad too small but never the less I wore them. They only ached for the first 5 minutes but then stretched to my foot. The other issue with them was that the inner sole would work it’s way out. After Chris took me for a run in bad weather in Coniston I lost confidence in them when I started slipping lots on wet rock. (I know a little better now to stay off the wet rock were possible)
  2. Inov8 Mudroc 290
    The next shoe I bought from Pete Blands was the Inov8 Mudroc 290. I loved this shoe. It gave me great grip and confidence and more importantly it was comfortable. It lasted me 12 months and was falling to pieces after that time. So in evitably I bought another pair. I didn’t get on as well with the 2nd pair, it was the same model but the styling was ever so slightly different. I assumed I was now just running hard and needed something with more grip.
  3. Walsh PB Ultra Elite
    Having received a voucher from the Horwich Downhill Race I bought a pair of Walshes from Walshes Shoes in Bolton. For the first 3-4 runs I had pains in my shins but this wore off. Putting on a new pair of Walshes is like putting on a pair of slippers. They are so comfortable and with the sticky lugs on the sole are great for descending. Once they are worn in though and get wet they are a bit of a pain to tie up and get tight on your foot and after some good wear in them they do start to look very scraggy.
  4. Inov Mudclaw 270
    An end of line shoe and on offer at Lakes Runner in Ambleside I bought this shoe for £50. It was a superb shoe! My only criticisms are that I personally could have done with just a tad more padding/cushioning, and they just didn’t last anywhere near long enough.
    I bought them at the end of August and wore them for races and weekly runs until the dark nights drew in. During the winter months I tended to do more Orienteering so was using road shoes thus saving the wear on the Mudclaws. But by the time March came the shoe was falling to pieces. The upper was full of holes and the sole had started to separate from the upper. Considering I got a good 12 months from the Mudrocs I was not impressed. I tried e-mailing Lakes Runner, who failed to respond and I also e-mails Inov8 who also failed to respond.
  5. New Balance Trail shoes
    I had some NB Trail shoes that I bought at the same time as the Midclaw 333’s (below). Great comfy shoe for trails but not a fell shoe.
  6. Inov8 Mudclaw 333
    In the January I had seen a pair of Mudclaw 333’s on offer so bought them for later in the year. As the Mudclaw 270’s started to fall apart earlier than expected I pulled them out a little sooner (April I think). April was quite dry and regular runs on Winter Hill had kept the new shoes clean. I’d been experiencing a pain in my feet after a couple of miles in these shoes but I assumed, like the Walses, I just needed to wear them in. As it was dry I also wore the New Balance shoes (above) so it took a while to try and “wear them in”. I think it was late April before the rain started and I got some mud on them but still the pain in my feet persisted. I entered Coniston in them, worried about the pain they may cause but with nothing else to wear and ended up retiring due to the pain only 1/2 way up the first climb to Wetherlam. I tried again at Fairfield, this time completing the course but I had to stop at regular intervals to let me feet relax (particularly on the descents). I was convinced it was my fault and not the shoes but the pain continued. I tried them a few more times before I finally threw them in a corner and wondered what to do with them. Now I had nothing to race in.
  7. Adidas Kanadia
    Sports Direct had an offer on for Adidas Kanadias. They had been recommended along with a Mizuno shoe by some other fell runners so I thought I would give them a go. I bought two pairs as they were only £35 each. They are a GREAT, comfortable shoe (Although buy a size larger as Adidas sizes are too small, I bought a 12 when I’m normally 10.5 - 11). However whilst they are great on trains and dry ground they are not a fell shoe and don’t give confidence on wet fell type grass or wet rocks.
  8. Adidas Swoops
    A few months back I ask Pete Bland to bring along some Adidas Swoops (Vii) that had had on offer for £30. For the price you can’t discard them. Again they were a great comfortable shoe. Only a slight ache on first use but that passed. As time went on I realised that they also suffered badly on wet rock. At the recent Blisco Dash I learnt this whilst descending the rock path when it felt like I was on an ice rink and slipped descending the path and did something to my finger (broke or fractured it, it’s eased now). This really knocked my confidence in them.
    A few weeks after this I had the Borrowdale Fell race to enter and I needed a fell shoe but I couldn’t spend any more on shoes, Joanne would kill me. So I needed to make a decision for Borrowdale, Swoops or Mudclaw 333’s. I needed to confidence of the Mudclaw grip but the comfort of the Swoops. In the end I plumped for comfort but I paid for it traversing the rock ground after falling at Blisco.

