Saturday, 15 November 2014

Relays, running and the November Open 5 - Lake District

At the end of October, I raced my last race for the Pennine ladies team at the FRA relays. I'd not run over near Barbondale before and it was excellent, fast going with just enough terrain thrown in for good measure. The team has been growing in strength year on year and it's been great fun racing with them! Thankfully I made up for my navigational error at the hodgsons and we pulled off 5th position in a bit of a packed field.

At the FRAs I finally felt like I had my running legs back from the ITERA. I spent a couple of weeks offsetting long and intense days at work with some faster running in the evenings and threw in a couple of park runs for good measure at the new fell foot park run. A nice location for a Saturday morning jaunt!

Then it was time for the first Open 5 of the series, based from Low Wray. The day before I'd been helping out at a friend's event, this combined with another manic week at work meant I was feeling pretty tired before we even began. I looked at the map but my brain just wasn't interested in planning anything, so I drew a rough squiggle indicating an option for the run and then let Rosemary plan the bike in detail. I was also quite happy that Rosemary requested a slower shorter run than normal given a hip injury she'd picked up after hitting the deck during a triathlon, this meant even less thinking.

Our ammended plan was a 3.5hour bike followed by a 1.5hour run. We set off at 10:15 (what had got into us, that was a whole 15minutes before a mad dash not to miss the last start!) and I was pleasantly surprised by how good I felt on the bike. Up into grizedale for some fun off roading (good job Joe, some interesting new riding even given the number of times I've ridden round Grizedale). I let Rosemary lead on the nav, whilst I enjoyed just riding along. We went long but were moving fast.....unfortunately we went a bit too long and I should really have engaged my brain a bit more when Rosemary said 'I've just spotted a way to get 13 too!'.

This was our undoing. Firstly, half way along our route to 13 the undertyre conditions weren't wonderful (although again, well done to Joe for fitting in another good bit of single track along the way that I hadn't ridden before).
Then I turned round after a loud clatter from behind to find Rosemary lieing in the road. The sole of her shoe had come loose and so when trying to unclip, the cleat had remained firmly in place. Out came the zip ties and a makeshift fix was implemented (along with comments about how were we going to undo this at transition?).

Finally, just after picking up 13 my rear tyre punctured. By this time we already knew we needed to be hammering it back to transition if we were going to get back in 4hours (3.5hrs out the window). A quick attempt at getting it to seal failed so we stopped a second time to put a tube in. I let all the air out of the tyre then tried to get the valve out. It wouldn't shift. I used pliers. It wouldn't shift. Rosemary had a go. It still wouldn't shift.....I wasn't sure what to do with a tyre with no air in it that I couldn't put a tube in. I looked at running back but I doubt we would have made it within the 5hrs.... Then finally, with some more brute force it came out!

All of that lot cost us 20-25minutes. I now ran into another problem. I had planned a 3.5hr bike to perfection in term of the amount of food to carry and the pace to ride. So now we were at 4 hours with half an hour left to go and I was having some fueling issues, wishing I'd had my transition bannana half an hour before!

Somehow I didn't fall off my bike and we got into transition for our slickest ever transition (even with the zip ties!). Banana in hand we headed out on the run with 29minutes to go - I was right, there really wouldn't be much thought to put into it. We got the closest 3 controls requiring a convoluted route passing back past the start with 7minutes to go en route to our final control. Out with the tow rope to make that one worth while and we finished in 5hrs 6 mintues, losing 12 of the 15 extra points that control was worth. Every little helps....or that's what we had to hope!

As it happens, the overoptimistic bike route paired with the mechanical and shoe disaster was too much to scrape a podium. Ah well, we had to have a bad race one of these days and even if the score wasn't there, we had a very nice bike ride :-)

Whilst I felt great at the open 5, I've spent the last 2 weeks feeling a bit like a sack of potatoes and not going anywhere fast. I think I was right about being a bit tired to start....This morning we headed to the park run again and somehow I ran 10s faster than last time. Maybe its time to do some more running and riding ready for the North York Moors in December!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

IHMR - Lost in the clag

Last weekend was the Ian Hodgson Mountain Relays, one of my favourite events of the year. After a good streak in the mixed category from 2009-2011, the pennine men and women decided to branch off into having mens and womens teams for the last three years. With good results at the FRA relays, this seemed like a sensible thing to do, however there always seems to be something stopping the women at the hodgsons.....This time it was my turn to experience the curse of leg 3....

