Monday, 7 November 2016

White Rose 100

"100 miles from start to finish, 3 laps of the standard WRU 30 + a 10 mile extension at the end. Multi-terrain course with a few fun bits along the way! (fully stocked aid stations every 10 miles, unmanned water stations every 5 miles)"

^^The blurb for a 30 mile lap, no idea what it means really,
but I know it was fucking hilly!

I'd looked into this race last year and decided there was too much road for me, but it was still hovering somewhere in the back of my mind. During a run with a mate I mentioned it and he offered to do a recce with me.  Perfect, see if it was indeed too much road and if so then at least I'd have seen somewhere new and had a long training run.  We did that early October and it all went well, it was so hilly that I figured the amount of hard trail/tarmac didn't matter, it was the hills that'd kill me if anything.  

Then we got to Wessenden Head and I heard something that chilled my bones. Apparently it's the most recent place they've searched for Keith Bennett.  And there's a shrine at the roadhead which really got to me, fucking grim it was. Now some things scare me to the point of vomiting - heights, the dark, spiders - but the moors murderers and spirits really freak me out. Laugh if you like, it is what it is :-) Fuck fuck fuck, what to do.  I kept an eye on the entry list for a week or two, figuring I still had plenty of time to think about this. Then Sharon mentioned it was up to 64 entries and so on the spur of the moment I entered. 

Race Day dawned, got the 07.36 up to Huddersfield with the kitchen sink in my kit bag then a taxi out to Linthwaite. The race HQ was fab, there were so few ladies in the race that we had a huge cloakroom to ourselves and could spread all our gear out in readiness for our return after each loop. I spent most of the time in there pre-race chilling and chatting.  Telling the RD to put safety pins in his mouth wasn't my finest moment but he was teasing me about ghosts so, sorry Wane, but it was called for ;-) Saw Carl, he pointed out his stash of Guinness saying to help myself, I said I'd keep it in mind for later. 

And then we were off. I think the first half of the loop is definitely harder, a lot of steep uphills through villages and such. The Bog of Doom is about 3 miles in, it had been fine on the recce, but on Saturday it was indeed a splodgy sinky mess. No point wasting time trying to get round it so in we went.  By the first CP I'd learned that the girl I was chatting to had serious PB times (she went on to win First Lady) so I let her go at that point and ran my own race.  Having such frequent water and feed points is fantastic, being a winter 100 you've enough gear to carry just to cater for the weather so not having to worry about water is a huge bonus.  Plus the encouragement from the marshals is always welcome. 

I won't go into too much detail about the route, it is lovely though, the views are fantastic from pretty much everywhere.  The terrain is a bastard, so many sharp rocky rutted tracks, there were many curses uttered.  And as for the farm sideways cobbled tracks, what the fuck, they're clearly put in to save money / discourage anyone from using them (apart from eejit runners).  One particular fucker is Plains Lane. Oh God that hurts. Oh and Green Lane, that's evil too.  I like the climb up Wessenden, it's a shame it's got that story attached to it, but that's my own personal issue, it wouldn't bug most people I guess. The mile downhill afterwards is fab, till your quads and knees are in bits and you can't actually run it!  

Meltham Moor is lovely.  It's all quite different to where I usually run in that down here when you're on the moors then you're usually miles away from even a sight of civilisation, whereas up there there are lots of roads and villages but still the same feeling of space and being able to see for miles around. 

I'd been chatting to Louise at various points and going up Wessenden as dusk fell it really helped to have her luminous pink shorts and socks to focus on rather than think about spooky things! Plus there were other runners behind us so I got through that bit ok, had a chat with James at the top and then the final 5 miles back to HQ and preparing for the 2nd leg.

Carl was in the hall when I got in and he pressed 2 cans of Guinness on me (ok, he didn't have to press very hard!). I had one of them, half a Pot Noodle, a cup-a-soup, put on tights and more layers and then back out. I think it was about a 25 minute turnaround but I could do it quicker next time. 

It was dark now but I joined up with Tarne and Dharm and they were great company. The Bog of Doom was quite disorientating in the dark, we ended up going through much more of it than we needed to, ho hum :-)  I'd changed my shoes after the 1st loop, started off in Inov-8 Trail Talon 250's, which were grand, but I think the first BoD crossing didn't help and after a couple of hours I realised that the insoles were coming out.  They were so muddy after 30 miles I decided to just change into clean 212's and be done with it. They were soon muddy right through as well but did the job. 

I had my headtorch on but was also carrying a hand torch (as recommended by Graham, thank you it was perfect!!) and never had to worry about changing batteries as I mostly just used the hand torch (£26 from Screwfix, bargain).  

 Going up Wessenden for the second time I made sure to stick close to Tarne.  Didn't tell him why till we were safely through :-)  It was bloody freezing overnight, never been out in conditions like it. Well, Kinder in the hail or snow might compare, but better cold than heat! 

Parts of the second loop dragged, parts went quicker, it was hard being out in the dark for so long and we were swaying a bit like drunkards. I said I was going to have a power nap when we got back to HQ and the others agreed. Set my alarm for 15 minutes, didn't sleep at all, said 'fuck it' and set it for another 20.  Managed to get a doze in then decided I had better get up and get on with it. I did envy those who had sleeping bags, I was on the floor with my coat over me, but it was definitely the right thing to do, stopping then would've been so easy. There were quite a few bodies lying around and I couldn't make it which ones were Tarne or Dharm.  I asked Wane and he said Dharm was still sleeping and Tarne had just left so I ran out in pursuit. Didn't catch him though, and then said fuck it I'm not doing the BoD and those awkward stony trails in the dark in case I go wrong with a foggy brain, so I slowed down and hit the BoD at dawn. Full of cows it was. Bastards. I shouted some made up word (think it was "GIP") to make them move aside, one big bastard wouldn't move and I couldn't be arsed to go around him so I shouted "you can fuck off an' all!!!" and he moved. Idiots. 