    With Ben Nevis coming up I started panicking again. I needed a shoe to do The Ben in and it couldn’t be the swoop with the lower section being mainly rock as my lack of confidence would slow me down and it couldn’t be the Mudclaw 333’s as I'd be keeled over in pain after 4miles going downhill.

    I actually have no issue in paying for shoes (although I always look for sales, I just watch my money) but with the 333’s not fitting correctly and the price of Inov8 shoes continuing to rise (averaging £80-£90 pair now) I will not pay £90 for another model of shoe only to find out that it too doesn’t suit my foot.

    With this in mind I decided to plea to Inov8. I boxed up the Mudclaw 333’s and shipped them to Inov8 with a covering letter explaining the issues I’d experienced with the 333’s. The studs were not that worn so you could see not that much running had been done in them. Basically, working on the assumption that the end of line Mudclaw 270’s fit me OK I asked if they would be willing to exchange the 333’s for a pair of 272’s (the newer version of the 270.) Assuming this shoe fitted ok, my confidence in Inov8 shoes would be restored and I wouldn’t mind paying a higher price for the confidence I’m after.

    4 WEEKS now since I sent the shoes back to Inov8 and I have heard NOTHING! ZIP! DIDDLY SQUAT! SWEEET FA!
  9. Walsh PB Ultra Elite
    So with one week to go before The Ben and Inov8 customer service being so abysmal I decided to buy another pair of Walsh PB Ultra Elites (Facewest £39, bargain and cheaper than Inov8). Last weekend  Chris and I went to Ben Nevis and my footwear problems of the passed few months disappeared. The Walshes were superb, in fact I probably didn’t do them justice. Now I’m just wondering if I should snap up another pair for £39 before they run out of stock.
Now I’m not trying to dis Inov8 shoes, to play devils advocate I can tell you that Chris recently bought a pair of Mudclaw 333’s but he DID NOT experience any issue with them and he couldn’t fault them in any way after The Ben. Everybody is different but you would hope that manufacturers (particularly small, more specialised ones) would want to help out when people have issues with the products they make in order to keep a good name. It doesn’t seem to be so in the case of Inov8!!
I can only finish this article by saying…..
Thank you @NormanWalshUK

Borrowdale 2011

For a few years I said I would never do this race and back in 2010, after a last minute substitution, I entered Borrowdale for the first time. There wasn’t much hope (or plan) of finishing it but I gave it a go and retired during the race.

This year I entered as soon as I could but up to race day I didn’t feel my fitness was really any better than the previous year. The plan was simply to make it to Honister Slate mine inside or outside the time limit.

A separate blog entry mentions the issues I’d been having with footwear and in the week leading to the race I was still in a dilemma. The Mudclaw 333’s would be painful but give me the grip I needed but the Adidas Swoops would give me the comfort but were absolutely USELESS on wet rock. In the end I decided that comfort had to be the winner.

After some standing around in the rain before the start the race headed off towards Bessyboot. The initial climb up didn’t feel as bad as last year and I certainly felt like I had a little more energy coming off the top.

From here we contoured around the rear of Glaramara and over Allen Craggs to Esk Hause Shelter. Again I felt ok over this section, passing a few people along the way. However next came the section from Esk Hause to Scafell Pike and on to StyHead Tarn.