Two years ago, I'm not sure it's fair to blame leg 3 for anything, however last year for a whole host of reasons, it started developing a rep - resulting in us finishing at the bottom of the womens table. Most recently I've  been a leg 2 specialist, however I specifically asked for a change this year as I fancied running a little bit shorter after dental surgery that left me looking a bit like a chipmunk (and also a bit uncoordinated downhill) the previous Tuesday. This landed me with leg 3, which I duly reccied well in advance (on Saturday) and was confident of the lines and landmarks to hit even in the mist.

I was racing with Naomi which was great as she had been in pennine pretty much from when I started fell running but I hadn't seen her in ages! At changeover, Noel started the 'time to dark peak' timer as DPFR ladies ran through Kirkstone and we were pleased to be setting off 2minutes down. A blast up red screes and we were gaining well on them. We nailed the line down the other side of red screes and were soon heading over towards my next landmark, a large cairn. We passed Calder Valley who were looking bemused about where to go (but not bothering to get a map out) and soon disappeared into the mist (so I assume they had to resign themselves to the map at that point). I was pleased to hit the reccied line across to just below Dove Crag. Keeping slightly higher than on the Saturday in a bid to get it right, we skirted around Dove Crag. I glanced at my watch, excellent, 47minutes gone and we were almost at the second checkpoint.

I should have known we were jinxed from the off,Claire had assured Naomi that my nav was ace and I'd never get her lost....She'd also reassured me the previous evening that no matter how slow I ran after the dental surgery, there was no way we'd beat their effort of 1:39:11 from the previous year. Well that was a gauntlet laid down!

Geoff had mentioned that last year he had found some leg 3 runners half way up Hart Crag (you only go up here on leg 4) and couldn't understand how on earth they'd done it! Well, it's quite easy really. What you do is skirt most of the way around Dove Crag in the mist, fail to see the col because the clag is so close, continue running, hit some unfamilier, steep rocky ground, convince yourself you're too high, drop down a bit, notice the rocks aren't going away, decide your best bet is to climb to the ridge and hey presto! You're half way up Hart  Crag!

So, I added on 1mile with 150m of ascent which took us as additional 24minutes (including some head scratching). Finally we arrived at checkpoint 2 after 1hr16. Heading in from the wrong direction we were met by Geoff saying 'where on earth have you been, Helm Hill ladies were overjoyed you hadn't been through'. Needless to say it was now looking likely we were going to take the pennine women's 'worst leg 3' award! We tore down the hill and thankfully scraped in in 1:37, phew, narrowly avoided that one!

The other three pairings had storming runs, but the curse of leg three (now established) once again skewed the result. I suppose I'm allowed a nav error after 13 relays for pennine without, but it was an inconvenient year to have one given how well the others ran.....maybe next year.....

Friday, 26 September 2014

Mourne Moutain Marathon

Back in March, me and Wil opened a wedding card to find a voucher inside for a three night stay in a cottage in the Mourne Mountains from the 21-24th September. Sheila and the Smiths had done their research and booked our wedding present in Kilkeel for the nights following this years Mourne Mountain Marathon.

Without thinking too much about it we entered the Elite course for the Mourne MM (it'd be rude not to race right?). I figured that by the end of September I'd have recovered from the Itera and all would be well for another assault on the Elite course. So, 5 weeks recovery, one very painful attempt at running fast the previous weekend (resulting in 5days of DOMS which abaited on the Thursday - phew) and we were at the start of two days of running through my favourite mountains.

Cloughmore stone

This year started a little further South than the previous events we'd done, covering some terrain less familiar to us. At 9:02am we ran across the start line (having arrived at 9:01am, efficient time management perfected) and marked up the map from the grid references given for the days 20 controls. Day 1 started with a steep climb, characteristic of many of the Mourne races which start close to sea level, and we were soon up and over to the Cloughmore stone for checkpoint 1, greated by a stunnning view. Moving well we headed off down the hill into Kilbroney Forest Park.

For anyone that raced the Elite this year, you might notice a bit of a discrepancy with this last statement.We made quick progress, down, across and up the kilometer or so to the next control. However upon consulting the control descriptions the code for the control didn't match what was on the flag. A double check of the grid reference and.....rubbish! We'd made a stupid marking up error and were out by over a km. Not a good start. Clearly we didn't think this race was long enough at 28km!

A mad dash back the way we'd come, up the hill to the Cloughmore stone and we were back on track, ~2km and 100m+ of ascent worse off. We left the track in the correct direction for control 2 just as the Swedish pairing of Tomas Albinsson and Pernilla Berg went flying down the track in the opposite direction heading to the first checkpoint.

