Tuesday, 19 August 2014

April 2014 - main event The Fellsman

I returned from China at the end of March just in time to squeeze in the Woodbank parkrun on the 29th and Lad's Leap fell race on the 30th. It was my first Lad's Leap or any other race from Crowden for that matter. Anything from there is going to be steep and tough. This one certainly was, and as proof it is rated 'AS' in the FRA ascent and distance categories. At 6 miles it still took me 1hr 11mins to complete. I may have been slowed further by something I brought back from China (I always manage to 'pick up' something there no matter how careful I am). We were blessed with sunny weather, which was ideal for the photographs. Photo album.

Nearing top of first climb at Lad's Leap.

Sat 05/04. Lyme Park parkrun followed by Chicken Run fell race.

Lyme parkrun is more like a fell run than a parkrun. It's only recently started and this was my first time on it. It's steep and intense so great fun. Time is around 2 minutes slower than for Woodbank.

Later that morning was the first running of the Chicken Run fell race from Hayfield Junior School. It's 6 miles via Little Hayfield, the shooting cabin and past the top end of the reservoir to turn around and rejoin our outward route back to the finish. Nice organisation, nice route and nice home-made cakes at the finish. A time of 0:57:58 suggests it's a little easier than last week's Lad's Leap. Photo album.

A damp day at Chicken Run.

Sat 12/04. 36th Calderdale Hike 37mi.

This was Race 3 of 12 in the Runfurther series but the first one I was able to do due to my absence in March. It was the third and final year of this route before a change for next year. Conditions were cool and ideal for running without overheating. The rain held off until around the same point as last year (between Grain Water Bridge and New Bridge for me). I had my usual slowdown after the moor crossing from Hoof Stones Height, when everyone began to overtake me. I didn't get going properly again until after Top Withins. Every year it's been the same. In the end I was pleased to get a PB by 36 minutes with a final time of 7hrs 58mins. Photo album.

Walshaw Dean Middle Reservoir.

Wed 16/04. Herod Farm Hill Race 3mi.

I always look forward to this because it's the first of the local evening races and it signifies the lengthening of the days and the beginning of summer racing. Organised by Glossopdale Harriers it was a very friendly affair once again. It is an an intense burn for half an hour (give or take) with two climbs that give you no choice but to walk. Then you get to run downhill on jelly legs back to the finish. The ground was dry (apart from a couple of stubborn bogs) and the air was balmy. We enjoyed al fresco tea and cakes afterwards in the forecourt of the Reliance Garage while we waited for the results and awards ceremony. I cannot think of a better way to spend an evening. My time was 0:33:36, which was 23 seconds off PB. Photo album.

The first climb.

Thu 24/04. Mobberley 'Round The Runway' 5.3mi.

I kept myself on the boil between Herod Farm and this with a Woodbank Parkrun on Saturday.
This was the 4th race in the inaugural Stockport Harriers race series. It was the only reason I did it. It was in the race series of a few other running clubs as well, so it was rather busy.
It was also my first visit to Mobberley, which I discovered is trapped in the middle of a maze of country lanes. I had trouble finding it and trouble getting out afterwards.
The race was novel in that it went on country lanes, tracks and paths, alongside Manchester Airport runway and underneath the runway beside the river. The easy runnability of the route (compared to that of fell races) is reflected in my time of 0:38:39. The conditions were mild and dry and could not have been better. Photo album.

Don't worry, we're not trespassing.

Sat 26 - Sun 27/04. 52nd Fellsman 61mi.

This is a tough fell race from Ingleton to Threshfield that takes in every available peak on the way. Distance is 61 miles with total ascent of nearly 12,000 feet. Much of the route is off path and requires good navigation, good kit and good survival skills. It demands respect. (Nowadays however, a 'Fellsman trod' seems to have evolved, which has become boggy in places due to the foot traffic.) This would be my 8th start and hopefully 8th completion.

We set off at a new half-hour earlier start time of 08:30 to avoid the Three Peaks Fell Race runners coming in the opposite direction off Whernside. (They would also set off half an hour later.) The air was damp and we were soon into the cloud and windblown drizzle as we climbed Ingleborough. I played cat and mouse with Brian 'Stolly' Stallwood as far as the summit, after which he was gone never to be seen again. I would struggle again with the speed. In retrospect I can never understand why this event feels so tough, but at the time it always does. Others say the same thing.

