Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Herod Farm fell race. 3mi + 1,100'. Wed 20/04/2011.

I had nothing planned for the Easter weekend and I was hankering after an excuse to exert myself properly. A quick scan of the FRA fixtures calendar revealed a convenient local race that was just right for a warm mid-week summer's evening (in April?!). I eventually found my way to the correct road on the outskirts of Glossop and the new registration point at the Reliance Garage. (The pub where the race used to be based is now a private residence.) The new location proved to be ideal because of all the parking space it provided.
After registration we had quite a lengthy walk/jog up to the start for 7:30pm. We were soon set off on the upward track, raising the dust as we went (in April?!). I won't go into too much detail because the optimistic runner has already written a good account. The route took us up Whiteley Nab, twice. The first descent felt like the run to the finish so the temptation to give it all you had was immense. I was glad I'd read the FRA forum and seen mention of a second climb. Nonetheless when it came it was still a shock to the system. We were forced to a walk. I overtook someone trying to run as I recovered with my uphill power walk. Running was futile. We passed another runner with two extensively bloodied legs, who had retired from the race and was retracing the direct route back down to the finish. He must have been one of the front runners who went off route and lost time ploughing through brambles to get back on route. My uphill overtaking had emptied my legs of energy, rendering them somewhat jellyfied for the second steep downhill to the finish. What should have been a gravity-assisted sprint became a bit of a plod. I wasn't alone because I only got overtaken by a couple of other runners.
We mingled and chatted at the finishing line and applauded the following finishers before walking back down to the garage for more chat and the prize presentations at dusk in the balmy evening air (in April?!).

I did not take my camera in view of the intense nature of the event, but 'Desperate Stan' made the best of a compact camera out on the course in the fading evening light. He took this picture on the final descent.

Thanks go to Glossopdale Harriers for hosting such a good race so well.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Grasmere Fells, Tarns & Gingerbread 20+mi. 16/04/2011.


A low-key event for me this time from Grasmere, organised by Morecambe Bay & Bowland LDWA (this group really does organise some excellent events in the LDWA calendar). This one provided a very testing 20+ mile route with 6,780' of ascent. It's not a race and not timed, but I timed myself at 5:47. A speed of well under 4mph indicates how tough it is.

The route took us to the summits of Fairfield, Helm Crag, Silver Howe and Loughrigg. The ground was surprisingly wet after rain during the week, while further south in Manchester had remained as dry as ever. Having left home in a cloudless dawn, the Lakeland fells were disappearing into low-hanging clouds. They added to the mystique. On the descent from Fairfield I was very lucky in having the clouds part to reveal spectacular views of Grisedale Tarn. The path appeared to drop vertiginously off the edge of the mountain to the water below. For other participants the clouds did not part, but they created a different spectacle of a Brocken spectre as the sun cast their shadow onto the clouds at their feet.

Grisedale Tarn from Fairfield.

Grisedale Tarn is finally revealed.

Upon finishing, with our certificate we were given a complementary slice of gingerbread from the world-famous Sarah Nelson's Grasmere Gingerbread shop from just around the corner. What a treat.

All the pictures are here.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

33rd Calderdale Hike 36mi. 09/04/2011.

Race 3 of 12 in the 2011 Runfurther series.

A lot of threes cropped up for this one – third Runfurther race, third (and final) Calderdale Hike on this route (BOOOO, it was the best one) and the third consecutive year of warm dry sunny weather. In fact it must have been the warmest of all three. The pictures provide ample evidence with all that blue sky, dry terrain and the later moorland fire over the hill. It was a sheer delight to be out there.

Many of the usual suspects milled about in the club house at registration and kit check, including Martin Beale, who has never quite been able to come away with the win on this one. He'd be trying his best once again. Perhaps this would be his year.