The next three controls were fairly good going over runnable tussocky moorland or on forest tracks. We pressed on, looking over our shoulder, waiting for Tomas and Pernilla to come into sight but after an hour or so they hadn't materialised and we had something else to think about.

Heading up Finlieve More we got our first taste of what the SW Mournes had a reputation for, massively rough underfoot conditions. Having responded well for the first 90 minutes, my legs were a bit less happy with this and the high knees style running/trogging required to cross it. This continued for the rest of the day as we passed around Finlieve and headed for Eagle Mountain (making the most dubious of all of our route choices to take in an exceeding steep boulder field come tussocky mess). We reached windy gap after about 3hours, unfortunately not living up to its name in the hot sun, and I was starting to feel that in fact my legs might still be a little tired. There was a distinct lack of rivers to fill water bottles and my legs took a real beating on the 3km or so of rough terrain to the road crossing and Slieve Muck. I turned my left ankle somewhere along here, a sign of tiring muscles.
An hour or so of running around Slieve Muck including a big climb with no water (Wil dropped low to fill our bottles when it became apparent the stream near the control was not at all full), a steep traverse (on which we managed to stay in touch with the pair that won the day after they overshot the first control and took a high line) and an incredibly rough decent on which I turned my ankle twice more, the second time badly enough that I had to have a sit down before I could contemplate standing on it again.

The start of Day 2 - the hill on the left is Eagle Mountain. What appears to be a cliff face along its edge was our route choice on Day 1.....

By the time we recrossed the road we had no water left, still, only one big climb and a bit of ridge slalom and we'd be home! This seemed to take forever, the terrain didn't improve, my legs didn't improve, but somehow we were still moving faster than the B course runners around us. Having estimated a finishing time of 5hrs to 5hrs30, 6hrs15 was a bit disappointing and likely meant we'd be out of the chase as far as the mixed pairs were concerned. We really shouldn't add controls to courses!

Tomas and Pernilla came running hard down the track what seemed like far too soon after us. When we checked the leaderboard however they'd mispunched and according to the confused SI timing in this situation had taken 18hrs. Great, our holiday could start properly with an hour and half buffer to second mixed pair!
Oddly, it said they'd mispunched control number one which we'd seen them go to and there was a marshal at, fairly impossible....turns out their dibber had broken and shortly afterwards they were reinstated in a time of 6hrs 17minutes. Race back on then!

It had been a really tough first day, literally evey muscle ached, not just the legs. This was corroborated by the others we talked to around the campsite, possibly the friendliest of all mountain marathon campsites.

Overnight Camp - Costa Del Killowen
 Day 2 and we were off at 8am in a mass start. We were third off the line after map marking (taking care to double check everything), choosing an anticlockwise loop for the first three controls which we could approach in any order we chose.
A pair overtook us at the first control like an express train. By the fourth control we were still with them, having covered about 6km with two significant climbs, a traverse through more ankle eating terrain and a descent where I had another little sit down after the first ankle roll of the day.

Just before the 3km leg to control 4 we'd caught sight of Tomas and Pernilla heading into the control we were leaving, roughly 5minutes behind (if we were lucky). Plan number 1 of being ahead was underway but we'd have to work for it.

If we thought yesterdays terrain was difficult, I don't know how to describe the leg from control 4-6. Wading springs to mind when descibing our 'running' style and you've never seen anyone more dedicated to high knees than when Wil promised me there was a km of track up ahead as we were heading around Slievemeel. I didn't want to spend a minute longer in that stuff than I needed to!

Views from Rostrevor Forest - I tried to find a representative picture of the deep tusocky terrain, but it appears people with cameras don't bother going to that bit.

The track up to 6 was amazing, actual running! Heading down the firebreak to the control there was a trod and everything. What would normally be described as rough terrain was good going today!
At the end of the firebreak we scouted around, no sign of a control. The leaders from day 1 showed up. They couldn't find it either. Back we went, picking up the firebreak we'd made sure not to 'take by mistake' and there it was. 5-10mins binned.

This was the first in a series of 4 'free order' controls in rostrevor forest, that looked like they had been meant for an orienteering event on 1:15000 map, a control pick with a bit of 'reentrant roulette' thrown in on a 1:25000...After our initial miss we were very careful for the remaining three controls, getting round without navigational incident. This did happen to be the absolute worst terrain of the event however, I don't think I've ever gone as slowly between controls in a mountain marathon. My shins looked like I'd been orienteering and just as we were leaving the forest I turned my ankle again. This time it was very close to game over, but a hobble for 5mins and disaster was avoided.