The familiar wet micro climate continued on Whernside, after which the sun made its usual appearance as we descended towards Kingsdale. On the climb from Kingsdale to Gragareth I drifted further right than ever before on the quad bike track before forking left again uphill. This took me to the top right of the rough pasture, where I discovered a gateway we could go through which I'd never seen before. I was glad I didn't have to climb the wall this time. I always felt terribly guilty about that. Around this point I noticed I seemed to be going at around the same speed as Amanda Heading as we kept re-overtaking each other.

Grough photographer waits to photograph Amanda Heading on the climb of Gragareth.

On the approach to Dent (where the sun always shines) I knew there was a footpath around the back but had never been able to find it. This time I did and took the timekeepers by surprise by arriving from the top of the field. It saves all of 30 seconds compared to going via the road.

Receiving care and attention at Dent.

On the approach from Blea Moor towards Stone House I was sad to see that 'Blue' the turkey and his guardian were no longer there. That oasis we pass through felt lonely without them. Once out onto the lane I was running quite well down towards the checkpoint, until a tractor with hay bales got in the way. I managed to overtake it eventually.

My passage was blocked by Varrmer Joiles' hay bales.

Stone House is at marathon distance. After that comes the slog up Great Knoutberry. Amanda Heading and Barnaby Crawshaw were descending as I climbed to the summit on the out-and-back. By the next checkpoint at Redshaw I was an hour down on my PB pace but a shorter stop meant I was only three quarters of an hour down at the next checkpoint (Snaizeholme fell). Barny and I had teamed up after Redshaw; this was his first Fellsman. We made haste towards Dodd Fell then Fleet Moss. A shower over Ingleborough and Whernside threatened to our right (there's that micro climate again) but it passed by with hardly a drop deposited on us.

Barny gets clipped on Dodd Fell.

On the approach to Fleet Moss I had wondered about the left-hand approach, which I did once in the early years. Runners ahead were going that way so I followed them. Mistake! The logical route on the map does not work out on the ground due to rough, unrunnable terrain and a wall that has to be climbed at its corner. It is very much the worse for wear as a result. As I waited in line for my turn I felt terribly guilty at the damage over the years. Back to the right-hand approach for me next year.

I checked my watch on the approach to Fleet Moss and realised that we were ahead of the 19:30 grouping time as stated in the 'hiker' instructions. Imagine my surprise when the marshals announced that we would be grouped. Their instructions stated 19:00 and their explanation of this fact was getting increasingly heated. They showed me the piece of paper to prove it. I wish the organisers would get this right to avoid misunderstanding and unnecessary friction. Last year it was the opposite: hiker instructions gave 19:00 and marshal instructions gave 19:30 as the grouping time. Perhaps in 2015 they'll compromise and go for 19:15 instructed to both. ;-)

I was grouped with Barny, Amanda and Mark Aldridge. This was Mark's first ultra marathon. What an event to pick for a first Ultra! We turned out to be a fantastic group and we made good progress through Yockenthwaite Moor and on to Grey Horse on Gilbert Lane, having to switch on our head torches along the way.

Heading for Yockenthwaite Moor - Mark, Barny, Amanda.

Barny and Amanda with marshal checking our grouping card at Yockenthwaite Moor.

After a rest and refuel at Cray I was unsure once again of the wall-hugging route up Buckden Pike, so we floundered and wasted time. I wished I'd taken Amanda up on her suggestion that we take the more direct route to the right of the cleft (which we had done successfully in 2009 with daylight to spare).

After the minor hiccup climbing Buckden Pike our navigation went perfectly, but speed was moderated by nausea with me and Amanda and Mark's trashed quads forcing him to walk in utter pain after Capplestone Gate. I was pleased that most of the trendy new beacons were working this year to guide our way across the fields to Yarnbury. Last year most of them had failed (defective batteries?).

At the degrouping checkpoint at Yarnbury, Mark had to stop to recover while Amanda had to stop to be horribly ill in the middle of the road. She told Barny and me to carry on but I felt guilty about leaving her in that predicament and kept stopping and looking back. A little while later as I shuffled my way down as fast as I could go, she came breezing past, much better for having emptied her stomach contents. I still worried about Mark. As we ran down to the lights of Grassington an ambulance raced up the road in the opposite direction with blue lights flashing. I immediately worried about Mark being taken ill at the last checkpoint and the marshals having to call out the emergency services.

