Monday, 28 October 2013

The OMM - finally reaching the finish line :-)

Since the C2C I've given my ankle a bit of recovery time, however October has been busy! 
Briefly - It started with the Hodgson Relays, mixed emotions of revisiting the Langton Centre, running up Hart Crag (but missing Daz's cairn in the mist),then racing over leg 2 in the mist and wind with Rachel. Good fun and good runs from the team but it just wasn't our day.... 
Next up - the FRA relays in Llanberis, racing the Nav leg with Holly, a good route over some rough terrain, really testing my ankle in prep for the OMM. A great weekends racing by the Pennine Ladies, finishing 4th in a strong field, improving on 5th of last year - bring on 2014!

Me and Rachel at the deceptively warm start to the Hodgson's - could have done with more than shorts and vest by the end!

Two things came out of these races 1) my ankle had improved considerably! From tottering downhill at the Hodgson's, I was now able to not only run downhill but also contour over rough ground  - two skills critical to mountain marathons. I'm pretty sure the consultant at the Northern General Hospital didn't envisage this when he said he'd expect me to be able to run in 3-4months... I learnt my ankle's strengths (contouring to the right) and weaknesses (contouring to the left or running downhill) over terrain and was happy to finally be confident that entering the OMM with Zoe Proctor was not going to be a big mistake!
2) My breathing was rubbish - dropping the strength of my asthma medication, as the doctor had done mid September, just isn't a good idea. After the Hodgson's I struggled to run at all and the Wednesday before the FRAs I was put back onto the higher dose after demonstrating my inept breathing to the doctor (peak flow 70% of it's max = not conducive to running up hills). 10 days on and things were looking up!

Smiles before the start of the OMM - definitely wearing more than shorts and vests for this!
So on Saturday I found myself on the start line of the OMM B class in the Brecon Beacons with Zoe.
I've got a bit of unfinished business with the OMM. Seven years ago, as soon as I was old enough to enter, I completed the long score at my first attempt (although we might have been last after my partner had a small energy level failure on day 1 and we ended up with minus 144 odd points...). Since then I have started the A, then the B.....and then the C...and failed to finish any of them due to A) hypothermia, B) Borrowdale (need I say more), C) freshers flu. So I really needed to get over this streak of failures!
 After a classic late night/early morning arrival and pitching the tent in a good rain storm, we'd slept well and were up, packed and ready to leave for the coach by 8am! As I picked up the first days map, I immediately noticed the deciding leg. Hard to miss, leg 3-4 spanned the entire width of the map - better get that one bang on then!

OMM Day 1 - spot the deciding leg...

We set off well, maybe a bit too well, reaching number 1 within 3.5 minutes of the eventual winners (Hoddy and Joe), who lead by over 30mins after day 1....I then undid this good work by losing us 5minutes on number two, being drawn too far right by the masses. Time to screw my head on!
We reached control 3 in the lead of the female race by around 6minutes, I'd had one eye on the 4th leg up until this point and here we took a minute or two to consider our options. We decided there were two options - north or south of the summits that stood between us and number 4. I was swayed primarily by my strengths or rather, lack of strength for contouring left and the fact that up until this point we'd mainly been doing just that. So we opted for the south option.

 Thus began our started well, the first bit of contouring followed by the descent past number 1 and the climb and descent that followed were speedy enough under foot, we took good lines and made good progress. All despite me starting to feel the pace a bit, a handful of jelly babies fixed this slightly.
At the descent, we noticed Hazel and Joe, who had caught us after our number 2 time wasting, had other tactics, but we stuck to our guns. Over the next climb and I had studied the map a little more. There was an option, we could carry on as planned or contour right to switch from the south to north route. This looked like a good idea but we decided that seeing as we'd got this far and the going was ok we'd not make the mistake of changing our minds mid way. Just as we came to this conclusion, Hoddy and partner whizzed by contouring right.....hmmm, hadn't somebody told me they were doing the B course?

A brief hesitation and we took the descent and climbed swiftly to the next fence crossing at the corner of a wood. We reached the corner of the wood, almost half way through this leg, about 1hr35 after leaving 3. One hour, 3km (that might be generous), a hell of a lot of tussocks and a low point for Zoe and we'd lost stacks of time! Oh, and I made another slight nav error, dropping us too low and adding an additional km or so of tussocks as I'd heard Zoe really enjoyed them....

Both of us were very relieved to escape this section and took on new tactics for the final two sections (we broke the leg down by fence crossings) - avoiding orange coloured areas (mainly tussocks) and sticking to green (nicer grassyness). This meant we adopted more of an up and over approach which seemed to pay off as we were apparently on our own in finding the last two sections to 4 relatively pleasant! By the final climb and descent of the day I was feeling great - an unusual feeling after more than 6hours of running so I pushed us on up the hill and down to the finish. Whilst the rest of my body was having a good time, my ankle was a bit sore by this stage and my descending wasn't quite what it should have been.

It had been a day of many stages, stage 1 - the fast first 2-2.5hours felt great, stage 2 - I suffered the pace from 2.5-3.5hours while Zoe still had pace in the legs, stage 3 - I got over that and felt ridiculously good from 3.5+hours, just as Zoe started to suffer. We crossed the finish line in 6hrs45, 20mins down on the leading female team with teams to chase 5 and 10mins ahead. On closer inspection, it turned out the North route included a road and a path we'd completely overlooked and the fastest females had found an entirely different option, a very South route, involving a lot of path.....never mind, we'd got there in the end!