Texted my Ma around 08.30 to say Happy Birthday, I couldn't text a proper message as my hand was frozen after a few words, so once again apologies for that and sorry for making you tracker watch on your birthday! 

Met up with Duncan around Pole Moor and we spent the rest of the race together which was good :-)  What loop am I talking about now?  Third, daylight, yes.  Christ my brain is still foggy.  What was particularly lovely about this loop was that the 30 and 60 milers started at 8am and lots of them gave us encouragement as they passed. I've done it before to 100 milers in a race, sometimes thinking "I bet he's thinking "oh piss off I'm in bits and I'm death marching" ", but it really is heartwarming to hear when you're on the receiving end so I'll keep doing it. It was a pity not to be able to run the downhills properly, it is usually where I'll make up a lot of time, but it just hurt too much by then :-) 

I think the hardest part of all was getting in to HQ after 90 miles and having to go back out for the final 10 mile loop. That was a total headfuck and I'd rather it was just one 40 mile loop so when you're done you're done. But I guess that's part of this race, having the mental attitude to get back out after each loop regardless. Not sure I'd have done it without Duncan, my Garmin had run out of power so we'd no GPX or idea of how far we'd gone, we were just roaming around looking for arrows in the dark as I'd cleverly left my printed out map at HQ. There were many many curses then and "I'm not doing this fucking race again" etc but we got it done and then, finally, it was the end :-) 

The hardest race yet, without a doubt, I hated parts so much I swore I'd never run them again and happily said goodbye and stuck my middle finger up at them on the final loop. But even before bedtime last night I was thinking about what I could improve on for next time. I need to eat more, boiled eggs didn't work at all, I ended up chucking them as they tasted minging in the cold, chocolate was too hard (apart from Fiona's welcome Mars bar on Wessenden) and I puked a few times.  I had loads of Kendal mint cake with me but only ate a quarter of it as it was too much faff to get it out, a waist belt for food might be a good idea. 

I reckon, unless another winter race grabs me more next year, I'll be back for this one :-)   Once again huge thanks to Wane, Ally, James, Nick and everyone else involved with the race - the organisation and atmosphere were great, I can't fault the markings at all, where I went wrong was down to distraction on my own part, and them being out in that weather and still smiling and giving us encouragement and much needed human contact was marvellous.  

I'm so thankful for the great company I had along the way - Louise, Tarne, Dharm and Duncan. Thanks for the encouragement from all those who I'd discussed this race with over the last few weeks while I wondered if I could do it - Nici and Sharon thank you for believing :-)   Fiona it was so cool to see you, the hugs and Mars bars were awesome :-) Ally you're a little star, I'll not read any more about Wessenden so if I have to run it on my own int dark next time I'll be ok :-) 

All the photos above were taken on my recce run in October, it was too cold on race day to get the phone out.  Definitely things to think about for next time, having run through a Peak District winter I was fairly well prepared for the cold but in reality could've done with another layer, that wind on Wessenden is an evil Arctic bitch. And buffs are good for me for a while then they start to choke me. Maybe a balaclava. If I can find one that doesn't look dodgy! 

Right, enough rambling, time for another Epsom salts soak and a beer :-) 

Monday, 26 October 2015

OMM 2015 Tweedsmuir

What a bloody brilliant weekend!!!

OMM October 2015 Tweedsmuir

When Stu asked me a while back if I'd like to do the OMM short score with him I had a look at the website, thought 'Great!! 5 hours Saturday, 4 hours Sunday, maps, find as many controls as possible - what a fantastic way to get into mountain racing and with an experienced navigator / fell runner, no chance of getting lost, I've run in the Lakes plenty, all I ultimately have to do is keep up with him". Ha! Rookie error #1. Luckily (for me) he was competing with a bad back, otherwise he'd have gotten at least twice what we got done. Thanks for your patience Stu!

Control points marked on map

Arrived up in Moffat Friday evening, checked into our B&B, then went out for the most lush chips n gravy I've ever had. Went up to the event centre to register - where a dibber was attached to my wrist, not to be removed until the end of the event on Sunday - Stu and various others gave a talk, I'd some beers with the lads, then back to the B&B for more beer and an earlyish night.
Saturday morning we were up and out by 7.30, a half hour drive to the start and the buzz began. We dibbed, got our maps and off we went. It'd been raining through the night and everything was soaked. Within the first hour I knew this was going to be the toughest race I'd ever taken part in. Those Scottish hills took the Lakes hills and raised them a dozen. Two hours in and my lungs were burning, my calves were burning, I'd given up looking at time or anything else apart from just keeping in motion. I had intended to do my fair share of nav, I'd revised and swotted up on my nav manual and been out in the Peak District getting some practice in, but when Stu flew off over a crest and I realised that as he was flying he was taking a bearing, running on the bearing, checking the bearing and all without even breaking pace I thought “fucking hell, fucking fucking hell, just watch and learn and keep the fuck up as best you can".
Most of Day One is a blur now, it was so fucking hard. The terrain took whatever I've run on before and laughed at it and spat it right back out at me. Really wet technical steep bracken/bog/hummocky stuff, very very hard to get any running rhythm going for long at all. Highlights were the views on one of the many tops (it was mostly long climbs up then long steep descents, I got to the point where a gentler uphill became a 'flat bit'). I saw a winter hare, that was awesome. And the mountain views were amazing J Lost count of how many shin/knee deep streams we crossed. The feet were wet from the start, deal with it!
We got 130 points on Day One, quite a respectable score when checked with the others we spoke to that afternoon, got back to camp around 2 and started to get the tent up. My first ever night camping J

Stu and our tent
I think in all there were around 3000 competitors across the various classes, all camped in this massive field. It was very cool to be sat outside our tent chatting with Kim Collison and having a cup of tea J Then a bit later it pissed it down so we went up to the barn shelter where I was quite starstruck to be stood there chatting with Jim Mann, Kim and Adam Perry about the race. Hardcore guys, I'd freeze to death if I carried the lightweight gear they carried.  Helene Diamantides and Wendy Dodds were also there but I missed them.