I chased Barny and Amanda to finish 1 minute behind them at the school in Threshield. My time of 19:39 was within 3 minutes of the previous two years. How's that for consistency on an event where so many variables influence the outcome. As I gathered my senses with some restorative tea I was mightily relieved to see Mark arrive 22 minutes later, seemingly none the worse for wear. WELL DONE MARK for completing such a tough event as The Fellsman for your first Ultra. 
Photo album.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

March 2014 - New Zealand, main event Tarawera Ultra Marathon

I squeezed in another Woodbank parkrun just before going away for a month of business travel in Asia with a break sandwiched in the middle to visit New Zealand North Island once again. (In case you were wondering, it was more expensive for me to fly return from Asia than it would have been to fly return from Manchester.) The main dish would be to run the Tarawera Ultra Marathon (TUM) again but there were plenty of side dishes to keep me admirably nourished before and after. I spent most of my time in Rotorua. Ex work colleague Wayne Richards acted as excellent guide around his home town and a little further afield for things to see and do. Thank you, Wayne, for acting as such a wonderful host. You live in a beautiful part of the world.

Mon 10/03. First day was spent on an 8-mile run in the redwood forest of Rotorua before paying Paul Charteris, TUM Race Organiser a visit to help out with anything that needed doing. He needed any help he could get with the enormity of the task at hand. Photo album.

Looking out over Rotorua.

Tue 11/03. Run along part of brand new Tarawera Trail and a quick nose around the base of Rainbow Mountain (~10 miles total). Photo album.

Crater Lake at the foot of Rainbow Mountain (4-photo stitch).

Wed 12/03. Rotorua Canopy Tours, followed by a wander along the volcanically fragrant shores of Lake Rotorua to Government Gardens of Rotorua. The Canopy Tour provided my first opportunity for some zip line action (it was brilliant), to see native flora and fauna and to assist the return of the fauna to where it belongs through our entry fees. Human-introduced predators - e.g. stoats, rats and possums - wipe out the indigenous wildlife and must be trapped and removed from the ecosystem. That's what Canopy Tours do with our money. Positive results have included the gradual return of birdsong to the forest, though it's still nowhere near what it would have been.

I hired a GoPro helmet camera to capture some of our journey through the treetops but haven't had a chance yet to edit something together. In the meantime, here's the photo album to be going on with.

Zip lines through the treetops - Rotorua Canopy Tours.

Government Gardens with museum.

Thu 13/03. A leisurely day spent visiting Hamurana Springs and Okere Falls with Wayne before the first official TUM event in the evening - the 8km 'Fun Run'. Photo album.

The end of the TUM 'Fun Run' at the Te Puia geyser field.

Fri 14/03. Official Maori welcome to the Tarawera Ultra Marathon runners at Te Puia followed by race expo and registration. Warnings all week of tropical cyclone Lusi moving southwards to hit us for race day had become a certainty. However we could never have guessed now on the day before, the warm, calm, sunny weather giving no hint of what was to come.

Race Director Paul Charteris announced at the race briefing that the race had to be shortened. With high winds and driving rain forecast, later parts of the course where aid station access was by boat could not be supported reliably or safely. Paul's emotions ran high as he made the announcement that the event would be disrupted for a second year. Last year was high fire risk. This year was headed for the same until Lusi turned it into high wind and water risk instead. Photo album.

Last year's winner Sage Canaday (in green) represents the 'TUM tribe' at the Maori welcome ceremony.

Sat 15/03. Tarawera Ultra Marathon - 100km shortened to ~73km by Lusi.

Waiting to start.

The first spots of rain could be felt as we gathered in the dark at the Redwoods Visitor Centre for the 06:30 start. An emotional Paul Charteris announced that we would run a 12km loop past the water tank before turning right back to the start to begin all over again. Second time past the water tank we would turn left through Okareka to Okataina then 2km beyond to the turnaround point before returning to Okareka to finish where we did last year. For a second year running we would not make it all the way to Kawerau.

Marshal Tim Day guides us back to the start on the 12km loop.

Storm clouds gather.

Plenty of support and very busy at the aid station back at the start.

The rain just about held off for the first loop but the wind was up and the rain was driving in across the lake by the time I arrived at Okareka on the outward leg. I was thankful that we were running in the shelter of the forest for most of the time. I felt sorry for the marshals and supporters who were stuck there in that exposed location. I was slowing down by this point and Wayne and Paulo Osorio caught up with me. I ran much of last year's TUM with Paulo, where we kept each other's spirits up through our low points with stories and anecdotes. He was much faster this year and went on ahead after the next aid station at Millar Road.