We runners were sent on our way at 9am. The rumour had spread about the quick exit from the back of Sowerby cricket field, meaning quite a few of us this time departed from the back of the pack in the opposite direction, though the vast majority still set off down the main drive on the long way round, including Martin, surprisingly. Still, what's 30 seconds in over 5 hours?

The second of countless route choices was made within the first mile, where many turned right over the canal to follow it to checkpoint 1. However, many more this year had cottoned on to the slightly more direct route (again only seconds in it) straight on beside the railway line, which is the one I always took. Far fewer runners were along the canal down to our right this year.

The walk-run strategy soon commenced with the first climb from CP1 to CP2 and Midgley Moor. A direct line up past High Rough saved me yet more seconds, serving to satisfy my mind games more than anything else. After Midgley Moor the first ventilation shaft was preceded by as much bog as ever. From this point several runners had set off to the right to pick up the high route and what must have been a long way round to CP3. I had never seen this route choice before. I and most others continued left instead on my usual route towards the second shaft, bearing right before it to head towards the old spoils/workings. After this I was lucky this time in picking up the trod through the rough tussocks to join the track at Spinks Hill Farm that took us to CP3. This saved more than a few seconds over the high route. This was only 6.5 miles in but the sun was strong and I needed my first mug of electrolyte drink.

I left CP3 clutching mug of fizzing contents, willing them to stop so I could down them and get running again. The walking break did me good; I was off running down towards Crimsworth Dean as fast as those slippery stones allowed. (OK, I walked gingerly with the walkers down those bits.) The steep climb up Sunny Bank on the other side provided the obligatory walking break and photo opportunities. It was obvious why it's called Sunny Bank; what a sun trap it is.

On the run in to CP4 at Walshaw I got chatting with Henry Morris, who unfortunately was forced to retire under scary circumstances from the Hardmoors 55 a few weeks back. Henry writes a good story. His blog is here. CP4 brought us our first pre-packed sandwiches. Naturally I went for the ham.

I never feel as though I set off too fast on these events (I'd surely be walking if I went any slower), yet I must do because other runners always start to overtake me after 2 hours or so. Mark and Danny had finally caught up with me by CP5 at Widdop Reservoir (11 miles). I'd been hearing Mark's voice drawing closer from behind. He enjoys a conversation does Mark. It wasn't long after Widdop when they had disappeared into the distance.

I spied a few remaining pieces of flapjack at CP5 and wasted little time in diving in, before setting off across the dam and up the gently ascending track beside Widdop Reservoir, dodging the cyclists on the way. The water always looks deep blue in bright sunshine with the orange hills in stark contrast. I love that part of the country when it's sunny.

Before Cant Clough Reservoir I picked up the direct trod to the left of Hare Stones that delivered me to the stile at the col, from which the trod descended and climbed to the more popular path that everyone else took. It was not long before I departed from everyone else's route again to pick up the trod from the quarry workings to the south side of Cant Clough Reservoir. I would have gained even more time had I not already tired and begun the survival plod. I took some more pictures.

I walk-shuffled much of the familiar route common to Wuthering Hike up to CP6 at Long Causeway with its industrial bulk quantities of (sweaty) jelly babies. From there the invisible then broken-wall path over very rough ground brought us to the cut-through down to the A646, where a right turn brought us to CP7 at 17.1 miles, almost half way. That section may have been the most direct but I'm not sure it was the quickest. I saw Mark and Danny leaving the hall as I approached, but there would be no catching them now.

A quick refuel in Holme Chapel village hall saw me fit and ready for the haul up Thieveley Pike. On the initial climb I could hear the sounds of distress ahead – coughing, heaving and retching. I eventually came upon a chap leaning over the fence. He blamed the hot coffee at the checkpoint for his stomach distress. I suspected the sun. I checked if he was OK. Thankfully he seemed to be recovering as he set off to continue the climb in the blazing sun.