Running over the fell outside the forrest was awesome, again under normal circumstances this wouldn't have been easy going, but today it felt like a tarmac road! We caught up with Johnny and partner at the next control and they informed us that we weren't far behind the first mixed pair!

What? When had that happened? They hadn't been in sight since the third control and now they weren't even in sight ahead. Our firebreak mistake clearly was costly.
We assumed this was it, they were definitely more than 2 minutes ahead of us to be out of sight. We could only move at our own pace as our beaten legs weren't up for chasing someone we couldn't even see ahead of us. We went over Slievemeen (it certainly felt it at the time) then a loop of Slievefadda and Knockshee before heading down into the valley just to fit that extra climb back in towards Slievemeen.

Heading off Knockshee I looked back and there were Tomas and Pernilla. It turns out the reason we couldn't see them ahead was because they weren't, they were busy making their own 5-10minute mistake...Back in the lead we gave it everything to the finish. Even in the last descent the planner had thrown in some rocks and gorse to keep things interesting and we burst out of that lot onto the path still ahead. Down the field to the finish Johnny and partner came flying past but we stayed a fields length ahead of Tomas as Pernilla to take the win. Doesn't get much closer than that over 11hrs of racing!

At download they found that they had mispunched the second control (accidentily ommitting it after not drawing a line to it in the free order section - easily done). However they must have run within meters of it so the tight race to the finish is still pretty much how things would have gone regardless. This racing down to the line only for the opposition to mispuch is becoming a bit of a habit....clearly you don't want to be racing me ;-).

Thanks to the organisers for another great event, well planned courses with plenty of route choice, friendly marshals and plenty of good grub to finish. Thanks too to Jackson Sports for supporting the event with some excellent prizes.
If anybody is planning to do a mountain marathon next year, I'd definitely recommend giving the Mournes a go, I even came back with a tan! Still my favourite mountains even if they did try to eat my legs this year...

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

ITERA World Series Adventure Race

Stage 11 of the ITERA is almost over! In the last week or so, in between sleeping, eating and working, I have finally managed to put the finishing touches to my PhD thesis which is currently being bound in time for my final deadline on Friday, phew! No mean feat given there were two chapters missing at the start of the week....whether the last 10,000 words of it are in English remains to be seen at my viva....

Stages 1-10 of the ITERA were a little different...from the 11th-15th August I was making my way across Wales by foot, bike and kayak from Caernarfon to Cardiff . I was racing with Tim Higginbottom, Chris Near and Bruce Duncan as Team Haglofs Silva UK.

The race started on the Saturday evening with a fast and furious prologue in Cardiff, a 10km run around the bay stopping off at the white water centre to get a bit wet. Unfortunately, within 500m it was very obvious that my lungs were having a bad day, making running fast rather difficult. We got round, 7minutes or so down on the leaders, Team Adidas Terrex. This time would be multiplied by 3  and serve as a penalty in the main race.

White Water Centre....I am in the boat, honest!
After the prologue, my chest was really sore and I was more than a bit worried that there was only just over a day until the main race.
Thankfully by the time we'd caught the coach up to Caernarfon on Sunday, I was feeling a lot better.

The Start in Caernarfon Castle
The main race kicked off from Caernarfon Castle at 8am on Monday 11th and day one was an action packed day.
A couple of laps of the walls and it was into kayaks, up the Menai straits to Bangor. There was a big tide and the wind was behind us, making this far faster than on our training weekend in May which was straight into a headwind.
Originally we were going to paddle to Conwy, however given the conditions post hurricane Bertha it was onto the bikes from Bangor to Conwy, pretty much cycling past Chris' front door. So far, our pre race training had been very relevant!
At Conwy we did a short orienteering section around the castle, baffling tourists along the way. Then it was back on the bikes for a trip to Zip World.
Me and Chris heading down the zip line at Zip World

Zip World is the longest zip line in Europe. Heading down through a quarry and over a lake, you reach speeds of up to 100mph! As with jumping off cliffs into water, this doesn't rate as one of my favourite activities in every day life, however it certainly was a highlight of the race! Having done it, I'd certainly give it another run :-).