Paulo, Wayne, Nick at Okareka on the outward leg.

Paulo makes a quick exit from Millar Road aid station.

A modified out-and-back course has one major advantage - we get to see the faster runners on the return leg. It makes the event more inclusive and involving and gives us a glimpse of what it's like up there near the front. My longest low point meant plenty of walking and plenty of opportunity to take photographs, until the approach to Okataina when I began to let rip on the descents.

Leader Sage Canaday heading for his second win.

Yun Yanqiao second.

Vajin Armstrong third.

Elastic band collection at the turnaround.

A very wet Okataina on the return leg.

Ross Steele on the way back to Millar Road.

Final Coke fill at Millar Road.

Like last year we were running over the toughest part of the TUM course. Apparently there is more ascent over this 73km course than there is over the normal linear 100km course, which I have yet to experience. No wonder I always seem to slow down and suffer, especially on the outward leg to Okataina. With effective fuelling I did fall into the groove by the return leg, though. It felt just like home as I ran down those narrow muddy technical trails as if on a fell race, overtaking all before me. The only unrealistic part was the warmth of the rain. With the temperature at 18 deg C I felt quite comfortable in vest and shorts while others were wrapped up in their waterproofs to protect them from this alien environment. Time splits showed my time was 3:00:55 from Okareka to Okataina and 2:49:55 from Okataina back to Okareka.

Paul Charteris presents the iconic carved wooden TUM medal.

The closing ceremony and awards presentation were held on Sunday. It was still raining.

Male winners.

Female winners.

The Tarawera Ultra Marathon isn't a one day flash-in-the-pan. It's four days of activities and a coming together of the worldwide ultra-running family in a most beautiful part of the world.

My photo album is here, and here's the official documentary by Ninmo Productions:

My final six days in New Zealand were spent sightseeing with Wayne around the Rotorua area and running the Cornwall parkrun in Auckland.

Monday, 5 May 2014

February 2014

Another Woodbank parkrun mid month was flanked by the following events:

Sat 01/02. Rombald's Stride 23mi.
I love this race from Guiseley up onto the moors above Ilkey, Otley Chevin providing the sting in the tail. This was my 15th consecutive year. We have seen a great variety of weather and we have seen some flagstone paths replace bottomless bogs in recent years. That's all well and good but the combination of rough flagstones and a thin sheet of ice is a lethal one. There were injuries and at least one retirement with a badly cut knee. The wind on the tops was icy and relentless but at least it didn't rain, or sleet, or hail.

For pictures, SportSunday were out in force again but the album seems to have disappeared from their website. Lucky I bought mine when I did.

Dave and Eileen Woodhead of the Woodentops were also there taking their pictures, shown in set 1 and set 2. The picture below is taken from their prolific output. It was a nice sunny day but that wind wasn't 'alf keen.

My pictures are here.

Sat 08/02. Anglezarke Amble 24mi.
Another long-term favourite and my 14th time, this is an LDWA event geared towards walkers but runners are always welcomed. This has also enjoyed a great variety of weather. Remember the big ice year? It's the time of year - so unpredictable. The route from Rivington takes in Rivington Pike, Winter Hill, Darwen Tower and Great Hill. Great Hill has degenerated into a shocking state over the years with the foot traffic. This year, a wind increasing to strong gale force made the summit of Great Hill an abnormally dangerous place to be. It was impossible to stand up in the onslaught from our left and we had to present our minimum profile to it to avoid getting blown over. It all added to the fun and sense of adventure. Relative calm and warmth returned by White Coppice and the lower level, sheltered final few miles back to Rivington.

My pictures are here.

Sat 22/02. Flower Scar 6.5mi fell race.
Based at Todmorden cricket club, this was my first time on this and I loved it. Weather was perfect - dry and sunny as predicted in the forecast. Conditions underfoot were steep, wet and slippery, making me wish I'd worn the new fell shoes I'd just bought at the stall at the start. Still, at least we had the bonus of a bit of new access road instead of bog and tussock to run along on Flower Scar Hill. It provided access to the new wind farm still under construction.