A welcome cooling breeze returned at CP8 at Thieveley Pike summit, from where we could look back down to the wind farm we had passed 2.6 miles earlier at Long Causeway. From here came the gently descending and undulating run to CP9 at Slate Pit Hill (20.3 miles). The only down side was the always mucky Stepto's farmyard we have to encounter on the way. It's a litter-strewn, junk-filled disgrace.

I spied Karen's flower power camper van parked at CP9, so I knew it wouldn't be long before she would appear taking her pictures for Runfurther; and so it happened on the track towards the quarry workings as she walked back. I was intrigued, not to mention impressed, by the big new fencing, soil back-filling and landscaping to the left. A section of ugly old mining spoil had been restored to proper hillside. A new barn was under construction down below. It's good to see a neglected piece of countryside being put to good use again.

The run from the ridge down to CP10 at Foul Clough Road was as pleasurable as ever – always sunny, but it was even hotter this year. A large plume of moor fire smoke rose ahead from over the horizon. I recall last year having a conversation with the checkpoint marshals about the vitamin D-giving benefits of sunlight, and the rise of rickets again due to fear of sunshine and the overuse of 'factor infinity'. I continued the conversation started a year ago. I was certainly getting my maximum dose (of vitamin D), since I was getting basted in my own sweat with nary a factor to hinder.

The direct route down through Ramsden Wood and over the railway line brought us to CP11 and Deanroyd Bridges, at exactly 25 miles. The northerly route from there took us steeply up onto the Pennine Bridleway, that ancient, foot-worn, sandstone-flagged path around the hill towards Lumbutts. It was like an oven up there until we had crested the climb into the breeze and turned the corner to bring Stoodley Pike into view.

The wedding had long finished by the time we arrived at CP12, 27.6 miles, Lumbutts Methodist Church. Even so the checkpoint was still located across the road at the track entrance instead of at the church, but it was no hassle. The weather was perfect for al fresco checkpointing. We had young and enthusiastic marshals at many of the checkpoints but this picture just has to be highlighted.

A big route choice occurred from CP12. Two completely different routes could take us up to CP13 at Stoodley Pike. The suggested route took the circuitous route round to the right up to the ridge then along to the Pike. I have never taken this option because it always looked – well – too long. I always go for the Wuthering Hike route, which is the more direct runnable flat track to the base of the Pike, followed by the steep slog up the escarpment. It is faster. I loitered on the oven-like climb to exchange a few words with the Sportsunday photographer, who was on her way down from duty at the top, but I still gained on those who took the high route. I met some of them approaching the Pike as I was heading away on the next leg.

From CP13 came the descent to Withens Clough Reservoir. I remember last year struggling on the descent with a painful left foot with its broken metatarsal in the early stages of repair, and a painful right knee with its inflamed tendon. I fair romped down this year, pain free and in peaceful solitude. On the descent I passed new, strong-looking fence constructions around previously unused hillside. I was intrigued. Down beside the reservoir, the diversion up the hill, along and back down to CP14 below the dam was a bit of a bummer. Still, it did provide another excuse for a walk, and I did enjoy the blast down the steep man-made scree slope to the road. I just about managed to skid to a halt at the tape barrier at the bottom. The diversion was caused by major work on the dam – drainage channels, access road, etc. – very similar to what has already been done at Widdop. It's good to see some of our United Utilities bills being put to good use.

On the run down the road from CP14 I came upon one of the fence-builders. I had to ask what the fences were for. “Cattle” came the reply. “Great news!” I replied. Previously unused areas will be put to good use for the UK farming industry and UK economy. This is a reverse of the general abandonment of farmland I have observed for several years. 2011 has revealed big changes on this route, hopefully for the better.

At the final low point in Cragg Vale I caught up with long-term walking friends Alan, Carole, John and friend (sorry I don't know friend's name). They had started two hours earlier on the 7am long route walkers' start. Conversation and pictures served as a breather before the climb to the final high point at Water Stalls Road. As I approached the summit I saw a new feature since last year – a big white mound that looked like a frozen relic from last December. What was it?