Arriving at Ogwen (Photo Mick Kenyon)
A short section of biking and we arrived at Ogwen for the start of the first trekking section through Snowdonia. Summiting Tryfan, Glyder Fawr, Snowdon, Yr Aran, Cnicht and Moelwyn Mawr this was a stage that we were looking forward to as it should suit us well!
At this stage we were a bit unsure where we stood in terms of race time as we'd had a timed out section at Zipworld (as had Adidas and Sweco, the two teams to arrive there ahead of us), but we were all there for different lengths of time. So we made quick work of Tryfan and Glyder Fawr in an effort to catch back up to the teams ahead, reaching Pen Y Pass just ahead of Sweco. Time for a bit of a race up Snowdon. We aimed to summit with enough of a gap that we could disappear off the other side before Sweco summited. In the last of the daylight we did just that and were rewarded with some excellent views of the sunset.
Setting off from Pen Y Pass with purpose
I think somewhere along this leg I got the first warning signs that my chest was a bit unhappy again, feeling a bit rough and finding it hard to eat. But we got off the trek and onto the water well and were off onto the estuary in the early hours of Day 2, heading for Portmeirion, a unique little Italian style town tucked away in the middle of Wales. After collecting a few orienteering controls we had about half an hour of time out before we were allowed back in the kayaks. Not to waste an opportunity, we lay down for half an hours sleep. As soon as we lay down I started coughing, sounding quite a lot like I had a chest infection. This wasn't going to work. Chest officially unhappy I found a bench to sit on instead, disturbing the Rounsley's sleeping arrangements instead of the rest of the team, sorry girls!

Italy or Wales?
24hrs into the race we set off in the kayaks again with Adidas, heading for a control across the bay. I say in Kayaks, the best way to move forward against the tide and headwind was to pull the boats along in the water, directing the back using a paddle. Using this technique, we made it to the point we needed to head out across the bay. Just as we set off we were informed this part of the stage was cancelled. That would have been hard work!
Heading back with the tide and wind we transitioned onto bikes and headed for Barmouth. Again we set off within a few minutes of Sweco who had arrived at Portmeirion for the orienteering just as we'd started paddling.
Against the tide and the wind
The second big trek of the race started from Barmouth, heading straight up Cadair Idris. We set off just behind Sweco, overtaking them on the run over the bridge and along the flat, hitting the climb once again with the aim of gaining some ground before the summit so as to disappear off the top.
I was struggling with climbs at this point, now taking ventolin ever 4hrs in a bid to keep things under control. We got up Cadair Idris ahead of them and put in a good descent to disappear, keeping a good pace for the rest of the stage. By the final two summits I was having some real difficulties, now coughing like I had a chest infection again, almost to the point I couldn't catch a breath. If it had been a fell race and I didn't have Chris towing me up the final summit I'm not sure I would have got up it under my own steam. Thankfully I did have a tow rope and we made it to all the checkpoints and down to transition, where Charlotte checked me over.

Coming into transition after the trek
Due to the amount of Ventolin I'd been taking, my resting heart rate was 105bpm (therefore my racing heart rate was.....well, pretty high). However, the only way to improve things was to take more ventolin, sending me into the salbutamol shakes for a brief period. Since the race, Charlotte told me that me oxygen saturation was also not as good as it could be at this point (not too surprisingly), which might explain my inability to transition. Imagine finishing an intervals session where you really pushed yourself into oxygen debt and on the finish line being presented with a bag full of things from which you have to select everything you need for the next 24hrs+.....needless to say I was not slick!
Eventually, at the start of Day 3, we were off on the bikes for the big stage of the race, 220km of MTB with a stop offs at Devils bridge and Elan Valley. Within the first few km we found a nice bit of forest for a quick, well needed sleep.

The long MTB stage
One of very few James Kirby photos in which I am not smiling
I don't remember an awful lot from the first 110km of riding. Generally I was concentrating on breathing. I lost the ability to talk and eating was getting progressively harder given my inability to breathe. A lot of towing ensued.
At Elan valley we arrived 15minutes or so behind Sweco and once again, managed to pull back this deficit during the trail run in which we caught and overtook Sweco with the incentive of food and sleep at the end of the run.
At this point, we served a compulsory stop aimed at getting everyone back into race order and time on the ground. We had 1hr42 to eat, sleep and be ready to go again. The eating part didn't go too smoothly for me as, from half way round the trail run, my stomach was now rejecting anything put into it. I think I had enough oxygen to either move forward or digest food.
Elan Valley
Leaving Elan Valley it looked like we should make it to Glasbury with 4-5hrs before we were allowed on the river Wye at 8am. Free sleep!
However, a combination of my inability to eat food and the terrain (some river wading and bracken hacking in the dark) meant the second half of the MTB route took a bit longer than planned. At 7am on Day 4 we had breakfast from a lovely bakery in Builth Wells, just as Sweco caught us once again. After the last stretch of biking, we arrived in Glasbury just as Walhalla, who we hadn't seen for the rest of the race, came flying past. Although we didn't have free sleep, we did have sleep at Galsbury as we all needed it!