To continue the theme of the weekend, the heavens opened just in time for us to pitch our tent but it was nice and cosy once it was up and we had the stove heating water/ acting as tent sauna. I had kind of wussed out of the minimalist MM plan and we were 'glamping' OMM style - while this doesn't mean I'd packed a pillow and full on air bed I had packed lots of luxuries. By the time I'd put on my dry buff, running tights, active Q base layer, Stem II Q fleece and Essens down gilet I was actually almost too warm - not sure I've ever felt that on a mountain marathon over night camp before!

Day 2 - Bad weather course = controls 1,2,4,8,9,10 and 11

After a night of high winds, rain and even a clap of thunder, the morning dawned dryish... We had a bit of a last minute dash but made our 7:22am chasing start time. The bad weather courses were adopted for day 2 and, although this made our chances of catching the 22minutes to first slim, I think this suited us both.
I set off and my chest was tight, but other than that I was feeling just as good as when I'd finished day 1 which was nice. I don't think Zoe's legs appreciated this as I lead the way up the hill to set the fastest female time to number 1. Taking it a bit steadier we made quick work of number 2 before taking a good line direct to 4 (3 was out). After that, controls 5,6 and 7 were out so it was another big climb up and over to 8 before the last few km through the forest and home. We took our own route up here, keeping further right of the stream bed than most and hitting the path leading to the lake on the other side of the ridge. We overtook Alice and Alex on the descent (10mins up at the start of the day) and had a good run down to 8. This was just about enough for my ankle, so after climbing to 9 I looked incredibly out of control and like I'd never seen a hill before on the descent to the forest. Here Zoe had a second wind and pushed the pace down the track which my lungs were rather unhapppy about (where had all the tussocks gone, I liked that bit!). Finishing in 3hrs 30, the two strong climbs payed off and we took the fastest day 2 time, finishing 3rd female team overall. A fun weekend of running around in the mountains, just what was needed after staring at stats for 3weeks, thanks Zoe! And I broke the curse of the OMM by getting to the finish :-) although I might have passed it on to Ingrid and Rachel who finished day 1 half a shoe down and had to abandon....sorry girls, it only lasts 7years....

Ingrid's shoe

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Coast to Coast Adventure Race

8 weeks on from demolishing my ankle and everything was good to go for the Open Adventure C2C, not that I could quite believe it. After 2 weeks of non weight bearing I was let loose on a bike and had been clocking up the miles on holiday in the Alps. Once back in the peaks, I added aqua jogging to the agenda and 6 weeks on I was out running again (albeit a bit carefully). After a week or so of build up I knew the C2C was possible without damaging anything, especailly if I took the downhills steady. The uphill felt abdolutely fine, like my ankle was 100% so my plan was to paddle, bike and run uphill hard and hope this would keep me in contention after I'd jogged the downhills.

The Start from Whitehaven - heading for St Bees
The C2C is a great event, starting in Whitehaven on the west coast and heading to Robin Hood's Bay on the east coast with competitors crossing the country on foot, mountain bikes and in kayaks.

The first day takes you from Whitehaven to Keswick via St Bees, Crummock Water, Buttermere, Robinson and Derwentwater. The second day, from Keswick to Kirby Stephen, takes in Thirlmere, Helvellyn and Ullswater along the way. The third day crosses the Yorkshrie Dales, over Nine Standards, through Swaledale and over to Castle Bolton before hitting the road to Northallerton. To finish, the route goes from Northallerton, up Clay Bank and over the North York Moors to Whitby with a final run along the coast into Robin Hoods Bay.

Day one was always going to be my weak point, greatest amount of water based sport vs land based sport. As it turned out, it was weaker than planned after I turned the sea kayak into a swim one too many 120% of the slowest time by way of penalty for being rescued within sight of the beach at St Bees and I was off on the bike - this was more like it. My legs felt like they were a bit lacking but got me over to Crummock Water alright where it was back into the boat. This time, despite it being a bit blustery, I remained in the boat! The killer on this leg is a portage between Crummock and Buttermere. Here I learned my second mistake, it turns out 1km+ is too far for me to carry 1/3 of my own body weight. I'd shot myself in the foot, taking a heavier boat I was more confident of paddling on the sea, then taking 120% of the slowest time anyway and having to cart its extra 5-6kg weight (compared to the alternative) over the portage. Ah well, it was only day 1! I'd been out what felt like an age by the time I set off up Robinson so, after 1km or so of warming the ankle up and eating a banana I instigated the plan of running fast uphill, taking queen of the mountains for day 1 in 43:37. My legs were feeling ok so the pace felt good and I cruised over to Dale head before following the plan again and jog/walking down it. Heading up High Spy I started to feel a bit rough but kept a reasonable pace over to catbells before the slowest descent I think I'd ever managed down to Nicol End - my support crew should be proud (they didn't stop telling me to be careful). The swim across to Keswick went more smoothly than 2009, then it was just a short trot over to moot hall. On the last run feeling rough most definitely turning into feeling sick.

So, my weakest day complete I was raring to go on day 2, the only way was up! Setting off early due to my long first day, I rode over to Thirlmere, legs feeling fairly empty but still arriving a bit too close to my support crew.I put this down to the early morning and had a good paddle down to the second transition, however undid all this good work carrying my boat up the transition (portages over!). I set off up Helvellyn but immediately knew there was something definitely wrong, I was feeling sick again.