Overnight camp starting to get busy
I was bloody hungry yesterday, I had thought "ah, 5 hours running, that won't take too much to fuel". Rookie error #2 I was bloody starving by about 2.5 hours in. But the uphills were so steep that I couldn't breathe plus eat on them, then the downhills needed so much concentration to stay upright with the backpack on that I didn't eat then either. Got to a point where I was swaying around and after I'd fallen about 5 times in 10 minutes I stopped to eat. One of those times I went knee deep into a rabbit hole or summat on a descent at speed, which just couldn't be helped, but the others were partly my fault. You just can't imagine the effort that you'll be expending when you haven't done one of these things before. I was easily as tired at the end of Day One as after a 40 mile trail run. Possibly more actually. I brought packets of dried cup a pasta or something, which was great as you could just chuck it in a cup and boil water on the stove but to be honest I'd have eaten at least 6 packets afterwards if I'd had them. And I got through almost 2 bars of Kendal mintcake over the 2 days racing. Unheard of. I'd usually get through half a bar in a weekend of Lakes running.
Stu'd tipped me off to bring plastic bags for my feet to use at camp, as my shoes would be too wet to wear comfortably. We had to carry all of our kit with us and be totally self-sufficient, this meant carrying clothes, food, tent, stove, sleeping bags and all the overnight camp stuff with us whilst racing. Unfortunately, after swapping out for my one pair of spare dry socks, I discovered that my plastic bags were fucking leaking. Cue wet feet for 2 days J Next time I'll bring proper posh M&S ones!

Overnight camp
There was a brilliant atmosphere at the camp, a massive field full of muddy excited knackered runners - what could be better! Beer would've been nice but we'd have had to carry it all day. Feck that!
Runners coming down the hill
Properly dark now, though probably only 8pm, it was an early night! 
How many layers? - longsleeved race top, Icebreaker base layer, Tog24 layer, Montane Prism jacket, Montane Minimus; Skins, race tights and waterproof trousers - all just to wear in camp to keep warm! 
I slept in a brilliant sleeping bag and bivvy bag but still needed 2 pairs of leggings, my longsleeved running top, a base layer and a fleece and a woolly hat to keep warm. It's flipping cold outdoors up there at night! Had a fairly decent sleep on and off, then a bagpipe player woke us up on Day Two at 5.45. Bastid. We were starting at 8 today so we got the stove going, had a brew and some food, then packed the tent etc away and got ready to race.
The first hill really nearly fucking killed me. So so steep. I couldn't look to the side or behind me because I was getting dizzy from the height of it. And it went on forever. "Breathe and not fall backwards" was all I could do. The controls on Day Two were quite spread out and there was a large out of bounds area due to some deer hunt and men with guns. We got to the first control then had a look at the options. I knew I was too tired from Saturday to climb down to what was option 1 and all the way back up again so we bypassed that and planned a different route. Thank Christ!
This was much more like running in the Lakes, lots of rocky tracks and runnable knee deep bracken. My ITB kicked off about 2 hours in, I could only be thankful that it at least waited until the 'easier' day to be a bollocks! I was still fucking wrecked by the end though and so so happy to see that finish line. I just had nothing more in me! 100 points today, which again turned out to be quite good as a lot of people we spoke to settled for a 70 due to the restricted area and strung out points.
I didn't take any photos while racing, the phone stayed in a dry bag, but no doubt there'll be loads on FB / the OMM website.
Brilliant race, atmosphere, people, setup, event etc etc - I'll definitely be back for more next year, and now that I know how fucking tough it is I can prepare properly!! Thanks a million Stu for having me along, it was great fun (though at the time some of it definitely wasn't!!) and it's something I'll certainly be doing more of J

Very happy to be finished, but already looking forward to the next one

The Serious Stuff
The effort expended on the uphills on Day One meant that I just wore a cap, longsleeved top, tights and shorts, with gloves from time to time. It didn’t rain heavily enough while we were out to need waterproofs on.  Very reassuring though to know that I had all of the right kit with me in my pack in the event of worsening weather or emergency.
Day Two was much windier and colder and I wore the above plus my Minimus and gloves for all but the last few kilometres.
A rookie error and leaking plastic bags meant that out of 3 pairs of socks 2 were soaked through and 1 were damp. Not a biggie for Day Two as my feet were wet as soon as we got going anyway but dry socks in bed would have been nice. *Bring strong plastic bags and guard dry socks preciously!
As mentioned previously I had no idea of how tough this was going to be, and really could have done with eating more, and doing so more frequently. This is a common problem of mine in races, but on something like this it’s definitely important to get used to eating regardless of whether you’re going up or down hill as, unlike in a trail ultra, there is no time to stop to eat.
I also could have done with more food for the overnight camp, in future I’ll soldier the extra weight in order to have a full belly! My emergency rations consisted of half a large bar of Fruit and Nut chocolate – about 500 calories worth.  There probably are lighter options but I’ll find that out for next time.
As this was my first mountain event Stu loaned me a sleeping bag and bivvy bag, and we shared his tent and stove. Very useful to put this into practice in a race situation and how to pack/unpack efficiently and quickly.  And also to find out where to source decent kit without spending megabucks.  Running with this kind of pack over rough terrain is very different to running with, say, an S-lab with mandatory trail ultra kitlist. Another thing to practice J

