Saturday, 29 December 2012

Cardington Cracker - 02/12/2012

Crossing the summit of Caer Caradoc
I woke up feeling absolutely lousy on the morning of the Cracker, and it took some serious persuading from Zoe to get me out there. Zoe's friend Jo was staying and they'd decided to come and watch so in the end that was the deciding factor and I was running!

It was nice to meet everyone again and I was feeling a bit better by the start, but I was caught napping when Paul started the race and ended up a very long way back at the first gateway. I overtook a few people in the fields and up the first little bank on the way to Enchmarsh and eventually found myself descending towards the Lawley just behind Val, probably about the right position in the field but it had cost me some effort.

For some reason (maybe the virus I reckon I have had which had made me feel so bad when I got up), I just switched off on the Lawley climb and sat in my comfort zone over the top, on the descent (Em and Archie were at the bottom supporting - thanks guys) and also up the Caradoc. Don't get me wrong, I worked a bit but I wasn't anything like flat out. I did run the final section of the climb past Al, which at least got me a nice pic. I cruised the Caradoc descent too, crossing the stream 7 minutes or so slower than last year.

Race face on, working up to the summit of Caradoc

Descending past the gate at Three Fingers Rock
Zoe and Jo were at the gate as you start the long slog up Hazler Woods and this geed me up a bit. I ran all of it, although I think sometimes it's no quicker than walking. I spotted Pete Johnson up ahead and decided to try to close the gap on him. I worked a little harder on the way up to the Gaer Stone and enjoyed the fast run across the Bowdler Hills, working hard to run a lot of the short rises I had to walk last year. As I got to the Gaer Stone, the gap to Pete had come down quite a bit and I was able to pass him on the rough descent here. The path which Pete was using was very muddy and slippery so I ran on the bilberry to the side which was much easier.

The gates at the bottom were open this year which was good - no one likes vaulting / climbing / whaling over 4' high gates when they're tired. This marks the start of a 2 mile steeplechase in to the finish. I tried to run the entire field up to the Old Cardington Lane, and managed it! One runner passed me shortly after as we headed along the seemingly unending ridge which follows, but he'd been overtaking me on all the flat bits, I guess he just had more speed. Otherwise I was passing people.

Charlie was at the first of the stiles on the final run in, encouraging me to pick off the last two runners in front of me, but in the end I just didn't have the speed or energy, and ran in in 1:40 for 96th place.

It was pleasing that I'd managed a decent run given the givens, but I'd have liked to be five minutes faster than in 2011, rather than a minute slower. The conditions were more difficult this year. I beat quite a few folk that I didn't beat last year and finished in exactly the same position. I was also pleased to have been able to run the second half of the race much quicker than last year - I put this down to more and better training: I'm quicker on the flat than I was. I just need to get in touch with my inner climbing animal again - it seems to have gone missing since Callow and the CCC.

Tour de Helvellyn - 22/12/2012

Arriving at the Swart Beck checkpoint, pleased to see Stuart
I signed up for Tour de Helvellyn after I'd ducked out of the Long Mynd Hike, as I wanted to complete one more ultramarathon this year (total six I think - 2 at Pilgrim's Way, the Brecon 40, the WOW, the CCC and TdeH). I'd tried to do the race last year but a combination of a party the night before and atrocious road conditions on the drive from Shropshire to the Lakes put paid to an early start and meant that I was a long way behind the field for much of the day. I called it quits after about 20 miles and a big struggle over Sticks Pass in total whiteout conditions.

This year I learned from some of the mistakes and drove up the night before, staying on the floor in the event centre at Askham Village Hall.

I woke at six after a fairly fitful night's sleep and had a fairly leisurely preparation, chatting with Joe, Keith and Pauline, Nick Ham, Adrian Donnelly and Dale Colclough and his partner Den. The event format allows starts from seven until nine, but the first manned checkpoint, at Patterdale about 10 miles in, only opens at 9:30. I'd decided to start about quarter to eight so the checkpoint would be open and any rush of waiting runners would be gone before I got there.