Suffering coming off Helvellyn
 I tried eating as that normally fixes things. This time it didn't...and I knew this wasn't your normal working too hard kind of sick. I'd had a stomach bug the previous weekend and clearly was not over it. Approaching the top I almost turned around, but somehow staggered my way over Helvellyn and down to Patterdale, feeling awful by the time I hit swirral edge and giving in to a walk shorly after hole in the wall. In Patterdale, smooth transitions were over for the day and I sat, trying to drink and eat something. Kirby Stephen couldn't come soon enough, but there was still 4hrs of kayaking and biking to go. I finished just after Helen who had had a bad crash coming into Kirby Stephen. Not that that stopped her smiling (well, not yet anyway).

After force feeding myself a meal over about 3hrs I went to bed still feeling awful, hopeful that a good nights sleep would sort me out. I almost didn't start day 3 when I woke up and found out it hadn't. But I got myself on the move, up Nine Standards. I made a mistake here, not adding extra strapping to my ankle for the rough ground, so was reduced to a jog/ walk for a large portion of the way. Like 2009 the clag was down so I am still yet to see the view from the top!

Riding through Swaleale - thanks to Kerry Pilkington for the picture
Once onto the bike through swaledale I started to enjoy myself a bit as there are some awesome off road descents to be had around there and I'd resigned myself to a steady day out. This meant a lot of people came past on the road from Castle Bolton and at one point I realised I'd really let my mind wander and was putting almost 0 effort in, as Alan Hartley came whizzing by looking a bit bemused at my pace. The slow and steady pace started to pay off in the last mile or so into Northallerton though and I actually could stomach food after the finish!

Setting off early on the last day was stunning. The mist was down but lifted as I biked and started the run up Carlton Bank. By the top the view was beautiful and to top it off I'd actually been able to run up it! I'd held back a bit, not wanting to push it too far, but all seemed well and the run along to the second transition was stunning.
Mick Kenyon's amazing picture along Carlton Bank

 I was pleased to feel good on the bike as well. Whilst I was still struggling to eat, I could at least get something in and I made good progress over to Glaisdale, only hindered by my chain hopping down the back of my cassette a couple of times, jamming well and truly and taking a bit of faff to get sorted each time. I attacked the climb out of Glaisdale (boy is it steep!) and suddenly felt my chain pull. I hopped off and ran to the top before sorting it out. A link had almost snapped so I delved into my bike kit for my spare wasn't there! Thankfully I managed to get the bent link back into working order and pedalled very carefully over to Whitby, trying to minimize gear changes and keep the strain off the chain as much as possible. It made it!
Onto the final run and I was still feeling alright so ran into Robin Hoods Bay, overtaking the last few people to have started before me that day, only one team made it there still ahead.

So, not entirely to plan but I made it across the country and my ankle is still intact! Thanks to James, Nicki and the open adventure volunteers for a great event, and my super support crew, Cath and Harriet, who I threw in the deep end.

At least I've reccied it for 2015 now ;-)

Friday, 12 July 2013

Not the Open 2 Day

Two weeks ago I was up in the Lakes, marshalling the Darren Holloway Memorial Buttermere Horseshoe fell race. It was an ace day organised by CFR with Pennine support, lots of Pennine turning out to run and some fantastic cakes decorated with pennine coloured flowers made by Amanda Holloway. The course was punishing one,a combintation of teenager with altitude, Borrowdale and Ennerdale, but one I certainly want to have a go at next year!

Hopegill Head - Buttermere Skyline in the mist

The next day I decided to do Arnison Dash, at 2 miles with 300m climb it's one of my favourite kinds of races, lung busting climb then fling yourself off the top - a short race I can do well! Plus it was a beautiful day so would be rude not to. I set off with Hazel Robinson, aiming to stick with her to the top and give my calves, which had been knotting up pretty well since the last Open 2 Day, a proper test. Great news, they were spot on :-).

At the top I was 30s-1min down (no watch so a bit of a guess) and decided to cut my losses and not chase Hazel down the hill as there was a big gap to 3rd and I wanted to stay in one piece for the following weekends 2 Day.
This turned out to be a big mistake, I ran relatively slowly down the hill, overthinking the rocky ground and about 2/3 of the way down went over on my ankle. Lesson number 1, never run slowly downhill! Straight back up on my feet, I knew I'd done a good one but could still just about hobble my way down.
Immediate swelling above the lateral malleolus

On closer inspection I knew it was bad. My ligaments are a bit too stretchy and normally the bones in my foot hit the floor before I tear anything and I don't often get swelling. This time the swelling was immediate and after sitting down I could no longer weight bare. In addition, the swelling was above the area that has previously swelled and so it was off for an xray. No break could be seen but they put me in a pot given how swollen it was.

Back in Sheffield I was given a splint boot thing and told to weight bear when I could, however it wasn't until day 11 that I finally felt like I could put my foot on the floor let alone put weight on it.
And the swelling spread

Yesterday I saw the physio and the good news is I can bike and aqua jog and, after some rather painful mobilisation, can walk! Well....sort of. Still got some swelling to get rid of and theres a bit of a question mark over wherther there is fracture at the bottom of my fibula that was missed on the first xray given an area of localised pain, but this is progress!