On passing the shelter I took the opportunity to stuff my face and took in a packet of Haribo, a lollipop and a mini snickers. With my Adidas shoes on I had NO confidence on the damp rock of Broad Crag and I lost quite a bit of time here and clambering up and off the top of Scafell Pike. Even coming down the scree run I felt like I was holding back.

By the time I arrived at StyHead I felt that I was already pushing it for time. I topped up my water and pushed on. The slog up Great Gable is a killer when your legs are tired and they were. During the climb I caught up to a girl and we finished the climb together but once on the top she seemed to disappear of in one direction that seemed to be towards Beck Head. The rain had bean threatening as I reached the top and this was my worry with the Adidas Swoops on. The descent from Gable is short but quite rocky and with the rain I became quite hesitant again.

In 2010 I reached the col between Great Gable and Green Gable with just 3 mins to the cut-off so had no time to make it to Honister and by now I was pretty certain that with 25 minutes from Gable I probably didn’t have enough time to make the cut-off but this year I planned to make it there.

Having never been up Green Gable I didn’t realise how close to the col it actually was but I also didn’t realise how far over Honister was. With the rain coming down more and my map in hand my I veered to the right of Green Gable andthe right of Brandreth, then crossing the fence I picked up what seemed to be the trod around the left of Grey Knotts but by this time I had about 2 mins to get to Honister when suddenly I heard “ere Mark!”. I looked to the right and saw Tony Varley on the opposite site of the fence.

Asking him if he was ok he shouted over “cramp!”, so I started to head to him. He climbed the fence and then dropped to the floor with cramp again. I helped him up and we walked for a short period. He taken on some water with a Nuun tablet and I guess it just needed to kick in. After a few minutes we started trotting but Tony still seemed to be suffering but said he was ok so I carried on as I was still keen to see how much over I would have been to Honister. As I ran on a bit further I heard another “Ey up!” and I turned to see Anthony Alexander limping down the hill. It turned out he’d injured himself before Styhead but carried on anyway, but now he was really struggling to walk properly.

After a moment chatting and making sure he was ok I carried on down to Honister where Scoffer (Race organiser) was there to record people that had been timed out. I arrived at Honister some 15 minutes after the cut-off time but I wasn’t too bothered about this. Tony and Anthony were both hobbling down the hill and probably took another 5-10 mins to get down where Scoffer kindly gave us a lift back to the start.

Looking back on the race I firmly think I can make the cut-off next time “if” I have the right footwear. I lost too much time on Broad crag and Scafell that really annoyed and also has to stop to clear out stones from my shoes. Also I think that my ascending is “slowly” getting better and with some perseverance I should be able to attack the climbs a little better and have more time to play with.

Thanks to the race Organiser and all the Marshalls who allow this event to happen. Scoffer also mentioned that there is a reliance on volunteers to help with this event even with the jobs that don’t involve getting out on the mountains. So if you are ever free to help please don’t forget that without volunteers these great races wouldn’t happen so please give something back when you can!

No pictures from me I’m afraid during this race.


The Harvester Relays, Sheffield 2011 (Orienteering)

Map picture
A few months back I took part (with SELOC) in the BOC Relays near Dore in Sheffield. It was a great day and a good atmosphere amongst the team. Overall we didn’t fair well and I think we were the last team to leave, but that didn’t spoilt it for us.

In July came the Harvester. The Harvester too is a relay event too which involves either a team of 5 or 7 to take part. Each leg is a different length and difficulty level and it starts at Midnight. The 7 legs run through the night with the hope of finishing by around 9-10AM.

I arrived around 10:30PM and set my tent. Then hung around for the Start. The guys from ShUOC had used little tea lights to mark out the run/run out and it all looked really good. Midnight came and the mass start happened. The runners headed of down the field in three different directions. This year they were also using GPS and radio controls so once the runners disappeared most spectators huddled in the marquee to look at the GPS dots on the partially blanked out map showing on the side of the tent. This was great to watch but as not all competitors carried GPS the novelty soon wore off. However the radio controls DSC00038were very good as this gave you a good indication as to how your team was actually doing and as the night went on more people were watching these screens than the GPS screens.