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

SDW100 - first attempt

Thanks to Peter G for the photo
Sitting here with my feet in a bucket of ice water I’ve decided to forgo the bottle of wine and copious “I’m gutted” tears and instead have a good hard look at this race, take the positives, deal with the negatives and see what I can take to my next race at this distance. Whilst cursing a bit at how fucking cold this water is. 

I was reasonably confident going into this, nervous and scared yes, but also utterly determined to “get that bloody buckle if it killed me”. Knowing that I had Graham to pace me from Chantry Post to Ditchling Beacon and then Sharon to the finish really gave me a boost as I was totally into unknown territory. 

I travelled down to Winchester on the Friday afternoon, checked into my hotel and then got registration, kit check etc. done. Very handy to do this the day before and then only have to drop off my finish bag on the morning. I don’t think I’ve ever arrived at a race just half an hour before kickoff! Caught up with loads of people and then it was time to run. It was very humid even from early on but I had a schedule and I stuck to it. I was delighted to get the chance to run with my Favourite Runner Ever for a few miles, though let him go ahead when I had to stop for the first of an unusual number of pee stops. 

The first half of the course is quite different to the second, lots of woods, which are very pretty but there was no air in there at all, so we were already looking forward to getting up ont tops and having a bit of a breeze blowing. First time I've ever looked forward to running the 'second' 50 miles! 

Checkpoints 1, 2 and 3 came and went, with the usual fab attention from the Centurion volunteers and some delicious gingerbread biscuits from Rachel at Harting Downs. I was very glad of these as I was already struggling to eat in the heat, and ended up carrying sandwich bags of stuff from aid stations and then not even touching them. Crap, there’s still one in my S-lab *must empty out and wash. 

Shortly after leaving CP3 I realised that the amount of grit in my shoes was becoming a problem I needed to attend to, more so than just stopping and emptying them out every half hour. Can’t complain about the shoes but Drymax socks may have been a mistake – too much sweating and sliding about combined with the grit/stones bit me on the arse all day and ultimately did me in. Plus I forgot to swap out the insoles. Knew I’d forget something! 

Got to Cocking, CP4, and did my one and only FB post of the day. Well I had to get a cocking in somewhere. Sat here for what must have been 20 minutes in all, putting on gauze pads and zinc oxide tape. Peter G caught up with me here and we continued on up another chalky flinty hardass hill. Both of us were really feeling the effects on our feet by now and the language was mighty. 

Can’t say I looked at the views much, which is a bit of a shame, but my focus was on trying to avoid the bastard stones as much as possible whilst feeling like I was running on broken glass. And boy how we prayed for some grass to run on, any little verges at all were greeted with delight. Butser Hill was an absolute dream to run down, can't remember now where that was, but ooh I'd love to have a hill like that near me, I'd be on it every day.

Can’t remember Bignor Hill or Kithurst Hill in much detail apart from they were fuckoff hills and everyone at the aid stations was lovely and attentive. Think I’m getting a reputation for my language at these things as someone remembered and commented on my rant at Southease during the 50! Peter and I were managing to keep a nice cushion against cutoffs and I wasn’t worrying about time at this stage, just keeping an eye on it. 

I met up with Graham at Chantry Post and off we went. We ran on to Washington where I told Elvis he was looking sexy. Couldn’t face any food here but had a tea or coffee, something hot, and got going again. Coming into Botolphs I needed to have a look at the feet again so we sat there for a bit while I did that. Graham, bless him, actually cleaned my feet for me and re-bandaged them. Pacers are amazing! 

I really struggled going up Bleeding Arse Hill, stopping several times to catch my breath. It helped a bit that it was dark so I couldn’t see the bloody thing and we got to the top quicker than I expected. Eventually got down to Saddlescombe Farm but by this point I’d had the first of a few mini-meltdowns due to the pain and asked Graham to get my bottles filled as I didn’t want to see or speak to anyone. Lisa gave me a hug and God knows what gibberish I came out with. Said hi to Kevin and then we got out of there and going again, as far as around the corner where I knelt on the grass and puked. I had way too much liquid sloshing around in my gut with nothing to soak it up. Silly girl. Some lovely blokes stopped and asked if I wanted someone to stay with me. Still surprised sometimes at how bloody brilliant runners are in a race situation. 

By now the time cushion was severely eaten into due to me not being able to run or even hike fast. Graham did his absolute utmost to keep me going, checking on my electrolytes, coaxing me to eat, trying to distract me from the grimness of the feet, and we did have some laughs, but I got to a point where I was just saying “okay” to every thing the poor guy said, regardless of context. I must have been like a child to deal with, but I guess at least I wasn’t cranky (right Graham?!). 

I can’t remember now exactly where it was that I decided I had to drop, maybe a couple of miles out of Saddlesore, but I knew that as I was not eating or drinking I had no chance of getting some renewed burst of energy to get me through the rest of the night if I couldn’t make up any time by even running on grass anymore and to be honest I was just sick of being in fucking pain with every single step and could not do another 8 hours of it just getting worse. Outside Pyecombe Golf Course I asked Graham to ring Sharon and tell her that I was so sorry but I was going to drop at Clayton. I couldn’t even speak to her for crying so Graham had the grim task. Then we trundled up and up what seemed the longest 2 or 3 miles of my life. I was stopping pretty often to lean on the poles and take the weight off the feet for a minute. 