So last weekend I went to the open 2 day but was the one with the start/finish boxes. Me and Fi got out for 10mins in a team injured/pregnant kayaking pair and me and Sarah went for a bit more of a paddle Sunday afternoon. That combined with crutching around has given my upper body a good strengthening whilst my left calf is slowly disappearing.

Not sure if it was more or less painful than racing...
Hopefully by the C2C I'll be back to racing.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

3rd at British Universities MTB

Last weekend was the British University MTB Champs (BUCS), held once again on Birchall, an area just outside Sheffield. Last year it had rained solidly for a few weeks before, creating a mudfest rivalling Mountain Mayhem. I thought I'd pulled off a good race to finish 4th more due to my running ability than my biking skills...

3rd in the individual and 2nd team!
However, this was probably the last time I'll race a BUCS race and I still had one target to achieve. I'd won BUCS medals (and even a BUSA medal I think - yes I've been at Uni long enough for them to change the name of the sports association) as part of a team, but I'd never quite made it onto the podium in the individual race, so I was going to have to give it a go!

On a preride I was very pleased to see they'd removed the killer grassy grind up from the start, inserting an even steeper singletrack one. I'm not joking, this was much more fun! The course was also dry! YES! No hike a bike this time :-).
The start of each lap had a section of field to hammer it across, then you hit a rutted track before you entered the forest. Straight into the singletrack and up a steep hill (with one 'unridable' for me section) then the rest was a whole lot of swooping fun. They'd also kept my favourite bit of the course in, an excellent bit of downhill with a good speedy burm followed by a steep drop/jump.

So I set off with my new race tactic for this year, race at the front until you can't anymore! Well...that was approximately 100m, thanks Helen Clayton for that steaming pace off the line!

Andy chasing me down!

My lungs were burning entereing the forest, this is the first properly fast effort I've put in since being prescribed drugs that seem to work for my asthma. Turns out they do work, I didn't actually have to stop, but it did take 1.5laps (30mins) for my lungs to warm up properly...hmmm think I might need to change my warm up in future if I'm going to race for less than 5hours...

Trying to put as many guys between me and 4th

 The first lap was spent changing position, 4th - 5th - 4th. The first 3 disappeared after I almost lost it on some roots. I pulled away from 5th but I really didn't think I stood a chance of catching them again. Then we hit the finish/start field and there was 3rd! I caught her half way through lap 2, just as my lungs started operating properly but just as we went from open field to singletrack. I decided to stick on her wheel for a bit.

Too fast for the camera. My favourite bit of the race, downhill!
 Mistake! She used the best tactic available in the girls race, namely putting guys moving slower than you between you and your opposition. We'd started 5mins behind the mens race so spent most of the race catching and overtaking guys - both good in terms of having a target and bad in terms of getting stuck...
Team Sheffield!
No need to panic though, once on the field again I reeled her back in and overtook, putting the hammer down and trying to employ the same tactics in reverse for the last 2 laps.

It was such a fun race, the route was much better than last year through just a few tweeks, less soggy grass sections, some logs in the uncrossable wheel eating trench....

I managed to stay ahead, finishing 3rd and getting that elusive individual medal! As a bonus, Becky Bright had an ace ride to finish 8th, meaning we won silver in the team competition as well! The guys team had a good day at the office getting the silver medal in the team competition. So I had to squeeze a quick celebratory drink in before heading off to a great evening of dancing at my friends wedding!

Thursday, 13 June 2013


I'm breaking the mold here, more than one blog a month! Today I have been running around in North Yorkshire, supporting James Thurlow as he follows the Coast to Coast route from Robin Hoods Bay to St Bees.

James runs across the country for diabetes reseach UK -

The big question on everyones lips is Howfast? How fast can James cross the country? James, who has type 1 Diabetes himself, has been training hard and getting to grips with juggling blood glucose levels, insulin and running further than most people can comprehend in a day! He is raising money for Diabetes Research UK and, up until Wednesday evening, anybody that donated could guess how fast he was going to do it, with the closest prediction winning £1000 of outdoor kit!

The climb up from Glaisdale
 When I got out of the van at the Lion Inn, I could see less than 10m.....this was going to be fun! Thankfully James had booked the weather for directly overhead to be clear, in fact, clear enough for my face to be well and truly sunburnt...I ran towards Glaisdale and met them part way there.

Supporters at Clay Bank
James set a cracking pace today,even through the heaviest rain shower I've been in for a while (we literally looked like we'd all had a shower in our running kit) and he's still going, just past Northallerton! This does mean my guess of 3 days 19hours and 34 minutes is well off the mark, currently looking likely to finish somewhere between 2-2.5days! Good luck with the rest of it James!

Setting off up Clay Bank

Support James, read all about his preparation and follow his progress (thanks to a handy tracker) here:

Monday, 3 June 2013

Team Haglofs-Silva 2nd at the Open 2 Day

Thanks to James Kirby for some ace pictures this weekend! Running of Helm Crag

What a couple of weekends racing! Two weeks ago I was on Jura for the fell race. If I showed you this:
 I would forgive you for thinking that's the race profile. Not a bad route! However that isn't even half of it....the actual race profile looks like this:
The climbs are steap, the terrain rough, the race long - all things that should play to my strengths. Unfortunately the pollen was also high and we camped the night before. Around the 2km marker my lungs were feeling it a 5km I'd put it down to the start being 11km  I knew it wasn't and that my asthma was bad but I was in 4th! 15km I accepted this fact and was no longer in 4th however by this point I was in the middle of nowhere with the best route back being the race route. So a very very very slow walk got me over the paps, losing oodles of time and places but eventually I made it back. All I can say is, if you ever get the chance to sit on one of the paps and look at what you've just run down, do it, it looks mental!