I was on Leg 3 and as I spent that much time watching the screens I never got any sleep before heading out for my leg. It was marked as about 11k but it still took me near 2.5 hours to complete it and it was getting light by the time I got back. Most of the controls weren’t too hard to find but the terrain was a little more difficult in places. There were a couple of controls that led me astray but I didn’t make any major cok ups, it was just my general stamina that let me down.

Ultimately though we got disqualified as one of the runners on a later leg missed out one control but it didn’t matter as we were never going to be competitive at the event anyway (not with me in the team) and it’s just about the participation in the event.

On the Sunday ShUOC had also put on an urban orienteering event in Dore village and with some tired legs from the night event there were probably some slower times than normal. The local residents of the little village must have thought we were all mad.

I’ll look forward to similar events next year too.


Monday, 11 July 2011

Wasdale Fell Race 2011

Just got back from a fantastic weekend in the Lakes. Mark drove us up to Wasdale late Friday night for my favourite race of the year the following morning.

I was a little apprehensive; I missed last year's race due to knee trouble and this year have not managed to put in the training I would have liked (does this ever happen?) so I wanted to stick to a plan of starting slower than I would have liked to maybe get to Seatallan 10 or 15 mins down on previous years in the hope that I can finish faster. I need to stop making plans.

I was impressed with the turnout at the start there looked to be over 200 runners gathered in the sunshine - the conditions were forecast to be good. The clouds were down over the top of the screes and I was careful not to run too fast, sticking behind a group of four or five; I still reached the checkpoint over a minute faster than ever (I have only run Wasdale twice before).

I decided to run in my trail shoes; previously by Great Gable in fell shoes my legs, especially my knees have been really sore from the rough ground and it just gets rougher from then on so I chose a bit more cushioning to see if that would help. This meant sacrificing some grip though on the descents which showed itself running down to cross the valley to Greendale but it served to slow me down enough to reach the second checkpoint a few minutes down so still not quite according to plan.

I was almost glad to reach the rockier ground having got a bit sick of trying to get going over all the boggy grass but I was already getting tired by the time I cleared Pillar which was just poking into the clouds. The descent to Black Sail was hard going too and this was the start of a bad patch which lasted until Sty Head.

There are a couple of points in this race that always stick in my mind, one of them being the imposing sight of Great Gable rearing up as you contour round Kirk Fell; I have always been suffering by that stage and the thought of trying to climb that is hard to bear.

Leaving the Gable checkpoint I was getting the beginnings of cramp especially under my feet of all places! I couldn't attack the descent at all but it was good to see Mark and Pauline waiting at Sty Head; Mark even shouted a few hints once he saw me directing me down the grassy bits.

I tried to smile but it came out as more of a grimace.

I had a big drink thanks to Pauline which perked me up then ate some food on the way up to Esk Hause, there was a nice cool breeze on my back which seemed to propel me up to the pass. The other image that sticks in my mind is the first sight of Scafell Pike summit in the distance, knowing that from that point on it's all downhill to the finish.

I managed to stave off the cramps by stuffing food and water down my throat and I think this was the main reason I felt much better over the final few miles. It's a great feeling (psychologically if not physically!) dibbing at Scafell Pike and setting off down to the finish, though I can never do that descent justice at the end of this race; it's better tackled in the shorter races - both Lingmell Dash and Scafell Pike races head down Lingmell nose - today my body wouldn't go as fast as my mind was telling it to I was hurting pretty much from the chest down.

Approaching the last checkpoint at the bottom of the final descent.
I got a second helping of encouragement from Pauline and Mark at the last checkpoint then it was just a painful jog to the finish where I had a nice sit down on the grass in the warm sun completely exhausted and over the moon! My time was about half way between my slowest and fastest but they're all within 6 or 7 minutes of each other so I can't complain, I was just glad to get round.