We eventually got to Clayton, buggered if I noticed any windmills up there, though the lights at the aid station were cool. Graham then ran over to Ditching Beacon to pick up his car, while the lovely people there wrapped me in a foil blanket, sat me down and fed me hot sugary tea. Graham then drove me all the way to Eastbourne to get my finish bag, where Nici said I could sleep in her van for a few hours and then go back to London with her afterwards. 

I am glad I did that, it was lovely to see people finishing and to catch up with Roni, Paul, Natasha, Nikki etc. I got to see my FRE finish and have another chat with him. Saw the last runner come in with seconds to spare, nailbiting stuff. And then we left for London. 

My feet are fucking killing me, and no doubt I’m going to be sore/stiff for a few days after the distance, but now I’ve decided to just get the fuck over my pityfest I don’t regret giving it a go. I’ll be back next year, having done a tough ‘recce’ of the course! And before that I have Skiddaw and the A100 to look forward to. I’ll get that buckle :-) 

*Disclaimer - this was written on Sunday evening, with no promises of geographical / logical / actual accuracy :-) 

Sunday, 5 April 2015

SDW50 revisited

Just been out to buy some ‘milk’ to continue the rehydrating and, even though every step on my swollen very unsexy feet hurt, I walked with a smile on my face just thinking back on what a great day yesterday was. 

No photos on this one sorry, I didn't even take my phone out till near the end when I went to check the time and realised I'd lost my wrist watch (don't suppose I left it at the Alfriston CP?) 

I hadn’t really had too much time to think about this race in advance, what with work related stuff and that kind of shite, but in the final few days beforehand I did get excited and was looking forward to catching up with some good running friends.  Apart from a lot of B2B weekends training had been fairly intermittent (aka shit) and I've learned a big valuable lesson for what the next couple of months need to contain. 

Met up with Ian in Eastbourne on the Friday evening where we once again stayed at the Fraggle Hotel.  Thankfully Ian agreed that food and drink in the lounge was a better idea than going out, and so I was back in my room by half 10 and asleep by midnight, pretty good for a pre race night.

The alarm went off at 5.15, Jesus how rude, and then followed many cups of coffee and a minging porridge pot which I looked at for 20 minutes before finally eating.

Off on the train to Brighton where we changed over to the train to Worthing. Maybe it seems a bit cackhanded to stay at the finish line and travel back over to the start, but it makes such a difference at the end to be able to just get in a cab and be back at the hotel, showered and refuelling (lying on a couch in the 24hour bar) so quickly.

Registration, kit check etc were all indoors this time and it was great to have everything all in one place, especially the toilets.  It made me laugh to think how I was scared of Gary at last year’s kit check and this year I queued especially to get his desk. I managed to see just about everyone I was hoping to see at Registration – Nici, Gary, Kevin, Rachel, Laureda and Michael, Sharon, John, Janette, Graham and several others - and it was lovely to get so many smiles and hugs before the race started.  Tracey you made me laugh so much on the way to the start, delighted we’ve finally met in person!

We did miss most of the race briefing due to queuing to fill our water bottles and I think this nearly bit me on the arse later on at Saddlescombe *note to self – don’t miss race briefing and read aid station notes properly!

Unlike last year I did enjoy the chalky rutted uphills to Chanctonbury Ring, getting up there and into the race ‘proper’ was a nice feeling.  The weather was good and for most of the race I was in t-shirt, armwarmers and windbreaker (and tights, of course) – very different from last year when all the gear was used and I could’ve done with an extra layer.

By the time we got to Botox (the map name is misspelled) I could see that Ian wasn’t happy and, although we knew his knee could become an issue, it was worrying to see it manifesting so early on.  Hugs from the lovely Galwayman there and then on to the bastard Beeding(?) Hill. I’d hit a horrendous low at this point last year, which lasted for a good few miles, so I was very mindful of eating and drinking early on to avoid this.  Unfortunately our worst fears came to pass and at the top gate Ian’s knee completely went.  Seeing a friend in such pain and then having to see him drop and then leave him to rush on to make up time was truly shit. We’d talked about this race for so long, but he made the right call, and Ian if you’re reading this get to the fucking physio ASAP!!! I will nag you until you do.

There were 2 blokes behind me on bikes all the way up the rest of the hill. For some reason I thought they were sweepers and I was properly fucked off to see them already!  I decided to listen to some music to gee myself up a bit, hadn’t brought my running earphones though, so ended up holding the stupid thing in my ear as I plodded on swearing internally.  The 2 blokes eventually passed me and said hello. They weren’t sweepers at all.  I’m an eejit.

The next CP was just over 5 miles away, and I kicked myself into gear to catch up with the others. I was so happy to meet up with Tracey again and even though we didn’t get to chat much as we were working hard it was lovely to share the trail and views with her and we got some choice language in. Thanks Tracey J

The CP at Saddlescombe wasn’t where I expected it to be *see note above about listening to the race briefing etc, but I did eventually find it and some nice friendly faces. Great to see Jane there.

Somewhere between Saddlescombe and Pyecombe Golf Course I heard a choice unrepeatable phrase shouted behind me. I turned around thinking “what the fuck is Gary doing out here?”, realised that it was not Gary on a bike, and then realised it was my other lunatic partner in crime John Farr, who’d watched the live tracking and cycled out to see me. Thank you you mad git, it was fantastic to see you and I’ll be out at VLM to return the abuse!