Sleeping arrangements at Glasbury - barely noticed it was raining...

After 2hours we got up and ready to go down the river Wye. Whilst getting ready to go, I realised my chest was in the worst state yet, I was struggling to breathe just walking about. So another less than slick transition, enough ventolin to send me into uncontrollable shakes and a bit of food and Charlotte gave us the go ahead to leave.

I was now also taking 2 puffs of ventolin every 2hours and this, paired with a less than urgent pace down the river (we almost had a grade one sit on top capsize after Chris fell asleep) gave my breathing a bit of a chance to recover. We passed through Hay on Wye for the street O, picking up some food on the way.
After our drift down the river we hit the bikes with a bit more purpose, trying to get as much out of the remaining daylight as possible. We were sitting in 4th and our target now was to get to the Brecon Beacons and try and reclaim a podium position on the last trek of the race. Thankfully all the ventolin was paying off and my legs had a bit more in them.

What we weren't expecting was to hit the final trek ahead of Sweco, in 3rd. We'd overtaken them at transition strangely, but pressed on to make the most of this advantage. We made it over Fan Y Big but before we reached the top of Cribyn  four lights started gaining on us at an insane speed. We couldn't hold them off, so on top of Cribyn we sat down.
Sweco arrived and asked 'is there a control here?'. We gave nothing away, they found the control and headed more slowly down the hill to the col.
It appears their race tactics involved following us, as at the col they stopped to get their maps out. We headed down behind them and got the bivvy out for a 10minute nap to give them a bit of time to do their own thing.
Classy sleeping location next to the bins

When we set off again, we thought we were stuck in fourth position. The pace certainly wasn't what it had been, we were tired, Chris had damaged his knee somewhere along the river Wye and the motivation to push hard evaded us a bit. We stopped for another couple of sleeps and after the last of these made a decision to try and move at least a bit better or we wouldn't even be fourth!

So it was a complete surprise to find Sweco leaving the caving section just as we got there. We were then informed that Walhalla were just ahead of them! The race was back on!
A quick whip around the caving and we set off on the final 6km of trekking, overtaking both Sweco and Walhalla along the way to reach the final transition in 2nd.
Off on the final bike section
We hit the last stage as hard as we could, giving it everything to stay ahead of Sweco and Walhalla. It was a lovely morning and the views from the singletrack were ace. From the top it was a matter of heading down to the Taff trail then following it all the way to Cardiff. One small bit of nav confusion and we reached it. By the sounds of it, following the Taff trail was much easier in the daylight and we managed to hold and even grow the advantage we had to the finish line, finishing 2nd!

This was my first full course expedition race finish and my first podium position. Thanks to the guys for keeping me going and to Tom and James for a great route. Also thanks to Charlotte and Jacqui for getting me in a state to continue and letting me back out on the course!

Time for a bit of a rest now before the Mourne Mountain Marathon in September!


Friday, 11 April 2014

Going Incognito

Last weekend was the final Open 5 of the series, but instead of racing with Rosemary, I was hiding on the bottom of the results table having raced with Bruce, Tim and Chris as a non comp team of 4. Just to make sure I really was incognito, I'd even changed my name to Lucy Spain!

Mark Sullivan Photography
Me and Wil got married on 22nd March and thanks to all our great friends, we had an excellent wedding day. Extra special thanks to Wil's cousin Mark who captured the day on film (Mark Sullivan Photography) and Hannah Whitelam who is a fantastic 'cake dresser'!

Hannah's amazing cake complete with climbing couple! Only took 5Kg of sugar paste....
We had a 'relaxing' (well...for one day at least which is good going for us!) honeymoon in Tenerife, complete with cycling and then walk/jogging Teide - that is a big volcano!

Then it was back to a rather wet Lake District for a weekend of fun with Haglofs Silva :-). After getting wet in sit on top kayaks on Windermere (I could certainly feel I had not been in a kayak since the C2C), we headed across the ferry for some MTB around to Hawkeshead and back. This is probably the first time I've ridden the 29er on more technical terrain and there was some getting used to just picking a line and letting it roll... by the time we got back, it looked like we'd just been kayaking again we were so wet!