Lovely relaxing cup of tea, thank you Pauline!
Having a natter before the start...
In the event Adrian started about ten minutes before me and Dale a couple of minutes after me, so I ran the first couple of miles up to Askham Common on my own. Here, Dale caught me up and we ran together comfortably over Moor Divock and down to Howtown where Dale showed me a handy short cut to the road which cuts a little distance and a bit of muddy trail off at the cost of 50' of extra climbing. We walked purposefully up to the church at Martindale where I was able to spot the dibber and kite easily having done the event before. (1:04 from start)

Onwards along the road into Boredale and I were nicely matched for pace and managed a good conversation until the top of the Hause where I let him run on as I felt I'd gone rather faster than I originally had intended. I dropped into the Patterdale checkpoint 50 minutes after leaving Martindale.

The next stage climbs up to Greenside and then on to the footbridge over the Swart Beck on the Sticks Pass path, where Stu from NAV4 was waiting with his camera and the dibber for CP3. I went quite well up here, passing Dale and Adrian before Dale repassed me near the checkpoint. (45 minutes from Patterdale, 2:40 total)

Passing the SportSunday camera lady at Greenside
Closely followed by Adrian and Dale
Nice impressionist view of other competitors approaching Swart Beck
The remaining section to Sticks Pass is more gently graded and was much easier than last year with only a few small patches of slushy snow. The route at the top was obvious (straight on across the main ridge path) and I continued on down through ankle deep freezing water which eventually turned my feet into solid unyielding lumps. I told myself they'd warm up when I was lower down and on drier ground. The rain was still falling fairly steadily but my newish less running more mountaineering style kit (Quecha thermal, Haglofs Stem II mid layer and bargain Berghaus Etive Gore-Tex Paclite Cag) was keeping me reasonably dry and even on the pass I wasn't desperately cold. Some gloves which fitted would have helped though, and I nearly put my fleece on.

The descent down to Stanah is marginally easier to the right and I followed a quicker runner who'd just passed me on the way down. I got to Stanah 43 minutes after leaving Swart Beck (3:23 total). At this point I'd decided to bail last year and hiked up the road to Swirls so I didn't know the rest of the route intimately.

From Stanah to Swirls the route uses the public right of way following the intake wall above the fields of Thirlspot. This is probably the most technical section of the route, mostly singletrack and with lots and lots of rocks embedded in the path. I took the opportunity to take on a bit of water and half a Go-Ahead bar, walking quite a bit of this section before dropping into Swirls car park to meet Den and a couple of other check point staff. 26 minutes from Stanah (3:49 total).

I dumped a sarnie which I guessed I wasn't going to eat with Den, took on a few bits of banana and set off on the forest road towards Dunmail. I was quickly passed by a couple of quicker guys and then made the first of two dodgy route decisions, choosing to go down the forest road and then climb up again to the end of the woods rather than use the permissive traversing path used by many of the other runners. I think this probably cost a minute or two - it gave Adrian the opportunity to catch and pass me just before the next checkpoint at Birkside Gill which I reached in 41 minutes from Swirls (4:30 total).

Immediately after the checkpoint there's a choice to either continue along the intake wall to Dunmail and then use the "gutter" path up to Grisedale Tarn, or to take a more direct line climbing up onto the brilliantly named Willie Wife Moor and contouring round into Raise Beck just below the col. I chose the latter option and it was very tough, on rough ground, and I was conscious I was moving quite slowly. Eventually I reached the beck, crossing it at the only point I could see which was safe (it was very full) and then using the path for the final couple of hundred yards up to the col. I made ehavy weather of the boggy section round the tarn and down towards Ruthwaite Lodge and finally realised something wasn't right with a lot of folk passing me. I was hungry so I ate - two more Go Aheads and a gel. This got me going again and by the flatter section of the valley I was running reasonably well again. After a minor road rage incident with (you guessed) a white van, I jogged into the Patterdale checkpoint 1:54 after leaving Birkside Gill, and 6:23 total time. The loop round Helvellyn took four and a half hours. This was easily my worst leg.