Up another hill, I think, and at some point along the top we passed a field with Herdwicks in it, Tracey must’ve thought I was mental, but I was so happy to see them.  One of my favourite things and it was a lovely boost.

Last year that hill down into Housedean Farm had been an utter swearaloud quad killer, this year it happened quicker than I expected, and it was a great happy run down into the CP.  I think it was Stuart March I passed on the way in?  What a fab big smile! Love the Centurion gang.  Very surprised and happy to see Ian here, he’d decided to stay on and help out at the CP’s. So we filled up the water, got some food, and marched on.

Some more ups and downs, along the tops, I stopped along the way to get my smock back on as the wind was quite biting and lost Tracey and another girl for a bit. Caught up again and had a good sweary slog to the next CP.  I’ve just had to look at the map again, it’s all a bit blurry, but I’m sure it was at Southease that the guys really picked me back up after that godawful fucking horrendous evil shitbag Yellow Brick Road.  Hated it last year, it nearly broke me this year, next time I’m going to break IT J Thanks again to Gary, Ian and the wonderful crisps providers. Apologies for my language, but I think it was probably there that my race turned around and I got my head right and back into the game.  Thank you for the excellent support.

I’d decided to keep the map screen on my watch, rather than looking at pace etc, fast hike the ups, fly the downs and march/run the flats, and just kept an eye on mile splits. Fighting cutoffs is a bitch, I’m not going to put myself in that position next time. I managed to get quite a few ‘faster’ miles in at a point of the race where usually I’d be deathmarching it so that was a good morale boost to have.  Along the top a sheep was scratching it’s head against a post, two hikers stopped to look at it, then as I passed I caught it’s eye and laughed, and continued to laugh as the sheep turned it’s head and watched me for about 2 minutes.  The hikers must’ve thought I was bloody mad. I managed to resist going over to rub two gorgeous lambs that came over to the fence as I passed.  Race head on, see. 

More lovely scenery along the way to Alfriston whilst singing ‘Galveston’ in my head and some fab downhill running.  I’d totally lost the plot with eating by now, nothing at all was going in but Kendal mint cake.  And when I got to the point where I couldn’t even chew that I just marched along with bits of it dissolving in my cheek like a squirrel.  Total race saver.  Lifelong debt to Rachel Lonergan!

Coming into Star Lane was fab, I knew at this point I had the back of it broken and was going to make it.  It was nice to win the mental battle – that shit is very tiring!  Absolute gold star service there, Mary Knapp you’re a doll.  Great to see Sharon again, thanks for another hug and smiles. Went to the loo then set about getting my headtorch, hat etc out rather than doing it out on top later on.  Ian was here as well, great to see my partner in crime throughout the race J  Mike Hawker you’re a little legend you are, I hope I managed to smile and convey my thanks enough for all the stuff you got for me there.  Nikki it feels like I saw you a hundred times yesterday, or maybe your smiles and hugs have an extra long staying power, thank you J

Put on my Prism and headtorch, filled some bags with nuts and fruit, and off out again. It helped so much here that I’ve run this bit loads of times and wasn’t worried about having to do some of it in the dark alone.  About halfway up the lane to Windover Hill I was way overheating so took off the Prism and marched on.  Windover really took it out of my legs, I remember standing at the top looking through a bag of nuts for a peanut and laughing aloud at what Nikki and I had said at Alfriston about this. The people at Centurion races really are what makes the experience so good.

Got up onto the top and stopped to put my smock back on as it was getting a bit nippy. I heard voices coming up behind me and that gave me a kick to get a move on. Apologies to whoever it was, I wasn’t being rude, I just needed to get the job done so thank you for spurring me on! 

Coming into the woods on the approach to Jevington I decided to turn my headtorch on to see better in the dusk and get a shift on. Really enjoyed that bit. Through the churchyard and in to see the lovely Paul and Roni.  Sorry I couldn’t stomach any cake Roni, I didn’t get my nutrition right yesterday at all, I should’ve taken some cake with me for afterwards!  There was another guy there who I’m sure I know, but names were escaping me at that point sorry J   went to the loo again, had a chat and then on to the home stretch.

That bit up Willingdon Hill seemed to take longer than I remembered, but the moon was huge and amazing and right in front of me all the way up, it was peaceful and calm out, and I was just so glad to know I was nearly done and going to make it after all.  Drew (I think, headtorches and friendly voices were all I took in at this point) was at the trig point to guide myself and another runner onto the descent into Eastbourne.  God that is still an evil one no matter how many times you do it.  I met up with Tracey again along here.  

Got myself down into the residential bit, and got back into a ‘run’. The straight road (Kings Drive I think) was at least twice as long as I remembered, but as a consolation the cycle track felt a bit shorter.  Down into the race track finally, gravity and a serious need for the toilet propelling me forward at this point. I think I managed to break into a shuffling zombie jog for the final 100 metres and then that was it, job done J

Beer from Ian’s drop bag, hot food, seeing Tracey finish (you’re a proper battler missus, so glad we got to run together, well bloody done again).  Lovely to see Rachel and Michael again, thank you for the cheeriness, I will return the favour at NDW50. Hugs from Nici, Gary, Emiko, it’s all a blur really, so many of you guys popped up all over the place and it really helped to get through each stretch knowing I was going to see a friend soon.  Thank you all most sincerely.  See you at the next one x

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Return to the Lake District (aka SDOTF) - Part 2

Sunday 9th November 2014 

Today's adventure started appreciably later than Saturday's, a veritable lie in with a daylight start. We were doing the Fairfield Horseshoe anticlockwise - Ambleside to Rydal, taking in 8 Wainwrights along the way.  Anticlockwise avoids doing a nasty neverending ascent up the hobbit steps of Nab Scar.  We saved that joy for last.  Worked out well though, I didn't give much of a fuck about anything by the time we got there! 