There were marshals galore and the organisation was extremely attentive under the pressure of the new FRA safety diktat. Hoops were jumped through to comply, including kit checks and herding us into a starting pen - twice - to count us out. All numbers were correctly displayed on chests for counting back in. Fortunately the weather was so good we didn't have to cover up our numbers with jackets (they were carried in bum bags along with matching full waterproof leg cover and the other bits demanded by the rules for this little jaunt never far away from civilisation). Thanks and well done to Todmorden Harriers for such exemplary organisation and implementation.

Keith Parkinson was up on the hill taking pictures, including this one:

The picture below (taken by me at the end of the access road before the return to bog and tussock) gives an idea of the size and shape of the turbine aerofoils:

The rest of my photos are here.

January 2014

Sorry for the long absence. Life's too busy these days and blogging has taken a back seat as you no doubt noticed. I shall attempt to catch up taking a month at a time.

2014 continued busier than ever with a Woodbank Parkrun on Sat 4th and:

Sun 05/01. Belle Vue Racers Hit The Trail 5mi.
This has become a firm favourite of mine as a post-festivity lurch back to reality. A trail race with mud and a few short sharp climbs thrown in for added entertainment, it winds its way around Reddish Vale Country Park and finishes with an uphill kick to the finish. 'snogardnet' was at the finish to capture the uphill pain. I just about held off my pursuers.

Sat 18/01. The Hebden 22mi.
Another massive turnout of competitive runners for what was originally conceived as a walking event, but they don't mind. In fact they welcome us because we are polite and courteous and we don't eat much checkpoint food. :-) Yours truly put in a PW performance of 4:44, but the course was slightly lengthened by a couple of reroutes and it was, of course, an utter mud-fest. It was good to see Steve Foster out there with his pooches to cheer us on.

Steve gives encouragement on the reroute to the finish.

My pictures are here.

SportSunday were out in force as usual taking some amazing pictures considering the poor light conditions.

Following the event we had our Runfurther relaunch meeting across the road in the Dusty Miller. The phoenix rose from the ashes. Long Live Runfurther!

Runfurther lives with a more certain future. 

Sun 19/01. Lamb's Longer Leg 5k fell race.
Race 1 in the Hayfield Championships and my first race as a Glossopdale Harrier as second claim club for fell racing. The weather gods finally smiled on us for our steep slog in the hills above The Lamb Inn. With yesterday's Hebden in the legs there would be no PB today.

My new family.

Sat 25/01. Kinder Trial fell race.
Race 2 in the Hayfield Championships, this is an orienteering race from Hayfield in the foothills of Kinder Scout. It was long and tough this year with 16 controls and over 13 miles. For a change there was no snow, just water and mud. In contrast to previous year's 'headless chicken' running around, I backed off and gave myself time to navigate before starting to run. Result? Big PB and highest ever placing for this event - a top half finish no less, which is always hard to come by in fell races. Picture below was captured by competitor Stephen Burt. Nice one Steve.

Monday, 17 February 2014

2013 - what a year

This was the year of highs and new experiences, the year when I finally cracked UTMB, the year when I became a serial compulsive fell racer, got some speed and decided I wanted to join Glossopdale Harriers on the fells. Here are some stats:

Number of races: 88;

Number of Ultras: 12 (total since 1996: 170);

Number of 'Hundreds': 2 (total since 2000: 18);

Total distance: 1,577 miles;

Total ascent: no idea, not never I ain't;

PBs: 17 (only when there was a previous completion with which to compare);

Number of continents raced on: 5.

The highs
- Paying my first ever visit to New Zealand and meeting up with ex-pat Jan Danilo and family, completing the Tarawera 100k and a week later completing the Te Houtaewa Challenge down 90 Mile Beach.
- Storming past L50 and L100 runners in that storm to pull off my most storming Lakeland 100 finish to date.
- Completing the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc in all its awesomeness in the most perfect conditions imaginable.

The lows
- Suffering so much survival death-march in achieving that UTMB high. The highs overcame the lows.
- Nearly, so very nearly dropping out of the Lakeland 100 with digestion on strike, until total body reset that turned me into a bit of an animal and ultra machine. The low became a high.

So, no lows then, only highs.

The surreal moment
Mingling with the fresh-legged fell runners at the start of the Lantern Pike fell race already mud-spattered and feeling somewhat used; I was 26 miles into the High Peak 40 in the "Race within a race". My HP40 time with fell race and travelling time in between wasn't a Personal Worst either. I'd call that another high.

Two Grand slams
Hayfield fell race championships (10 races) and the Goyt Valley fell race series (4 races) and earning some rare bling as a result.