Once again thanks to all involved with putting the event on especially Rhys Findlay-Robinson this year who stepped in when Richard unfortunately couldn't spare the time.

As ever Ian's blog captures the atmosphere of the day and also Pauline added some photos here.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Great Lakes Run 2011 - 13 miles 7000ft.

Father's day weekend provided me with a slim excuse for a brief trip back home and funnily enough there was a race on that weekend. I also managed to keep up my new tradition of turning up at the last minute, this time thanks to Mark since he was driving. The weather didn't look too bad on the drive up, the forecast hadn't been too promising and it was spitting with rain when we arrived in Langdale plus all the tops were in thick cloud.

This race is becoming one of my favourites, this is its fourth year and apart from last year I have done them all. Today looked like it would be similar to the first year in terms of navigation at least, thankfully it was nothing like as cold and windy though. You park in the farmer's field; register in one of his sheds and start by the gate leading onto the fell. I was fretting about what to wear, it looked like it could be cold on the tops so I put my leggings on but as you can see from the photo I was a little overdressed, I'm becoming Mark!

As usual I started too close to the front but by the time we were in the cloud I had managed to find my pace. It seemed to take an age to get to the top of Bowfell, I have only ever been up this way as part of the race and so early on it's usually just follow the leader but there was one point where I saw a single runner off to the right and remember thinking I should have been going that way. I think we took the tourist route all the way up apart from right near the summit where the guy in front strayed too far right over the rocks and took me with him. After the summit it was helpful hearing a bloke shouting out: "Lindsy where are you?" further on.

Runners heading up the band that leads onto Bowfell.

We were still in the clouds all the way past Esk Pike then they lifted briefly for the climb onto Great End. Of all the tops in the lakes I have visited, the section from Esk Hause to Scafell Pike is my least favourite by far so I was glad to get a tour of some short cuts around there (not that there are many) from the girl in front. I was slipping all over the place on the rocks in my walshes and as I complained about this the bloke next to me suggested I stick to the pink rocks! Strangely enough they did actually feel less slippy, never heard that one before.

Over Scafell Pike and past the hordes I was careful not to head down into Wasdale by mistake then I noticed a couple of runners heading off to the left so decided to follow them. This was a decent short cut missing out Mickledore and brought us out just above the marshal stood at the bottom of the Gully leading up to Foxes Tarn. I was getting fed up with my new water bottle at this point, not being one for drinking from streams I bought a Travel Tap. The flow through the filter is very poor and I had resorted to taking the filter top off to drink the tap water I had brought with me, I filled it up on the way up the gully.

It's very steep here, there's a flagged section that heads right out of the gully and I was struggling with the gradient while trying to stuff salt and vinegar crisps into my mouth. It was at this point two years ago that I began to suffer with it being so humid, this time I was concentrating more on making sure I was going the right way it was so misty. As I passed the summit checkpoint I noticed a runner looking a bit confused, he didn't look like he knew where he should be going so I got my compass out and told him we should be heading generally south. There is some grassy running slightly off the ridge but you need to be careful not to head too far west or you could miss the next checkpoint. Running down here I began to get a sharp pain across my right big toenail which was a bit disconcerting.

Just at the point where I was becoming concerned I hadn't seen any other runners for a while slight side appeared darkly through the thick mist and there was the marshall waiting patiently for us. Over the top and continuing south I tried to give some tips to the other runner who had followed me since Scafell but I don't think he was taking much in - he seemed to have decided to stick behind me for a while.

Heading down off Slight Side we saw a small group heading back up from the west(!) then thankfully we dropped below the clouds and could see across Great Moss to the next climb. Heading round below Horn Crag on the last of the scree I slipped and used my right hand to break my fall. I noticed a bit later on that I had cut my hand right in the crease at the base of my little finger, nothing serious but it got a bit bloody.

I washed the blood off crossing the river then while climbing out the other side my left quad started cramping up, not something I usually struggle with that much and for me it's usually a sign that I haven't been drinking and eating enough so I slowed to a walk and tried to get some more food and water in. We had seen a group on a lower path from Slight Side so I suggested the guy in front catch them up.