When Nici first mentioned this route to me I had a quick Google.  Jaysus, some ascent and then a long long time up on the ridge, with a long long way to fall down (not that I was planning to do that). I'm not the best with heights, I'll get dizzy if I let go of the handrail going up on the Tube escalator, so I decided to watch some Youtube videos to prepare* myself. 


Most of these Youtube videos were done clockwise and on lovely sunny days. It sounded like a good hearty hike with a bit of vertigo thrown in for fun. Bring it on! 

Official blurb: 

The horseshoe walk is a 16 kilometre journey with 1100 metres of ascent and includes the peaks of:

Low Pike (508 metres)
High Pike (656 metres)
Dove Crag (792 metres)
Hart Crag (822 metres)
Fairfield (873 metres)
Great Rigg (766 metres)
Heron Pike (612 metres)
Nab Scar (440 metres)

I can't get the elevation bit to save as a separate pic, Windows 8 is a twonk 

James had sent Nici a very handy link for the local weather, which warned us that temperatures would be below freezing above 700m.  Seeing as that would be the greater part of our journey we were very glad of that warning and packed accordingly. 

By the time we got to the edge of Ambleside the rain was getting heavy so we decided to stop there and then and get the waterproofs on.  From that point I was wearing an Icebreaker longsleeved base layer, a technical tee and Montane Minimus, with full length tights and shorts.  I don't think I've ever worn that much to run in apart from in the snow.  I was very glad of it though. 

A nice brisk walk up to Low Sweden Bridge and then we started the ascent through fields. It was pretty, looking back and seeing Ambleside below, but my God it starts off climbing and doesn't let up. Eventually we came to the wall that we would be keeping to for most of the way to Hart Crag. It was pretty cold already but great to be on the way. The ground soon became boggy and progress slowed as we tried not to get stuck in it. 

Somewhere between Low Brock Crags and High Brock Crags (wet craggy bastards) is a thing called the Bad Step.  We took a couple of close up looks at it, said "fuck that" and diverted down into a field for a bit before climbing back up to meet the wall. 

Along here we ran into the Bog of Doom *SDOTF.  It must've taken a good 15 or 20 minutes to get across that bastard. It was funny and surreal but at the same time we couldn't afford to lose a shoe to it or that was the day ruined so we had to be careful.  The tip of my feckin pole got stuck in the middle of it and came off, I could see it gradually sinking and tried to get it back out, splashing some bogmud up at Nici in the process, but I soon had to admit defeat as the bog wouldn't relinquish it's grip and so I left it there to eventually work it's way down through to China. 

Low Pike was a bit of "are we there yet?" as there is no cairn, the wall goes directly over the peak, which involved a fair bit of scrabbling over wet rocks.  And we couldn't see much anyway so if the non existent cairn had been over to the side it could do one. 

Looking up to High Pike from Low Pike - picture lifted from Wikipedia as it was too wet and claggy
to actually see it in real life  

The clag was coming in heavily now and we really couldn't see very far around us at all, probably a good thing.  Just continuous walls of rock looming ahead of us in the mist.  The terrain was mostly bog and wet rock.  Our gloves soon got wet from scrambling up rock slabs with streams running down them  *lesson learned - I need better gloves for this kind of thing, my hands really got bloody cold, and early on too (I had meant to wear 2 pairs but forgot a pair).  At points there'd be a steep rockface ahead and you wouldn't be able to see if there was a way around without going right up to the edge of it. Nici very kindly checked these bits out, knowing I was struggling a bit with the heights thing. 

Might be High Pike but I'm not sure to be honest!  It was all a claggy blur

At some point along here the various directions or whatever we'd read had recommended climbing over the wall from east to left side as the terrain was easier. That may have been at the Brock Crags, I can't really remember. What I DO remember is trying to climb over a wet chin-height wall with pissing rain, wind, stones moving on the top of it and fucking hell that was a mission!  Of course there wasn't a convenient stepping stone down off it, only eejits use walls like that for climbing over, but after a lot of faffing and squealing and laughter we got over the bugger. 

We were steadily gaining height now, yet still coming across cow pats.  Bloody weirdos, what the hell are they doing up there? There's more bog and stone than grass, and none of it on the level. Copious amounts of shit at that, they really need to stop eating hikers.

Somewhere along this ascent I put a Buff around my face, one over my head, put my cap back on, pulled my hood up, and put on an extra gilet.  Thank Christ I did. 

Let's take it that we're on the approach to Dove Crag now ok, I can remember screeching at Nici at one point (when very wet and tired from all the rock scrambling) "why aren't there any fucking signposts or nameplates on these things?".   I think there not being a cairn on Low Pike threw me a little, I hadn't realised until writing this blog that it doesn't have one.  Think you're well prepared for something, then go back and do some more prep!!  More feckin lessons learned.  

The Inov-8 212s totally earned their place in my heart today though.  My God those shoes are great.  Steep grassy banks, streams running down over rock, bogskating - they handled it all and gave me a lot more much needed confidence in those conditions (I'm not moaning about the conditions btw, what else would you expect on the fells in November, but fucking hell it was tougher than anything I've ever been out for that long in). 