I can't finish this final post for 2013 without mentioning the camaraderie. Runners are a great bunch wherever you go, from the humble Parkrun (yes, I did plenty of those) all the way up to the world class athletes at Tarawera. It's all one big happy family. (Opposite - with Tarawera 100k winner Sage Canaday.)

Here's to 2014.

Adlington Winter Warmer 10k. 29/12/2013.

(Photo Alan Burton.)

This was the second year for this 'fun run' in aid of charity. As it's mid-festivities it has become very popular very quickly. It's based from The Miner's Arms in Adlington and takes in lanes, tracks, Middlewood Way and canal towpath - and the weather's always sunny. :-) The chosen charity this time was 'Barry's Project 150' and I quote from the man himself:

This year we have launched 'Barry's Project 150' and with your help we are aiming to raise £150,000 to fund a specialist room at The Christie's new teenage cancer unit."

This is a 10k with a twist. Timepieces are banned and prizes are awarded according to how close you are to your predicted finishing time. Unlike last year when I was 14 seconds out and just in the prize bracket, this time I was 58 seconds out. Although I knew I'd be slower than last year I thought I'd be even slower than I was, so a good result then. :-)

During the run and not far from the finish, as I emerged through the stone squeeze stile back onto the canal towpath and turned right, I was confronted by the sight of a runner stretched out across the towpath with foil blanket over him and people fussing round. As I stepped carefully between his head to the right and canal a couple of feet to the left, he looked as if he were sleeping peacefully. I feared the worst and felt quite morose, with thoughts of heart attack and such like filling my mind. We were told at the presentation that he was in hospital and well taken care of. Thankfully, later reports on Facebook from the man himself confirmed that all was well - no heart attack, just a fit of some sort. I felt so relieved. Glowing reports of support from marshals and bystanders were brought forth by the incident. Well done all, and thanks to organiser Tony Ward once again for putting on such a fine, well-supported race.

When everything had been totted up, £1,165 had been raised, which is fantastic. Many people (including me) owe their lives to The Christie. That charity can never get too many donations in my opinion.

Pictures were a bit limited this time, not to mention more blurred than they had any right to be.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Tour de Helvellyn 38mi. 21/12/2013.

This was the 4th running of the Tour de Helvellyn (a nice little pre-Christmas workout to assuage the guilt of imminent decadence and debauchery). Each one has been milder than the previous one. This year for the first time there was no sign of snow or ice anywhere. We just had gales, water and more rain to contend with. Deluges leading up to race start had left the ground swilling with water and springs in the most improbable places, while lakes expanded their boundaries across fields and roads. I had never seen the Lake District so awash (see top photo).

After the kit check I emerged a little later than intended to join the trickle of runners on the climb towards Askham Moor and into the teeth of the head-on gale. At least it wasn't raining. Blood flowed freely from my right index finger after its first of four stabbings. I had offered my body for the medical research that was being conducted by the University of Central Lancashire, in which blood glucose and lactate levels had to be recorded. We were spared the temperature-recording telemetry pills that had previously been threatened.

Stu checks kit.

I soon found myself running with Martin Thomerson. It was good to have someone to chat with to take our minds off our battle with the elements, since forward progress was proving difficult. The dark blue gloaming slowly gave way to daylight as we chatted our way towards Martindale.

I had checked the forecast and I was bracing myself for the next brief belt of rain. It had looked ‘interesting’ on the weather map because it had green and yellow in it. I guessed it would hit us around Patterdale or shortly afterwards. Sure enough as I left the Patterdale checkpoint (relocated to a much better place than the broom cupboard of last year) with blood flowing freely once more, the first spots of rain could be felt borne on the head wind from the lowering, darkening cloud ahead. We waded along the icy access track (see top photo) that was now an extension of the lake that would normally be out of sight.

Martin descends to flooded Patterdale.

As we ascended Greenside Road towards the youth hostel, all hell suddenly broke loose with lightning, violent swirling gusts descending from the hills and torrential RAIN. I was thankful for having planned ahead and set off from the start wearing waterproof top and bottoms. I didn't have to stop and faff with kit in doorways like others did; I just zipped-up and carried on in my own comfortably warm cocoon. I felt strangely secure in such a hostile environment, and a little smug if I'm brutally honest. I was quite pleased that the blood that encrusted my hand and drink bottle was now getting washed away.