I always seem to struggle at this point, the group in front headed up Swinsty Gill but I think it's better to head up Stonesty gill which seems less climb. It's still a struggle though, I caught my 'shadow' up again as we headed into the mist and a couple of other runners passed us on the way up. I was trying my best to get more water in but the bottle was so slow it was frustrating, I am beginning to think it would be better to just start drinking from streams!

Reaching the top of the climb I had to have a sit down and eat the remains of my food plus finally get the scree out of my shoes, the guy following me headed off as another runner passed but after 5 minutes or so sorting myself out as I headed off I found him sat on a rock not far off having a bite to eat. I had a feeling he didn't possess a compass but I didn't broach the subject.

Anyway things were perking up for me, plus the cloud base was lifting and heading north of Cold Pike towards the path past Red Tarn you could finally see Blisco in the distance. I was expecting to see Mark at Red Tarn but he wasn't there; he had planned on heading up Bowfell then over the Crinkles and handing out some jelly babies before the last climb so I was puzzled there was no sign of him - I was looking forward to some jelly babies too!

The last of my food was working and I took the climb up Blisco steadily, the summit was clear and you could see a few runners heading down the descent. I have never managed to find a nice, quick route down here. A bloke I had caught said he had been down this way a couple of weeks ago and there isn't another way down unless you go the long way round; still I was a bit wary having to down climb scary crags more than twice. It wasn't long though before we hit the last steep grassy section where my poor studs couldn't handle the gradient and I fell on my arse at the same time as a bloke behind me. There were three of us and we ended up sliding down a short way on our backsides, as if we were sledging like kids it was great fun though you needed to keep an eye out for any rocks!

Heading through the bracken I fell again this time on my left wrist which hurt and left me with a bruise but I was happy to be at the finish. I didn't carry a watch and had a feeling my time would be disappointing, I was 5 mins under 5 hours; about 15 mins slower than my usual time and was a bit surprised how much I suffered especially across Great Moss. Still, I was glad to get round and I think the main reason for me struggling was again not enough water same as Ennerdale I really need to sort out my water strategy before Wasdale; plus I had only run twice and biked once since Ennerdale having caught a cold... excuses excuses. Taking my shoes off I noticed my big toenail had split across the middle but I don't remember banging it on anything.

Thanks as usual must go to all involved with putting this event on, it really typifies what fell running is all about.

Drinks after the finish, impressive how sticky the mud was.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Ennerdale Fell Race 2011 - Where I lost my bottle.

I'm developing a bad habit of turning up for events at the last minute; not only that, I entered Ennerdale just the weekend before after getting in touch with the organiser to check it was ok. We were staying in Wasdale for half term week and I thought it would be a shame to miss the race since I was in the Lakes anyway but I had to secure permission from my better half first.

The weekend before we met up with the Sammons at Hutton Roof for the fell race there, I like that race as much for the food after the race as the route itself. I had quite a good run comfortably beating my time from a couple of years ago but not quite matching my best for this route, I'd like to think that's down to the headwind on the way out than anything to do with my age (denial is a virtue in my book). The Sammons met us again in Wasdale the day after where me and Mark went for a trot up Scafell (not pike!), I enjoyed this run though Mark seemed to be suffering a bit with his legs. I tried to take it easy, not having done any big descents for a while and I didn't want to trash my legs for the week. It's the biggest single drawback of living in the south where fell running is concerned and something I always suffer with when doing big races, the descents really do make a mess of my quads.

I did a couple more runs during the week, I had half a mind to do the Blencathra Race Wednesday evening but it seemed a bit daft driving all that way when there were all the Wasdale hills on the doorstep, plus I think it would have been too much with Ennerdale at the weekend.