Just after leaving Patterdale to climb to Boredale Hause
Here I had a quick few words with Stu and Joe, grabbed some banana and some crisps and walked through to Side Farm deliberately keeping moving but using the flat section to eat and sort my kit out for the push back to Askham. I climbed up to Boredale with Marie Mitton who was going pretty well. We used the main path, which is longer, but more easily graded. At the top Marie met her friend Helen, and I pushed on, descending the path into Boredale quite efficiently. I slowed a bit after the road junction and Marie and Helen and myself leapfrogged each other to the next checkpoint at Martindale (1:11 from Patterdale, 7:34 total).

Marie and three others with her went the high route from Martindale so I decided to try to grab a bit of ground back by using Dale's lower route again. I popped out on the path well ahead of them so stopped at a bench, drank some water and ate two thirds of a KitKat then got going again, alternately walking and running the fairly interminable section along the top of the fields above Ullswater. Eventually this starts to climb quite steeply and I hit the climb just after being passed by one of the more elite runners. He came straight back to me on the climb so I asked if he was ok and foisted the rest of my KitKat off on him. It must have worked because he got going again and passed me up by the stone circle. I was glad there were a lot of runners about as it was getting dark now and together we were able to set the right course across Moor Divock and hit the track spot on for the run in to Askham. I did most of this in company of another runner, and stayed in touch enough to find the quick way in to the finish, where Keith and Martin Stone were waiting with the final dibber and a results print out.

Martin Stone and Keith Richards manning the finishing checkpoint with style!
I finished 67th of 128 finishers and 148 starters in 9:04:48 and was 25th MV40 of 50 MV40 finishers.

Overall I was pretty pleased with this, off very little distance work at all. My longest run since the CCC had been about 15 miles, and I've had no consistency with the long runs at all. It was a very enjoyable day out in the hills and a great learning experience as ever. Thanks to Joe and all his helpers at NAV4.

Joe, a top event organiser, and Joe's soup, the best!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Time Trial - 25/11/2012

Zoe on the run back, descending to Ashes. There is not normally any kind
of watercourse this high in the Batch.
The Time Trial is one of my favourite events of the year. Get from Little Stretton to Stiperstones as fast as you can, whichever way you like, on foot. Realistically this means crossing the Mynd and Stiperstones ridges.

This year I'd decided to run as a mixed pair with Zoe (I've done male pair and solo previously, so I've now completed the set of categories I can enter without surgical intervention). We wanted to run back too, but I knew that we could get a lift if we needed to so that didn't slow us down.

We set off up Ashes Hollow at a reasonable rate only to run into a horribly muddy patch in the second field. It was pretty wet all the way up to the road. Zoe was a bit slower than me on the steep climb so thankfully I was able to get a bit of a breather a couple of times to prepare me for the road section. Andy Davies came hiking past at a pretty rapid rate up here on his way to an excellent 65 minute time. A good choice of line led us through light and burned off heather to the fingerpost and the road.

Predictably Zoe pushed on well to the Wildmoor hairpin, where I stopped to attend to my shoelace while she climbed the short rise, knowing I could catch her on the descent. Getting back on the road we met Rachael, Leena and Giz and I had a quick chat as it was Zoe's turn to deal with shoelaces!

Just before we caught Rachael, Leena and Giz - Zoe's ready to re-lace!
Zoe pushed me very hard all the way up to Hollies Farm, where the pace slowed a bit mostly owing tot the heaviness of the ground. The bog on the corner looked horrible and I stayed on the farm track, but after that it was grim up to the nature reserve boundary. A quick bit of running up to Shepherd's Rock and we were on the descent. Zoe made a pretty good fist of it and we were able to pass Kim and her friend, stopping to help each other over the field edge and at the gate. I flew the last section to be ready to dib when Zoe finished so unfortunately Stuart never got a picture of the two of us finishing. 92 minutes and change - pretty good for a reforming roadie - Zoe's running better everytime she does an off-road event :-)

Zoe finishing (pic: High Sports)
I overtook a car :-) It wasn't going fast!
(pic: High Sports)

We had a nice natter in the pub and a good, easy trip back in worsening weather.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Penmaenmawr Fell Race - 17/11/2012

At the top of the initial climb, Irish Sea behind, off to CP1 in the sunshine!
Today's training was a little different for me - I've been wanting to run in a race and really concentrate on enjoying it for a while now (probably since the Hike if not before) and, as I knew I'd be over in North Wales to support Zoe at the Conwy Half this weekend I thought I'd enter a nearby race on the Saturday. Fortunately I checked the calendar in advance, because Pen is a pre-entry only race (seems to work for them).