I descended to Shaw's Lane and CP15, the final checkpoint. From here remained only 2.3 miles of (mostly) downhill tarmac. My personal race was nearly in the bag, but it didn't prevent me being overtaken just a little bit by a couple of runners with whom I'd been playing 'cat and mouse' for the day. I overtook a few more early start walkers (which I'd been doing all day) on the final descent to Sowerby. As I ran the final few hundred yards with Mick Cooper, who had just caught up with me again, Martin Beale shouted encouragement from the carpark to our right. I wanted to ask him: “Well, did you get the win?” but I couldn't. I was concentrating all I had to finish exactly 1 hour faster than I did last year.

According to my timepiece I finished in 7:46, which is 1 hour faster than in 2010, but that's nothing special because I was clapped-out in 2010. More relevant is the fact that I was three quarters of an hour slower than I was in 2009. Now I truly understand the value of regular daily running, which I was doing in 2009 but had only done a week's worth in 2011. Give it a few more weeks and I'll be right, just in time for the Highland Fling, hopefully.

I found out that Martin did finally get the win, in 5:28. Well done Martin, running stud that you are. Nicky Spinks won the women's race – a veritable running studess if ever there was one. Well done Nicky.

By my calculations I have broken through the 700 Runfurther points barrier for this race. Each result has been successively higher. My fitness must be improving, helped by regular running as opposed to regular imbibing.

I took tons of pictures. Pruning and merging still left 78 for your delectation. The sun must have got to me.

Sportsunday took an excellent crop of pictures in the environs of Stoodley Pike.

3 down, 9 to go in the Grand Slam quest.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Whimsical Witterings

‘Tis a MAN’s salad!

Healthy fare to keep me lean and mean yet well satisfied until morning. In the pile upon the serving platter can be found smoked salmon, prawn cocktail, lettuce, cucumber, watercress, red onion, orange pepper, black olives, boiled beetroot, tomato, cheddar cheese and a raw carrot. It’s one of my favourites when I’m not eating like a horse following an ultra run. (That would mean pizza, and lots of it.)

Runfurther series

The first two races’ results have been uploaded to the Runfurther website. I am 19th in the series (out of 21 who have completed both events so far). I will never be that high again as more runners’ race points appear. The only way is down. Nevertheless I’m quite pleased to get 688 points for the Hardmoors 55 considering I finished so far down in the bottom half. Those points exceed any I got in last year’s ‘long’ races by quite a margin. 688 was the maximum I got for any race last year, which coincidentally happened to be for the ‘medium’ Osmotherley Phoenix (same area and partly the same route).

There are some impressive scores coming to light already, and separate winners for both events – Duncan Harris at Wuthering Hike and Dan Shrimpton at Hardmoors 55. I'm also impressed that so many people ran those first two races on consecutive weekends. I detect a bit of Grand Slam competition brewing.

New kit update

When I was in Ambleside a couple of weekends ago I treated myself in Lakes Runner.

1. Second pair of La Sportiva Crosslite shoes as my first pair's nearly worn out. The shape of the last makes it the most comfortable shoe I have known in 15 years of ultra running, so much so that if I cannot find a more cushioned trail shoe as comfortable I shall be wearing them for the Lakeland 100 and the Tour du Mont Blanc. They fit like a glove. It's a shame they are let down by a flimsy mesh upper that is not up to the job and tears prematurely. Both of mine have gone adjacent to the balls of my feet, though I have managed to get decent wear out of the soles as well. I shall keep them hanging on to the last gasp. My only other hope in the Raptor, which if it uses the same last will put me in foot heaven. I'm waiting for the next delivery to The Climber's Shop in Ambleside to try a pair. No-one else seems to stock them. I can hardly wait.

2. OMM Cypher Jacket. It's very lightweight and waterproof with taped seams, yet it's as breathable as they get (there's no polyurethane layer). It rolls up very small into its own hood. It will pass muster at the Lakeland 100 and UTMB kit inspections.