My favourite race is a toss-up between Ennerdale and Wasdale, I think Ennerdale probably wins on the simplicity of the route - just run to the head of the valley and back clockwise over most of the tops; however Wasdale has the edge in sheer brutality. I haven't done Duddon yet; I was considering it this year until I found out it was a champs race, they're just not me and since there's always scrambles for entries I think it's better to find something else and leave the place for somebody more keen.

Packing my kit early Saturday I had lost my whistle so I stopped off as Wasdale Head to pick one up from the shop there, it was after 10am when I got back in the car and I have to say I ended up driving like a bit of an idiot to get to Ennerdale Bridge 20 minutes before the start. Rushing around getting my number I got a stern warning from a bloke that the briefing was about to start so I sprinted back to my car to get changed and slap some suncream on since it was quite warm! I was sweating by the time we lined up for the start, still relieved to have made it. I spotted Pauline and said a quick hello before we all set off along the side of Ennerdale Water towards the first climb.

The first few cutoffs are notoriously tight at this race, I would say the first one is harder to make than that at Wasdale so for me it's tough at the beginning to balance going off too fast with taking it steady and risking getting timed out. It seems an age before you start to climb the fell and it was hot, Ian caught and passed me near the top where there was thankfully a nice cooling breeze blowing.

The views were gorgeous with the skies being clear so there would be no problems with navigation it was going to be a case of setting a good pace and keeping the food and water going down, I made the first checkpoint with about 4 minutes to spare which was better than the only other time I have done this race.

From there to Blackbeck tarn it was mostly follow the leader but there were a few bits where I remembered trods that those in front didn't know about. There was a bloke taking pictures at the tarn just before I filled my bottle up:


I ate some of my crisps and peanuts just after here and shortly after on the climb up Green Gable then went to have a drink and my bottle had gone! I couldn't understand it, I swear I'm always careful about dropping anything on the fells so I was really confused when there was no sign of it at all in my bumbag. My confusion turned to concern when I thought about how far was still to go and how little water was available after Kirk Fell, thankfully after chatting to the bloke alongside me who had noticed what I was doing he gave me a small, empty coke bottle to use. In the end I got round on the water that all the marshals had carted onto the peaks; not something I am comfortable with, relying on other people but there you go I made an embarrassing mistake... and costly the bottle had a water filter on it which cost me nearly 40 quid.

I have been racing in Walshes this year, not for any other reason than I bought them a few years back and stopped using them when the insoles fell out on my first run in them. In the interests of economy this year instead of buying a new pair of mudclaw I glued the insoles back in and have been using them. Trouble is I haven't done more than about 3 hours in them and at around this point in the race I started getting telltale hotspots on my feet, something else to worry about!

I had lost sight of everyone in front going over Kirk Fell just like last time so I was then in the same position as two years ago, wondering whether to try going down the scree gully which I have never done before. It must be about the third or fourth time I have been up there and got to what seems like the top of it but the scree just looks like it drops off a cliff. First time I went down a gully around there was in mist and I actually turned back, on this occasion I ended up doing what I did last time in the race which was stick to the 'path' down the crags then cut right a bit further down where the scree is less steep. There was a guy further up the scree who saw me sneaking onto the stones and shouted down: "I knew there'd be an easier way down!", I told him I wasn't sure about that in fact I wasn't sure there *was* an easy way down that side of Kirk Fell at all!

Climbing Pillar I met a couple of blokes from Ellenborough who offered me some water and jelly babies which I was really grateful of, I was pretty thirsty by that point. I was steadily getting slower and feeling a bit low so I stuffed some chocolate coated flapjack in my mouth; I always remember the race notes from a fellrunner magazine a few years back stating that you shouldn't be knackered by Pillar since there's still a long way to go, while not completely spent I was well on my way. Once off the ridge from there the ground gets a lot kinder becoming much grassier with no more big climbs but you only have to look across to Ennerdale Water to see how far you still have to go.

I trudged on running as much as I could, meeting one or two other runners who were suffering badly with cramp and I even got my map out at one point to check I was where I thought I was since there is a shortcut I took last time missing out Caw. Thankfully all the marshals were really helpful providing some water and encouragement though those on Iron Crag told me it was all downhill from there (it's not!).