The route really suited what I wanted to do which was an easy to steady effort of around 10 miles - it's hard to believe I haven't run this far since the Vrynwy Half Marathon in early September!

It was pretty cold in the valley at Capelulo before the start, but very warm indeed in the community centre where I changed and annotated an map extract with the route (this was precautionary just in case of a deterioration in the lovely cold sunny weather). Zoe and Bailey saw me off with the rest of the field of just under 200 runners at 10:30.

Chris Near runs the race is run in alternate directions: this year it was anti-clockwise, so we started with a steep climb up a zig-zagging landrover track for the first half mile, before heading off towards Cefn Coch across beautifully soft grassy tracks. Al Tye was stood just past the top of the first climb taking pictures and we shared a friendly "hello". There were great views right to the sea and half left to Foel Fras (still topped with cloud) on this section. Having started at a steady but comfortable pace I let a fair number of runners pass me in this section - as I said the objective was a long easy to steady run, not a racing pace effort, and I was really enjoying the nice going and the view.

A bit of a traversing climb from Cefn Coch brought us into sight of the first checkpoint at the south edge of Penmaenmawr Quarry. At this point the route almost doubles back to drop down to the Afon Maes-y-bryn. This is great running to start with, but quickly became very boggy. I concentrated on keeping my cadence relatively high and doing nice short choppy strides to counteract the bog, and caught and passed a few folk here. The climb from the bog to the Pylon line which crosses Bwlch y Ddeufaen was good too, grass with those scattered protruding boulders which require a lot of concentration. At the top I took a gel and a few sips of water as we crossed the stile onto the Roman Road. This place is better known to a lot of runners as the start or finish of the Welsh 3000ers.

I didn't mind the road, being passed by runners on the flat bits and repassing them on a couple of short downhill sections. Keith and Pauline were out to support, and again we shared greetings and some encouragement. This and the gel geed me up a bit and I climbed well as we started up yet another lovely springy grassy track from CP2 at Cae Coch, gradually catching and overhauling a couple of runners. I kept it steady though and didn't respond when passed by another couple.

The route then traversed north for a mile and a bit with great views of the Conwy estuary and still the wonderful grassy tracks to reach the first flagging on the route which led in to CP4 (Fords) where Al was once more taking pictures, this time of runners fording a stream and climbing a short sharp climb which led to the final descent.

At the Fords, not far from the finish, happy and comfortable!
The race instructions said "The last descent of the race is steep and extremely muddy - We have cleared the vegetation from the lower section of the track but overtaking will not be easy ( or indeed advised ! ) – please get your overtaking out of your system before this last descent." Oops! I was way faster than three guys in front of me down this and in fairness they just stepped aside to let me pass as soon as it was safe to do so. If you can descend well it's a great run in and the finish is 20 yards beyond the bottom of the muddy path. So I finished with a great big smile on my face, even though I could probably have gone 5-10 minutes faster overall IF I'd wanted to race.

I'm reading Boff Whalley's book "Run Wild" at the moment and whilst Boff races (and in the past has raced at a pretty good level), it's the quality of the running that excites him, not so much the racing. If it's a nice route and good company you get the impression he's happy to turn up to a race, but he obviously is uncomfortable with the idea of running round city streets with 40,000 other people. This race was a good experiment, I like the company and I'm happy to go on attending and running in races for training as opposed to having to race full-on in every race I go to. It's for me to know which my target races are and to marshall everything I'm capable of on those days, and I just need to have the discipline to not be upset / excited / whatever about results on days like this when I'm running with the attitude that results don't matter but enjoyment does.