A quick stop in Bowness for chips and we headed round to Coniston for the Silva 10K. I hadn't really looked at the route before we got there and looking at the map about 15mins before the start I kind of regretted finishing eating at about 8pm. Never mind, 8:30pm came and we were off. The route followed the trail by the road out towards Skelwith bridge, before taking a left up a minor road and then heading onto the trail over the shoulder of Wetherlam before heading back down to Coniston. The climb up Wetherlam is one of my favourite, however I'd never done it from this side of the hill before, good to get in a new route!

Trail running by night - the Silva runner 550 lighting the way
I set off and was leading after the first 500m or so, although the chips were certainly weighing heavy... I had a bit of a 'back and forth' with another lady from 2-3km at which point I thought I'd leave it until the real climb to run a bit harder...keeping her in sight I trotted away up the hill and at 6km caught her back up - right, time to press on! Unfortunately the combination of chips and having already been paddling/cycling didn't really let me do this so I settled into 2nd, staying there until the finish. I won a silva trail runner II headtorch for my efforts and Bruce and Chris also won some lighting, finishing 2nd and 4th.

The next morning we were back on the bikes for the Open 5. We planned to clear the bike and then get what we could on the run due to various ailments. First off - Walna Scar Road! By the time we started it was once again pouring down. It was fairly warm however so a Haglofs intense long sleeve and scramble Q jacket were enough to keep me toasty on the move.

The top of my left fibula was sore pre wedding, but I hadn't had any trouble for the previous couple of weeks. The 10K seemed to have started things off again though, so the hike a bike up to the top was not that welcome. The descent was a good reward though and my leg was fine when riding! We whizzed down to the next checkpoint, but were one short at the bottom. Chris appeared running out of the mist - puncture repair time...a good learning point from the weekend here as between us we had 1x29er inner tube and 1x gas canister. As Chris has 26" wheels we crossed our fingers as we inflated the tube with our one shot gas and luckily it seemed to work :-).

On we went, I had no role in the nav so not entirely sure where to, but I do know there was a LOT of water on the ground! Ant had planned a challenging course, which was ace fun as we mainly intended to bike and didn't have to think about tactical route choices. I think a few people (including Rosemary and Heather) got caught out by the slow going and tough riding....

Haglofs Kit brightening up a dismal day :-)
I got caught out on my summer tyres a couple of times. The second time of hitting the deck I hit my head off the floor and gave myself an array of beautifully coloured bruises down my right hand side....My jacket also now needs some fetching elbow patches....I took it a bit more carefully from then on....time to get some big size tyres to deal with mud!

We were back in just over 4 hours and opted not to walk to the nearest run control just to bag a non competitive score. A good day/weekend out, looking forward to May and a run about it Wales!

Although I didn't race with Rosemary this time, we had done enough in the races we had done together to secure the series win for a second year! I'm sure we'll be back racing together again in November (unless of course I am now ditched for inconsistent team mate duties :-P).

Series winners 2013/2014

Sunday, 26 January 2014

2nd at the Dark Mountains

Tired but glad to be back in the warm
I'm back! After the OMM last year I had a bit of a break from racing, managing to fit in a house move, new job and half a thesis of writing instead. Me and Rosemary did start our open 5 series well in December, with a good score in the Forest of Dean ( to take the win and another win at the start of January at Hamsterley Forest ( One more good result needed to complete the series next weekend, however it probably won't be as smooth running as usual after the Dark Mountains Mountain Marathon this weekend.

Most mountain marathons require navigation over pretty unforgiving terrain, carrying all the kit needed to eat, drink, stay warm and camp for a night. An Elite course has a typical winning time of about 11 hours split over two days, with an (often rather soggy) overnight camp in between.  In terms of concept, the Dark Mountains is no exception, however there is a twist. Competitors start racing shortly after dark and race through the night, completing the '11 hours' in one go. Having spent more than enough soggy nights in a tent at mountain marathons, this did sort of appeal (although the fact that it was January therefore it would probably still be soggy and I wouldn't be in a tent sounded less good).

Elite Course Route Map
Me and Bruce raced the Elite course as a mixed pair, starting at 7:21pm on Saturday. The route started from Old Glossop and ran up Doctors Gate before dropping off to the left of the path to Mill hill and heading straight up to the edge of the kinder plateau. From there it was a lap of kinder, visiting Red Brook, Kinder Low End (both Pennine haunts), Ringing Rodger and Fairbrook Naze before crossing back over the A57. Into Dark Peak territory with several complex controls in Alport Valley, the next couple on the moor above Howden Res and then a trip over Bleaklow followed by 2 controls at an old quarry to finish!