Thus started the recovery - 6 days and counting to the open 2 day. By Tuesday I wasn't optimistic, walking to uni and back was an expedition in intself. By Wednesday there was a glimmer of hope, but it wasn't until Thursday I could breathe a deep sigh of relief that my lungs had stopped burning and whoever it was had stopped sitting on my chest! A bit of a test run on Friday morning and although not tip top I could at least run - a good start!

So, off to the lakes for the open 2 day, I was racing with Bruce Duncan, Tim Higginbottom and Chris Near as Team Haglofs-Silva.
The race had a fast a furious format, there were five stages, each separated by a couple of hours so you could try and stuff some Wilfs chilli into you and maybe get changed (although there was no time for changing if you took as long to eat as I did...). Stage one was a score format - we had two hours and were presented with a map scattered with checkpoints, each with a set number of points. The aim was to get as many points as you could in the two hours, the big question though, could we get them all. Well, we thought so!
From Easdale tarn we took in the sights of Castle How, Stickle Tarn, Seargent Man, Codale Tarn and Helm Crag (among others)...although I think the rest of the team took in more of the sights as I spent a large portion of this staring at Tim's shoes as he towed me along. He had gone to great lengths to make sure he was wearing one of every colour in the new Haglofs Monochrome range....
Tim's shoes, unfortunately you can't see his pink bumbag on this picture
 We stormed round the course picking up all of the checkpoints and arriving back almost 3 minutes early taking the lead, with Team Mountain Hardwear and Adidas Terrex hot on our heals. Best of all no major asthma attack - good work lungs!

The next stage was a similar format, 5hours score course on mountain bikes, and this is where the race started to hot up. This time there was no question of clearing the course so some tactics were required. Our route was a loop with some awesome descents, visiting Chapel Stile, Little Langdale, and Wray Castle then heading through the forests to the ferry port where we had just enough time to get an ice cream before jumping on the ferry across to Windermere. From there it was up up up onto the fells, over to Troutbeck and back to Rydal via a bit of a time trial along the road to pick up a control we'd discarded earlier. This wasn't the smoothest of stages, I lost a bolt out of the cleat on my shoe so every time I stopped I had to realign it and clip in...then the shoe would wobble all over the place giving my lower back a good workout... I also inadvertantly let go of the bike tow at full stretch which Bruce definitely knew about, oops... and Tim got a puncture on an excellent bit of downhill near Troutbeck, attempt one of sealing it failed so out with the inner tube. We still got a decent score but Mountain Hardwear took the lead, we were now in second, trailing by 20 points, with Adidas Terrex only 1 point behind us!

Don't let go of a bike tow at full stretch...
Into the night, the sun set, the silva runner 550 torches came out, again we had a tactical decision to make as 90minutes was not enough to clear the course.The 'safe' option was obvious...but safe is never fun right? We hit this one hard, commiting to climbing loughrigg twice (not many people bothered with this). Given the cooler air and lack of pollen my lungs felt like a completely new pair! I love a bit of night running and we soared round, getting back in 1hr28 mins, perfect!

End of the night run

Adidas Terrex also hit this one hard hoping to claw back that one point, but didn't make it back on time. All change in the leaderboard with us taking the lead, 16 points ahead of Mountain Hardwear with Adidas Terrex in 3rd.

Sunday started with Stage 4 which was a little different to the rest of the event, a 'trail run' which was essentially the fairfield horseshoe. 500points to the winner, then 5 points lost for every minute, or part of a minute, you were behind the winner. The plan was simple, take it out fast and try and secure a few more points lead before the kayak which was definitely not our strongest discipline.

Start of the Fairfield Horseshoe
 Within the first few minutes it became clear that Mountain Hardwear also considered this to be the crux of the race, as Kim came past, panting hard and pulling Sally up the hill. Closely following was Stuart towing Alex up the hill! Now we knew we were in for a tough run. Apparently Kim kept that effort on all the way to the top and I can well believe it as, even with Tim and Chris both towning me at the same time we reached the summit 6minutes down, not ideal. I did however get a spot prize and a new nickname 'slingshot Harris' for this effort. Now came the most exciting part of the race so far - catching Mountain Hardwear on the descent....or trying anyway.

Off up to Fairfield, Mountain Hardware a switchback ahead

This meant I stayed on Tim's tow down the hill as well. Apparently Tim was running pretty much as fast as possible and just waiting for the tug to come on the tow as I hit the deck! Fortunately that didn't happen and we clawed back about 3minutes on the descent. It all came down to the exact times, as long as we were only 3 minutes down we would enter the paddle on even terms.....we were 9seconds over only taking the 3minutes of penalty!! So Mountain Hardwear went into the paddle with a 4 point advantage.Boy this was nail biting!

 I'll quickly add an aside here. When I saw the time for Fairfield I was pretty pleased, 1hr37! That would have had me in 5th in the English Champs race (so if I could just take Tim and Chris with me fell running that would be great). Even more impressive was Sally and Mountain Hardwear getting round in 1hr33 which would have been 3rd! Achieving those times after 8.5hours of racing, I think this was the most impressive stage of the whole race.