I turned right instead of left in the woods before Crag Fell but that's not a major error it just meant I had to make my way across deep grass and heather back to the path but other than that it was just a painful trek past the last checkpoint and down that lovely descent to the finish. It's a shame I couldn't make the most of that descent the way my feet and legs felt I just couldn't pick any speed up it was too painful.

The air was blue on reaching the track back to the scout hut due to the guy in front collapsing with cramp, he couldn't believe it had struck in sight of the finish! It's a little tortuous that run in but it's still a fantastic feeling dibbing at the finish and grabbing a bite to eat with plenty tea and juice. I was about 10 minutes slower than 2 years ago which was a bit disappointing but I'm not complaining; I can't say I have trained as hard this year so far... that's right... blame the training... nothing to do with my age.

I'm still in love with this race; long distance fellrunning doesn't get much better, I couldn't thank the organisers, marshals and everyone else involved with putting it on enough. Next for me hopefully is the Great Lakes Run, another race with a cracking route across some rugged terrain in preparation for this year's Wasdale which I have entered once again, it'll be my third one.

As per usual lots of good shots can be found on Ian's blog. Thanks also to Paul Dobson and Sharp Images for taking pictures on the day.

Coniston - DNF & Inov8’s

Last year during the Lakes-5 day Orineteering I bought a pair of Inov8 Mudclaw 270’s. They were a nice fit but needed just a tad of cushioning.  They were the outgoing model so were on offer for £50 at Lakesrunner. Back in January at a GoOutdoors sale I bought me a pair of Inov8 Mudclaw 333’s for £35 (50% off), well they are the “Grippiest Most Durable Fell Racing Shoe”. Being the slightly heavier model they should have the extra cushioning I needed. I kept them nice and clean, in the box until I needed them.

Well as it turns out I needed them sooner than I thought as the 270’s wore out a lot quicker than I thought they would. Considering I didn’t really use them much over winter they started falling to bits after not that many miles. Certainly no where near the mileage I got from my Mudrock 290’s. I tried e-mailing Inov8 and Lakesrunner but never got any reply from either of them (That’s Lakesrunner off my preferred list of shops, it could be harder to veto Inov8 depending on shoe options I find).

I’ve worn the 333’s a few time so far this year but normally on training runs and ended up with cramp in my feet. They are VERY comfortable when I first put them on but after a few miles or on downhill sections thats when the aches start. I had assumed I just needed to wear them in but with the long spell of hot weather we had around april it was difficult to give them a good “Bogging up” with no moisture on the hills. I mentioned this to Chris and one of his suggestions was to try twinskin socks.

Joanne and the kids came up to Coniston for the race. She was planning to take the kids for a walk whilst I raced. Arriving early enough I still managed to be running to the line on the last minute.

DSC00077Setting of up the hill I found the going tough from the start. Going up the first ascent and the twin skins seemed to be allowing the shoe to move too much. I can’t tie shoes up to tight or it forces cramp onto them, but today the shoes just seemed to be moving much more than normal. As the shoe moved at the back it moved the sock further down the back of my foot. By the time I was 1/2 way up Weatherlam I’d stopped three times to fix my socks, my feet were cramping and I was starting to feel the beginnings of a blister where the shoes were rubbing as the sock disappeared.

In the end I just gave up. I’d only gone about 2 miles and I didn’t plan to be messing about with footwear all the way round. I turned around and headed back to the start to let them know I’d retired. As I descended to the finish it brought no comfort to me when I saw the race leader hurtling down the final descent and beat me back to the finish completing the whole route quicker than I went 1/2 way up the first climb and back down.

I called Joanne and met up with her and spent the rest of the day family by the lake. It was still an enjoyable day if not for the disastrous run.

Oliver and Josh              Lucy

Surely the Inov-8 shoes can’t be this bad??? I’ll wear them in some more.