We've just had a discussion on the Shropshire Fell Running Facebook page about this - I think I might be in the minority with most folks saying they go flat out every time they do a race, yet there is a recognition there that if folks raced flat out a bit less often they'd be able to get better results when they did. Whatever.

On Sunday, Zoe did a very creditable 1:42 (29th lady of 650) at Conwy on relatively little training, and we both had a really nice relazing weekend. Good times.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Mad Jack's Cross Country - 10/11/2012

Starting off in from of the big house
Crossing the pond
Zoe and I decided to have a go at this a few weeks ago to help her with her off road running, and on the grounds it probably wouldn't do her too much damage the week before the Conwy half marathon. Mad Jack's is organised by my mate Mark Agnew who's the National Trust Estate Manager at Attingham Park, together with logistical support from Shrewsbury AC.

Anyway I'd been unwell for a few days before with a sickness bug that turned into a sinus infection, so had no great expectation other than to see how I felt. I'd settle for 8 minute pace over the 5.2 miles (which includes about 3 miles of rough fields, three water obstacles, several logs and quite a few fences and stiles). So 41:36 would be a reasonable target given the givens (7:30s for 39 minutes overall would be better but I wasn't up to that really).

I started way too quickly of course, trying to get to the first gate early enough not to be held up, and was lactic about a quarter of a mile in. I eased back in the second mile and struggled for a further section until we got into the woods across the deer park. I found the running there much easier (possibly because I'd slowed down by another 20 sec/mile) and in reality I was a bit too comfortable and should have been pushing on more. I got it back together and ran a decent final mile to the pond, overtaking a couple of people in the field.

The pond crossing was good, taking a slightly wider (and therefore deeper) line to pass a couple of people. I got a bit blocked off coming out of the pond but didn't have too much time to think about it as I suddenly realised Stuart Langley was coming past. Thankfully I got it together and ran in hard, staying just ahead of him until the finish.

Crossing the pond with Stuart lurking behind (in yellow)
I heard someone yelling something along the lines
of I should be able to climb out of the pond, being
a fell runner!
My splits were:

Mile 1: 6:51 (mostly rough fields but including one ditch)
Mile 2: 7:44 (more fields and another fence and ditch, then a short section of path over the river)
Mile 3: 7:43 (concrete path then lovely grass and finally woods with tree trunks to hurdle)
Mile 4: 8:01 (woods with a few tree trunks but very runnable)
Mile 5: 7:53 (along the river, then a short bit of wood and finally fields to the pool)
to finish: (through the pond, then a sprint round the field)

I was 89th of 362 and 14th V40 of 40 in 40:09. I'm fairly pleased with the time given the starting situation, but I could have pushed on a bit in mile 4 and got under 40 minutes.

Zoe did very well dealing with some tricky obstacles and finishing 2nd L35 in 42:15 (she is not 40 thank you results team!) What's more I think she enjoyed it, although she was looking for ways she could improve straight away.

Zoe climbing out of the pond
Phil, my triathloning colleague from work did a pretty creditable 44:16.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

CCC Race - 31/08/2012

Despite a lot of hiccups, this race the pinnacle of my fell and ultra running to date, and a fantastic experience which I would recommend to anyone.

The CCC (Courmayer - Champex - Chamonix) is on the undercard to the 100 mile UTMB (Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc), which is the greatest prize in European Ultrarunning. The CCC is (usually) a lesser undertaking at 100km and 5,950m of ascent (63 miles and 19,500'), but for reasons which will become clear that wasn't really the case this year!

I drove over to Chamonix with Em, splitting the journey at Laon, halfway. We visited the Canadian war memorial at Vimy on the way down and had a 5km jog around this amazing and haunted place.

We finished the drive to Chamonix the following day - it must be 20 years since I'd been to Cham but the amazing engineering and gradually unfolding views of higher and higher mountains on the drive in from the Geneva direction remain the same. We stayed at the Gite Alpenrose, a very basic but nonetheless entirely satisfactory hostel about 2km from the centre of Chamonix.