Into the boats, we set off 4mins behind Mountain Hardwear, back to the score system with 2hours to paddle. We put everything into this, going for clearing the course as we could see them doing just ahead of us. Both teams cleared the course and both teams arrived back over the two hour time limit so time penalties would apply....predictably, mountain hardwear had been faster however. They got back 8minutes faster than we did, securing the win. It was an excellent race and fantastic to have such hot competition! I'm already looking forward to the next 2 day event on the first weekend in July in Wales.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Open 5 Finale

Church Stretton was the venue for the last open 5 of this years series. The last time I'd raced there was at the FRA relays back in October, so I had fresh memories of the beautiful but painfully steep hills we'd have to contend with. I also knew, if you attacked them hard, you could fly around the area! After our race in the Lakes in April I'd felt like my legs had finally got some biking strength back in them and was looking forward to seeing what I could add to that in a month.

 As it happens, I doubt I added anything and I was pleased just to be out racing come Sunday - In the last 4 weeks I spent 2 weeks progressing from struggling to walk between rooms in the house thanks to a chest infection, to walking up catbells, back to running (twice) and a third week giving up on running because walking was still a bit too hard. I was surprised  that the Tuesday before the open 5 I still felt like somebody was sat on my chest and was exhausted, so I resigned myself to watching from the sidelines....
That lasted around 24hrs...then I worked out the 'breathtakingly simple' (thanks Todd....) explanation - If you are taking inhalers, it helps to check that there is something left in them....numpty!
Needless to say, once I got some new ones, I was no longer exhausted! I even managed to run Tigers Todger fell 'race' on the Wednesday (albeit at a relatively sedate pace) and with each day my chest was feeling a bit less sore. A record Lastminute.AR entry on Thursday evening and I was in :-)!

Bikes or leaning posts?
 I was debating going solo right up until the day, not wanting to hold Rosemary back from a storming race, however we decided to go with it and see how it went. Looking at the map, the run route looked set to take in some of the FRA relay highlights - I planned a route, crossing my fingers that I was right with which ones wouldn't be there (otherwise there'd be some good steep and rough running). The MTB route was a bit more awkward to plan, but we worked out a rough plan and headed to the start. Within the first 10s I realised my hopes were out the window...replan time and some fun off the beaten track :-).
I made us work hard for the last half hour....
 We set off a bit more steadily than normal (Rosemary even commented on the drop in pace), however whilst I couldn't really run fast on track, it didn't really matter what terrain I was on for the pace I could manage. So I adopted the tactic of straight is great - with the occassional contour. This resulted in my favourite terrain, rough underfoot with steep heathery descents! Rosemary doesn't like these so much....sorry!
We got all but the two five pointers within 2hrs and most importantly, hadn't run too hard so my lungs were pretty intact :-).
Off on the bike and this didn't last long with a long road climb with double arrows! Uphill was not my forte this weekend, especially not for extended periods of time. I was half thankful we got stuck in a traffic jam on the narrow road  - quick breather. By the top I was a bit light headed and certainly lacking any MTB strength I thought I might have. We rode around the top and I did wonder if I could actually ride for 3 hours, however a good descent sorted me out. The rest of the ride was lovely and followed the pattern of flying along the flat/downhill and me dropping off on any slight incline, Rosemary dropping back to push me uphills. The beasty hike a bike to 8 left me slightly light headed again, but the whizz down through the forest to 12 made me forget all about it! And somehow, I decided we'd been enjoying ourselves too much up to this point and we should probably do a bit of proper racing. So, with 24mins left on the clock....we turned away from the finish, approaching 13 from below! 11mins in and out and we hit the road to the finish hard! Apparently I could ride harder, I just couldn't look up from the floor at the same time or I would see stars...

Open 5 Series winners
We made it into the finish 2.5mins late, far better than we thought might be the case! A slight lie down was required.....however, we'd only lost 6 points so had a total of 574points, our best to date :-). We won the female pairs catagory, both on the day and in the series! A great end to the series at a great venue, I'm looking forward to next year already :-)
Burbage Skyline - a rare sight, me and shelf within metres in a race! (Pic- Accelerate)

Next stop - Open 2 day (via Jura Fell Race) - with this in mind I gave my lungs a proper test last night at the burbage skyline fell race and am pleased to report they have continued to improve and I was only just over a minute off my best. The rest of the pennine ladies had storming runs with Steph finishing in 3rd, Claire 5th and myself in 6th....I think we got the team prize? Still my favourite evening fell race :-)

Monday, 8 April 2013

Fun in the

After the last blog post, as I'm sure most of you are aware, IT SNOWED! And in Crookes (where I live) it snowed loads!

The main high street in Crookes....

So it was a good decision to evacuate Sheffield at 7am on the Friday as my road was still passable (just). 2.5hrs later I'd made it to New Mills (50min journey) and after spending the day at home, headed to Kendal where everyone was wondering what all the fuss was about - barely any snow in sight!
 On Sat morning I recieved a text to say the Edale Skyline had been cancelled - and with good reason, a couple of rather fast ladies went out to give it a bash anyway and took 2.5hrs to do about 1/4 of the route...never mind the announcement I heard at the train station on Sat night about the train to Edale (the only form of transport to Edale bar owning a tractor with a snow plough attached) being delayed by 29minutes.