Thankfully the squall line passed within 15 minutes or so and by the time the climb to Swart Beck began in earnest, the rain had stopped and the cloud had lifted. A later-starting, minimally-attired and far-too-fit-for-our-own-good runner overtook on the steep rocky climb of the quarry, running as if we were doing a 5k fell race. “How on earth can he do that?” I remarked to a fellow human (as opposed to the superhuman who had just disappeared over the crest).

Stuart Smith formed part of the familiar NAV4 welcoming committee at the Swart Beck checkpoint (he must have raced there after doing the kit checks). He's the one with his head on upside down but always a pleasure to meet every year nevertheless. ;-) He was putting his camera to good use.

From Swart Beck the landscape opened up like never before. We could actually see where the path went. We climbed to Sticks Pass as the wind took our breath away. The descent towards Stanah was treacherous as the icy gale from Helvellyn on the left did its best to blow us over.

As in every other year I was depleted by the time I reached the self-dib at Stanah so I made sure I refuelled as I trudged and stumbled clumsily along the rocky path to Swirls car-park. Another competitor overtook me on the run, hopping and skipping over the rocky trip hazards (how do they do that so far into a race?). As he disappeared into the distance I realised it was Ant ‘Forest’ Bethell but my glucose-starved brain had not worked fast enough to call out a timely greeting.

More good fuelling (ham sandwich, pork pie, you name it) at the Swirls checkpoint had me jogging more energetically than ever before along the forest track. It was warm and calm in the shelter of the forest and the sun was even trying to shine. Hoofin’ ‘Little Dave’ Cumins had caught me up in time for the second SportSunday photographer, which was nice. I shall treasure those photos that tell a little white lie; I'm not really as fast as Little Dave, you see, but who's to know apart from me? ;-)

Another SportSunday masterpiece.

I had decided before the start that I would continue along the forest track that every other member of the public would use rather than deviate left onto the permissive path that they would not. However as we approached it, everyone else seemed to be taking the path. I asked Dave what he was going to do. “The path.” That’s my plans scuppered then. Not wanting to be the odd one out taking the easy but logical option, I dutifully followed like a sheep. NEVER AGAIN! It was a joke, abandoned, neglected, unmaintained and impassable due to multiple fallen trees. We detoured and stumbled off path around the obstructions, trying to regain the path again. I glanced down the hillside to the right and glimpsed through the trees that were still standing another runner who had taken the sensible option along the track, but we were now committed to our obstacle course. I gently seethed. Dave bounded on ahead with indecent perkiness under the circumstances and rapidly disappeared through the trees. By the time I’d reached the next self-dib at Birkside Gill with Dave long out of sight, I reckon the detour (because that’s what it is) had cost me 6 minutes. Next time it’s the track, regardless of what others do.

My fuelling was still going well as I overtook others on the climb up Raise Beck, leaving Martin behind (sorry Martin, it was nothing personal). I was feeling fresh as if starting the race. We were mostly sheltered from the wind, now from our right. I topped out and looked down onto Grisedale Tarn on the right. It looks a lot bigger when it’s not frozen over and snow-covered.

The descent of Grisedale Beck was treacherous with its steep, technical rockiness and wind from behind that came in waves of gale-force gusts. You had to brace yourself while each gust passed by. I was doing alright until I had to cross a swollen stream. I made the mistake of stepping on the rock under the water. The algal surface was the equivalent of ice. Within a second I was lying in the water, my left forearm and elbow having taken the full force of my fall. I cringed as the wave of pain joined the water in washing over me. A passing runner asked if I was alright. His pace didn't slow to catch my answer, let alone check if I actually was alright. If the tables were turned I know I would have stopped and checked properly.

The bone still pains me to this day if I catch it wrongly.

We waded along the flooded track a second time on the approach to the Patterdale checkpoint (see top photo). The water level seemed to have dropped an inch or two. A caravan rested on its roof in the field.

Windy day.

Because of the medical research and because I was taking more care of fuelling, I was spending much longer than ever before at the checkpoints. With that and the farce of the permissive path, I should have been haemorrhaging time. I had noted down my PB times from 2012 and had been comparing this year’s as I went along. So far it was looking like this:
CP1 (Martindale) -3mins;
CP2 (Patterdale) -5mins;
CP3 (Swart Beck) +2mins;
CP4 (Stanah) +4mins;
CP5 (Swirls) +4mins;
CP6 (Birkside Gill) +6mins;
CP7 (Patterdale) 0mins.
I was now level with last year but more time would be lost for the third blood-letting and for a nice cup of coffee.