Suddenly out of nowhere the clag lifted and we got a few minutes of Heaven :-)  I think we both danced a bit for joy, then I grabbed my camera to record the moment. Sight of the western side of the Horseshoe was amazing, I'm so glad that we did get a few minutes here and there where we could see the views.  Next time I'll do this one in the summer. But it was good to get it done in such shitty conditions and rise to the challenge. 

It was a very ultra-like day in that the language and topics of conversation were most definitely not what you'd want your elderly aunt to hear. I was having a loud rant about my knickers going up my arse and various other unmentionables when something made me look around and there were two bloody men running up behind me.  I think the wind blew my words away from them though, they didn't look too shocked.  

Onwards and upwards to Dove Crag.  No feckin birds out in this weather, they've more sense.  Oh, I've just looked at the fell race map and it says to cross the wall here for better going.  Maybe that's where we had our climbing wall episode, not where I put it above.  Ah well.  We climbed a big wall. Somewhere. 

Met some nice bloke up here, he seemed to want to stop and chat but we were just too bloody cold and wet to hang about. Shame. Ah well, I'm sure he survived without our scintillating convo. 

At Dove Crag was a kind of turning point, onto the top U of the horseshoe, it was a nice point to finally reach. Nici had the route on her GPS thingy and it was a Godsend. I had it on my 310 but because we had to 'divert' around bog etc he kept bleeping and telling me I was 'off course' which really fucked me off after a while so I switched him back to normal view.  We both had good maps and I'd a compass I was prepared to use, but with such cold hands it would've been a mission.  Again, lesson learned, dress for the cold and wet and then dress some more. 

I have no pictures or videos for the next couple of miles. The clag was down to about 2-3 feet visibility, there were serious drops to either side (which we couldn't see), and my hands were too fucking cold to hold anything but my stick. I don't think I've ever concentrated so hard on anything in my life.  We were already knackered from the ascent and battling over the water/rocks, now we were onto a section that was so disorientating in the clag that it was actually quite scary.  

Obviously we weren't running on this part, following the GPS was the main priority.  At one point I started shivering uncontrollably, my core had been toasty up till then, and I must admit it worried me a bit.  We dressed adequately, the only error made was the gloves, but on a bad day that would be error enough.  I think this must've been around Link Hause.  We heard voices but couldn't see where the hell they were coming from. Of course if we'd really been stuck then we'd have shouted but taking it slowly and carefully kept us on track for Fairfield. 

Then the clag lifted and we saw around us.  I think I saw Helvellyn, I saw something bloody amazing anyway, but without my compass out I didn't know what direction it was for sure so I'll take it as that one.  

We also saw Fairfield up ahead, with happy people on the top, so I said to Nici "come on let's run for it while we can see the fucking thing!".  So we did.  Till the clag drew back in. 

Let's throw in a picture of the Horseshoe now so you can see what we had been hoping to see!  And what we did go around :-) 

Got to the summit in one piece anyhow, there was a group of people having sandwiches in the shelter so we walked over to some crumbled wall or something and had a brief shelter from the wind while having some food and sorting the direction down off it. 

Then the clag descended again and all signs of life vanished.  We reckon we were the only ones up there that day, the rest were ghosts. Sinners doomed to forever roam the Fairfield Horseshoe. Like Albert and Marigold on the 505 *SDOTF

At one point I said to Nici "that's the edge there and you know what? I don't give a fuck anymore! fuck the fucking edge!"  I tend to get a bit cranky when I'm scared :-) 

From this point we got in some lovely running.  The feet were soggy anyway, I'd foam coming up through the 212s for the last couple of hours, so there was no point avoiding the streams anymore.  Nici indulged in some mud running and sliding, very funny to watch. 

The peaks over this side were easier to get up as well, still steep but there was no shitey rockslab scrambling as there had been on the eastern side.  So glad we did that bit first though, that would've been quite gruelling on tired legs. 

Great Rigg was the next peak after Fairfield, don't remember much of that tbh, claggy hill, hilly clag, nuff said.  

The Herdwicks made an appearance up here and what a lovely welcoming sight they were.  I reckon that any place where Herdwicks are has to be pretty cool. 

And so we carried on - running, slipping, sliding, hiking, laughing - to Heron Pike.

I think that's Heron Pike, or thereabouts, comes in the right sequence of my photos anyway

The temperature was noticeably 'warmer' here, thank God, and as we were descending we finally caught sight of Rydal Water and on the other side some of the valley of the Horseshoe itself. Fabulous. 

Down, down, down and onto the steps of Nab Scar. Jesus wept. Zig zag down down down.  You'd get to the curve and think that surely must be it, but no, more legs of these slidey hobbit steps.  Beautiful place, but fuckin hell we were tired by then, it needed to end!   

And then it did :-)   Past William Wordsworth's gaff, down a manky ribbed concrete lane, ouch, and then 17 miles back into Ambleside (not really, felt like it though). 

And so the end of the adventure.  Would I do it again? Hell yeah!  Am I going to invest in serious winter gloves?  Fuck yeah!  

I don't think there's anything we need to do differently, apart from better gloves.  We got the fuelling right, kept moving, realised when we were possibly heading for a little trouble with regards to shivering and dealt with it, double and treble checked directions when in low visibility, all in all a very valuable fell experience.  On the hairy parts, and especially when sprawled hands and knees clawing my way up rockfaces, I really just wanted it to be fucking over, but I guess the fear of heights is still there to be tackled and with time and more exposure I'll get there.  The trekking pole was an absolute essential and it would've been so much harder without it, even sans tip!

The date for the next Lake District visit hasn't been set as yet, but when it is I'll be counting the days. It's so hard to leave though that one day I just shan't*

*not in a SDOTF way though