There was slightly less snow in Grizedale however (although its all relative...) which is where I was racing the  Cumbrian Commotion Trail Plus with Bruce and Campbell. This was an adventure race without any nav to hide behind - so perfect if you're looking to give it a go. It started with a short run to split everyone up before an mtb - run- kayak - run.
The pace was a bit fierce for the first run but settled down on the bike. The MTB route had been amended so that it was practically all on fire roads, however this took nothing away from the fun of it as it was a skill just to ride those in all the snow! Sliding all over the place, it was some of the best fun I've had on a bike. By the end of the mtb we were in the lead so headed over the hill for a quick kayak keeping the effort up through deep snow..The woods were a proper winter wonderland, all very pretty. As we headed back up the hill from the kayak, we passed those on their way to the boats who were very encouraging, many of them yelling 'go on lads, well done'..... 
Crossing the finish line at Cumbrian Commotion (photo - James Thurlow)

It felt a bit like falling down the hill to the finish as my legs had gone numb by that point, but after a quick bit of plank skiing and a hop over a slippy barrier we crossed the line still in first :-).
I had a few more snowy adventures with the general theme of going for a ride as though there was no snow and being surprised that it took twice as long. Bakewell had plenty of 'rideable' snow, which made your thighs burn, however cut gate was....well... a cornice! I was so excited to find a bit of non snowy ground on this particular outing that I flew down the hill only to attempt a superman impression over the front of my handlebars...oops.  All of it was in stunning sunshine and definitely a lot of fun. 

Trust me - that is a bridleway :-)
It was a novelty to ride not in the snow this weekend at the Open 5. I was racing with Rosemary whom I met up with on the Sat evening after a paddle on the beautifully still Derwent Water. I knew Rosemary was good at organising, but I didn't realise this organisation started on the Sat :-P....thats a lot of planning!
So whilst Rosemary sorted, I emptied everything warm I had with me into the camping hut and wrapped up. I'd never been in a camping hut before, the heater was certainly welcome!

I'd fallen into the trap of 'fixing' my gears on Fri it wasn't a great surprise that, whilst they had been working when I left the house, they no longer shifted up on Sunday morning....thankfully Jon fixed that quickly, thanks Jon!

Photo- Charlotte Hattersley
 We opted to run first, even though the bike looked pretty commiting, so off we went, up, up, up towards Grizedale Pike! I couldn't believe it, I was overheating, now thats not something that's happened recently! Somewhere along the way it became obvious that if we went for one of the 2 controls that would have meant climbing an extra 200m, we would not be back in 2hrs. It wouldn't be much over, but if we wanted a good bike, we probably needed the full 3hours. So we binned the plan of running high and arrived back in transition after only 1hr 40.

We headed out on an anticlockwise loop on the bike, choosing to miss control 10 early on. It was clear from the off there were some big climbs to be had, however it wasn't until the 10km+ of solid uphill back to whinlatter that my legs started to fall off. It felt like the whole course had been one long climb up to this point and I wanted some downhill. A hand full of haribo and a gel sorted me out a bit, as did our arrival at the red route! I love a bit of singletrack, by the time we'd cleared Whinlatter of controls I'd forgiven Ant for the looooooong climb to get there! I think this has overtaken Warcop as my all time favourite open 5!
At the finish (Photo- Claire Maxted)

We swooped down to the finish a whole 7mins early (don't know what has got into us these last two events) with a score of 545, enough to win :-).

I think our strengths are starting to rub off on each other as we are certainly a lot more evenly matched than we were at the start of the series. On the runnable fire roads up through the forest, Rosemary was right on my heels (I was certainly aware of this given the accidentally large interval track session I'd ruined my legs with) and on the bike I felt I wasn't holding her up quite as much....especially towards the end in Whinlatter (although I still think this would be a different matter if there were large road sections!). One more open 5 to go at in Shropshire in May! Can't wait :-)

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

March so far

I've been slacking a little bit on the blog writing front, so here's a brief update of March so far...
5000 points in Open 5s!

 The first weekend (as is the norm) was an Open 5, this time from Grassington in the Yorkshire Dales (more here). I was glad to be back to running reasonably as there was a clear loop to aim for (and I'm not sure I would have made it last month). It soon became obvious we could almost clear the run and so after just over 2hrs we'd had a solid start dropping only one control. The bike was a similar story, we returned having only missed two controls and were a whole 15mins early! Just what we needed to counteract our other open 5hrs15 from previous months! Maybe we should have gone for the bike control in Malham....but those steep arrows on the map didn't make it all that inviting...

The following week I got an exciting parcel in the post....time to get out and test the new Haglöfs kit :-). I chose some pretty harsh conditions to do so, running for 4 hours around Edale to get some Bob Graham training in for Claire....the weather was....well...grim. I tried out the Gram Comp Pull Jacket with an intense range LS top underneath (and a fleece that happened to have been left in the car...brrr) along with the pulse running tights.

Haribo stop on top of kinder...ascent number 3/6

I don't think I own a comfier pair of tights. Having reasonably short legs, I've found in the past that the zip at the ankle sometimes rubs on some running tights, especially on long wet runs, but no such problem with these. I found them light and well fitted, even when wet. An added bonus was the lower leg material, especially designed 'for better ‘wet grass/bramble’ performance'. Well the kinder dozen terrain was a good test of that design feature as we ploughed our way through plenty of deep heather...legs emerged unscathed :-).