The latest refuelling put lead in my pencil for an energetic climb back up to Boredale Hause. The next forecast rain was beginning to make itself felt as spray began to blow on the wind once again. It started to come down properly as I descended the other side down Boredale in splendid isolation. No-one else had been in sight since leaving Patterdale. I like it that way because I feel like the hunter and hunted and it makes me push harder. I pushed the pace back to CP8 (Martindale) -5mins. The wind was rising again and the rain intensity was increasing in fits and starts but I didn't care. I was warm and comfortable and I was fuelling to keep the engine going and the mind sharp.

The last flooded view after Martindale before nightfall.

I hit the trail back towards Askham Moor. I was running as best I could and putting off the moment when I would switch my head torch on. I hadn't removed it all day because it was serving such a useful purpose keeping my cap from blowing off in the gale. Could I manage without the light as far as the Cockpit? No; perhaps on a clear night but not this time. A couple of female competitors overtook me around this point running very strongly. They were the only other runners I would see from Patterdale to the finish.

The gale drove the rain like mini bullets from the right as I climbed back on to Askham Moor. I glimpsed dark shapes to my right which I assumed to be a group of fell ponies. I shone my torch at them and saw the stone circle. THE COCKPIT! I thought I would have passed that by now! I continued on the same ENE heading like I know we have to, on the less obvious path. I pulled my jacket hood around and ran half sideways and hunched over to present more of my back and less of my face to the driving rain. I was on the cool side of comfortable despite being wrapped up to the eyeballs. I ran to keep warm and I was able to run efficiently because I wasn't overheating.

I climbed towards the dark mass of the trees on the horizon while scanning the ground to the right to pick up the path I knew should be there. Amazingly I found it – a barely discernible smooth grass strip that cuts the corner and avoids a few feet of unnecessary climb. It was downhill from here to the finish. I glanced behind to see if there were any chasing lights. There were not. I headed for the next dark mass of trees on the horizon which brought me to the gate with wall and the trees on the left (always keep the trees on the left). Continuing the descent brought me to the lane, the welcoming PIR security light on the first dwelling, the dazzling wall of green and white Christmas lights a little further down. As I ran back into Askham still wrapped up to the eyeballs, I was amazed at how much colder gale and rain at +5°C feels compared with calm conditions at -10°C. [In 2010 when it was minus 10 and we ran across virgin snowfields by the light of the moon, I was having to strip off on the final descent to Askham.]

I ran into the hall via the tradesman's entrance (it's quicker that way) at 9:35:49 elapsed, -17mins compared to last year so new surprise PB. I felt elated. However, before refuelling on nourishing home-made soup, cakes and lashings of tea (thanks Pauline!), a final finger-stabbing was required. The long run to the finish without food intake had resulted in the lowest blood glucose reading of all, and I felt it. I couldn't have kept that pace up for many more minutes without a slowdown for yet more refuelling.

My post-race weight of 63.9kg revealed 2kg of weight loss. Although that will be from water loss I was not dehydrated as such because I felt fine. Electrolytes were perfectly balanced and everything was still working as nature intended as far as I could tell.

Later, during an interesting chat with Charlie Sharpe, James Harris, Dave Cumins et al over a cuppa and hearty wedge (of cake) at the ‘elites’ table’, I learned that Charlie got blown off the trail and down the hillside on the descent of Grisedale Beck. Multiple parallel gouges up the side of his leg and hip were evidence of the ground slide he had enjoyed. I also heard that someone else had to retire after getting blown off-piste. Charlie used this event as an easy training run in preparation for The Spine race in January. He had an easy bimble round in 7:34:37. Makes ya sick, dannit. ;-)

Charlie heads the elites' table. ;-)

There were a few cases of hypothermia in that later wind + rain onslaught. Jon Steele staggered into the hall 2 hours overdue and on the point of collapse after going off course before the Cockpit. People sprang into action to get him sitting down, warming up and refuelled with warm soup. It worked wonders because he was back to his usual self later on that evening in the Queen's Head.

Many thanks once again to Joe Faulkner, the NAV4 crew and the providers of THAT FOOD for a 4th bout of pre-Christmas racing pleasure with added spice. See you same place, same time in 2014.

SportSunday professional photographs are here.

My blurred snaps are here (but I was trying to run and my equipment is considerably smaller).