3. OMM Adventure Light 20 rucksack, which arrived today. It weighs a fraction of the 25 litre Lowe Alpine rucksack that has served me well for as long as I can remember. I look forward to trying it out at this weekend's Calderdale Hike.

So, we're talking serious kit and silly money (especially for the jacket), but it was about time I upgraded from the heavyweight stuff I'd been using for years.

The Three Shires. 02/04/2011.

The Three Shires replaces Kipling Kaper and offers an improved route via Gun Hill, The Roaches, Gradbach, Three Shires Head, Wildboarclough and Danebridge. It has plenty of ups and downs to keep boredom out of the legs. Organised by Staffordshire Long Distance Walkers Association, it starts from The Swythamley and Heaton Centre just a few miles away from the old KK start at Meerbrook Village Hall. It offers four distances of 20, 22, 27 or 29 miles. The 2-mile difference results from an optional loop up Shutlingsloe and the 7-mile difference results from an optional loop to Pot Lords. Both loops are based at Wildboarclough Village Hall, where a sit-down meal of warm melted-cheese oatcakes and other savoury snacks, cakes, biscuits, tea and coffee is on offer.

I enjoyed a jog round with Dave and ‘Charlie’ on a warming and increasingly sunny spring day with daffodils blooming everywhere, even on top of The Roaches. Charlie wasn’t the only dog there either. There was a good canine turnout, this being a dog-friendly event. We set off on the 9am runners’ start to do the 20 together, but as we neared the 11 mile point at Wildboarclough I was hankering after the 2-mile additional challenge, so Dave and I went our separate ways, he to the food and I to the summit of Shutlingsloe. (I was secretly hoping to catch up with him again in the final 7 miles but I wasn’t going to kill myself doing it. After all, this was supposed to be a recovery weekend before next weekend’s important race.)

By the time I arrived for my scoff, Dave and Charlie had already left, as expected. I sat down for my oatcake. A moment of pure bliss ensued as that northern savoury delicacy slipped down. Then I was off for a mostly lonely final 7 miles to the finish, save for the odd walker I overtook along the way. The relaxing, peaceful, low-key, no-pressure nature of the day, in warm sunshine with beautiful views, was a delight. The last time I enjoyed anything like this without the pressure to race was the social walk I did on 4th December 2010. Since then every weekend bar one in January and one in February has been a race weekend. The relaxation did me a power of good. An average heart rate down at 146bpm instead of the usual 160 – 170 provides good evidence of the ‘relaxation’.

I walk-jogged back to the Village Hall in an ‘easy’ 5:06 (that’s 13:55 minute miling for any racing statisticians out there). I never did catch Dave, who had arrived a few minutes before I did. We were then wowed and wooed by more food of such variety, quality, healthiness and taste that I stared open-mouthed, then I babbled incoherent gratitudes to our willing servants, then I exposed my pixels with unashamed abandon to capture the evidence for posterity. I was teasing myself before finally sampling the delights of the bean salad, salad with rice, salad with couscous, salad with pasta, salad with apple, tomato and basil salad, potato salad, carved ham (real, not plastic), tuna, olive selection, grated cheese, quiches, pork pie, bread and butter, …. There were also biscuits, and for dessert a large selection of fruit pies with custard or cream. All of that was washed down by tea or coffee. As we gorged, the first two 29-mile runners arrived to dampen our gourmet dining experience with their sweaty presence. Most impressive time though.

I helped out at this event’s precursor (Kipling Kaper) last year while injured. I recalled the catering production line that set in motion as soon as the runners had left. There has been no letup for The Three Shires. This has to be one of the best LDWA events of the year. It deserves to reach its capacity of 160. Many thanks once again to Julie Brownhill & helpers and Staffs LDWA for another brilliant day, and thanks to Dave for your company and conversation.

I took pictures, though none from Shutlingsloe because I had slipped into race mode for that loop.