One of my specialities is getting very cold in wet and windy conditions. I am pleased to report the Gram Comp jacket kept me toasty, I was a bit concerned with it not having a waist draw chord, but didn't encounter the problem of rain going up the jacket. The hood adjusters are very minimalist, but secure and the peak, although not wired, kept the rain out of my eyes...

Wolf's Pit Fell Race - The gram comp jacket doubling as a bum bag!

 Finally, last weekend I got in a good recce of the Edale Skyline and raced my first fell race of the year - Wolf's Pit. The race was a brutal reintroduction to running fast, with a large field of strong runners racing the 5.75miles with 410m climb. I warmed up the night before with several hours of dancing in pop tarts, so was a little on the tired side..

The part that suited me came right at the start, straight up up up a steep hill! By the top I was still in the mix for the podium, 20mins of runnable trail later and I was looking to hold onto fourth. By the final descent I was in 5th and glanced over my shoulder...there was my relay partner Claire about 50m behind. As I knew her ability to run my legs off on a descent I threw myself off the hill, hoping to keep far enough ahead to stagger into the field and the finish still in 5th. I glanced at my watch at one point and was pleased to see the pace starting with a 4:?? minutes/ I couldn't believe it when we hit the track at the bottom and she was right on my shoulder! I did stagger into the field, but was in 6th, high enough to be 3rd counter for the winning Pennine ladies team with Steph (3rd) and Claire (5th) :-). Even better, this is the first time I have felt good running at pace this year!

 It's amazing how things have changed in the peaks over the last few years, the last time I ran this race it was bone dry, properly fast! I ran 5minutes slower then and finished 8th I think... my time from this year would have placed me in a comfortable 3rd with little competition around me. It's great to have such a strong womens field now, it'll make for some much faster times and much more competitive racing!

Running my legs off to stay ahead of Claire Aspinall
The challenge for this week is sitting still (well...stiller...until Friday).  Then next weekend comes a proper test, the Cumbrian Commotion AR on Sat followed by some flat out racing around the Edale Skyline English Champs Fell Race. Fingers crossed my hip flexors hurt less by turns out running and biking doesn't prepare you for hen do's that include burlesque dancing and wearing high heels....

Monday, 4 February 2013

Open 5 - Cheddar

Female pairs winners
 Last weekend was the latest Open 5 in the series, this time down in Cheddar. Whilst I have friends in Bristol, I'd never made it to Cheddar before so was looking forward to going to yet another new place and seeing the highlights courtesy of Eddie Winthorpe!
It wasn't all smooth running in the weeks before the race, however I did at least have 'some' skin on my heel by race day (3wks of healing and only 'some').
My heel after too much fun in the snow a couple of weeks ago...
 After a long trip down I was pretty knackered (and I had been most of the week), but a good nights sleep at my friends in Bristol set me up to start well.
We decided to try out bike then run as I wasn't all that confident my heel would still have skin on it after running.
Biking to control 16

The bike route was ace, a fast road section before a killer hill climb where I was glad of my 3 chain rings and we were on the top of the gorge. There was a good mix of fast moving and really fun descents...oh and a bit of mud thrown in there too! I think it's fair to say that me and Rosemary are the most incompatible pairing as far as strengths and weaknesses go, on any road section I'll be hanging onto her wheel, off road however and I can get the upper hand, with technical descents my favourite! This route had the best of both worlds meaning (in the main) we could ride together well, both getting to ease off at times where the other wasn't as comfortable - well done Eddie, up until now I have felt a lot more like it was a game of chase Rosemary's wheel!

I actually had to run especially for James to get this photo (there might have been some walking going on before we saw him...)
A slight over estimation in the length of the bike route meant we arrived in transition almost half an hour later than planned. A slick change and we were off on the 'run'....well, talking of strengths and weaknesses, my normal strength for running had disappeared somewhere on the bike section. The hills were a plod at best. In the above photo its a wonder I'm smiling, I think that was the last grin of the race... I don't think I've ever felt so bad on a run ever. The tiredness of the last week had well and truly caught up with me.

We headed across the fields and down to a control and some of my usual spring returned, but something was still a bit funny, I was pretty out of breath and concentrating was difficult.
 Rosemary offered help with the nav - only trouble was I was so wrecked that concentrating on my planned route was enough for me at that point. What she was suggesting was so different to what I had planned I didn't know what to do with it. I decided I must be being overly cautious with my route as I was feeling so rubbish and Rosemary was clearly expecting us to go further, I'd just have to man up and get on with it....turns out I should have stuck to my guns, the help was offered off small glances at the map, not on an actual overall plan.
Yet again we got caught out by the control with the best name on the map, visiting 'totty pot' (10 points) instead of my planned control (15 points) and got a bonus 1.5-2km thrown in for free! By the last control I knew why the run was so much effort, for the second time in a month I was having a small asthma disaster. It was all I could do to keep moving, so it was a bit of a stagger into the finish 12.5mins late - 35points lost.

Thank god we had a good solid bike section to fall back on - we took the win by 42points but I think we were lucky this time! For now we are the series leaders, but we'll have to stop being late back if we're going to stay that way!

In the week after the Jan open 5 I did a full weeks training with highlights of a track session, spinning and lots of fell running in the lakes. This week I'll be happy if my back, legs and chest stop hurting - one things for sure, we definitely went hard enough this time :-)