Before the start we were debating what to wear. The weather forecasts varied between 'calm and clear' and 'horrendous snow storm' so anything was possible. After last year, we didn't want to take any risks.
I settled for hat and gloves, Puls Q Tights with their windstopper material on the shin to protect my legs when bashing through heather, a base layer and long sleeve intense Q top with my shield comp Q windproof over the top. I also carried my Stem II Q fleece and Essens down gilet just in case! Thankfully I didn't need either and at some points was verging on too warm, but in general I think I got it spot on.
In combination with our silva runner headtorches and compasses we were set to go!

We ran through number 1 ok, having caught 2 of the three teams to have started before us. At snake summit we caught Joe and Sharon and had a bit of a chat, finishing with the line 'see you at number 2'. Number 2 was probably the most technical control of the race so there was lots of room for error...which we duly made. It was positioned on a stream in the middle of some streams, with not a lot to use as an attackpoint other than the path and a bearing. We set off well, hitting a stream we thought was about right, however the sides steepened and it was clear this was not our stream. No worries, looked like we'd gone a little too far, so we set off back towards Mill Hill a bit. Mistake, we were not too far but too short of the control, which we quickly worked out, but this cost us a km or so. As predicted we arrived at the control with Joe and Sharon.

Off to the edge of the kinder plateau and we made up for number 2 by cruising through 4 & 5 (3 was removed from the course) and onto the edge path. Now we were on my territory, I know this part of kinder like the back of my hand, but at night things do look a bit different....
The next control was at a site used previously in the kinder trial and I was well aware that I had spent a fair while hunting around the boulders on this plateau in the light looking for controls. We ran around to Red Brook and took the direct line down the hill, hitting the plateau. Thankfully Shane hadn't used Andy's 'boulder' as a control, but instead used a crag which we found without too much difficulty.

On to kinder low end, keeping a high line as I was well aware of some of the rubbish there was to run through lower down. We popped up and saw a control, yes! We'd spiked it! Oh wait, no there was no SI box, clearly this was a control from the kinder trial earlier in the day. We had another small faff here in order to find the control, I think we nearly did hit it spot on but then dropped too low, relocated on the path before finally finding it.

Heading across to kinder low end I started to feel it was a bit tough going and my legs weren't functioning too well. I was eating and drinking well, however not too long after that I realised it had been around 2 hours since I'd taken my inhaler and I was now wheezing my way along. Not that effective when trying to move well through terrain. At the control I stopped and took my inhaler again, crossing my fingers for a good result. This has gone one of two ways in the past and one way would have been the end of the race. Thankfully it wasn't a repeat of Jura and I was able to pick my legs up properly again! Unfortunately this did start a pattern for the race and every two- three hours or so I had a bit of a wheezing session and had to take my inhaler again. Tomorrow I get a drug I ran out of about 3 weeks ago (the hazards of moving house and doctors) so hopefully this will sort things out...

From here to Fairbrook Naze the clag had descended making staying on the edge path difficult enough. Towards Ringing Rodger we were caught by Tom Gibbs and Steve Birkinshaw and we ran with them down to the control and back out to the three minute crossing (which I was very happy to identify in the clag, although it took slightly longer than 3 minutes). It was a bit of a slog to Fairbrook Naze and it certainly payed off that I knew where the path should be. We were happy to be off the hill and across the A57 without incident.

Half  way crossing the A57 (photo - Ian Corless)

It seemed like a long leg down to Alport, but once there we got the three technical controls without too much faff. I was less than impressed with the steepness of the hill to number 15, but we got there in the end! Now, on to Howden. Unfortunately I knew what was coming, tussocks, tussocks, a bit of marsh and some more tussocks. I certainly was not running the pace I was last time I was there last summer.... In fact, I'm not sure there are any other sports where competing in the 'Elite' category can make you look much less Elite....

Once out of the tussocks, the customary MM shuffle was implemented along the Pennine way over Bleaklow and down to the final two controls. The last control was a bit complex, but we took it steady and just when we were starting to wonder where on earth it was there, phew!

After Tom and Steve had passed us, there were a twinkling of lights behind us for a while, however by the time we were at Alport, these were nowhere to be seen. We ran all of the second half alone (occasionally seeing Tom and Steve ahead) so we thought we were running quite well. By the time we had got to the finish, walked to the sports hall (legs not able to even shuffle any more) and had a shower, there were still no more teams at the finish... Hats off to Shane for creating a really tough and technically challenging course.

This meant that not only were we first mixed pairs on the elite, but also 2nd overall! A result that probably makes some of the type 2 fun we had worth it :-)