We had an acclimatisation day on the Wednesday, getting up early to be on the cable car to the Aiguille du Midi by 7:30am. The views were a bit in and out from the top station, and I certainly felt the altitude, although after a sit and a hot chocolate we both felt much better. Noel, Sandy, John, Prue and Noel's family came up a bit later and we sat and chatted for a while before Em and I set off back down to the middle cable car station, Plan de l'Aiguille. We wanted to do a bit of a shake out run just to experience running at 2000m altitude before the race and to get our legs moving after the journey.

We jogged up the marked track to Lac Bleu,  a meltwater lake, and then dropped down rough mountianside to pick up the track which traverses along (and up and down a bit) the Alp under the Aiguilles to Montenvers. This was a total joy (even the zig zags which took us up to the overlook for the Drua nd the Aiguille Verte).

I was shocked at how far the Mer de Glace (glacier) has retreated since I was last in Chamonix. Nonetheless we decended by the telepherique and the several hundred steps and did the touristy thing in the ice caves before climbing back up (no telepherique for us on the up leg) and taking the train down into Chamonix.

On Thursday we registered for the race and spent the day lazing in cafes and looking around the trade show (I bought a new inov8 waterproof, more of which later). We had a huge meal in Jeckyll and Hydes to set us up for the morning. The weather deteriorated during the day and for most of the evening it simply pissed down. We really felt for all the guys out doing the TDS, the weather ultimately was so bad we didn't wander over to Les Houches or the finish to see Dawa Sherpa lead in the field in the mid evening.

We were up early on a grey cold monring to walk into Chamonix for the bus over to Courmayer. The Mont Blanc tunnel was a new experience for me, and we emerged from the Italian portal into brilliant blue skies and sunshine. It was still cold though so we made our way into the Sports Centre and got a hot drink. At some poitn I received a text saying that the race would be run without the initial summit of Tete de tronche or the final peak, Tete au Vents. This wasn't entirely unexpected given the weather forecast which was for a lot of rain and snow above 2000m. We chatted with a runner from the States for a bit, and had to queue for ages to get to the loos, which were totally overwhelmed. After a while we made the move up to the start.

Of course by now it had started to spit with rain but this was hardly going to put a dampener on our spirits as the build up continued with a lot of loud music and shouted commentary. We had no idea (I must have missed the French announcement and I don't think there was an English one) but the elite 500 were going to set off at 10am, followed by two further groups at ten minute intervals. We were in the second group. I don't know how they figured this, perhaps from our qualifying event time, but it was probably about right.

After the elites had started we were edged forward to the start line, chatting to some other British and Irish competitors. Then we were away in a mass of runners through the narrow streets of Courmayer, passing a band, and then a bunch of primary school kids samba drumming. After 2km of tarmac and cobbles we were onto a forest track and then quickly onto almost singletrack zig zags up through the forest to the first checkpoint, Refugio Bertone, a 770m climb. I felt good, climbed comfortably and was a little way ahead of Em as we reached the checkpoint. I decided there was plenty of time and waited for her to fill bottles. I managed to stop my Garmin by accident here and wouldn't realise for the next half an hour, but hell,

We had a quick chat, decided to run at our own pace, wished each other luck and then I was away along a great singletrack traversing path towards Refugio Bonatti. Somewhere along here a cold wind blew up, cloud started to drop and the first flurries of snow came on. I only had a base layer and my Mercia T shirt on, but I pushed on thinking it would pass.

I reached Bonatti soon enough, and just as I was leaving Em came in, we shared a few more good wishes, and I was off along more fast trail to Arnuva. Going down into Arnuva there ws an epically muddy series of switchback, mostly visible from the checkpoint, and a load of support. I was glad of the poles as I passed a lot of folk here. This was the first "full" checkpoint with a big marquee and lots of food, but I passed through as quickly as I could, eager to get stuck in to the toughest climb of the event, the 770m of acent to Grand Col Ferret. It's the same height gain as the starting climb, but I'd been going three hours, I was a bit chilly (in hindsight) and Arnuva (the bottom) is at 1,775m, so there's at least an element of altitude.

Anyway this was pretty muddy at the start, but soon turned into a steep trudge up rocky paths. Gradually it became colder and there started to be snow across the path, and I stopped at about 2,000m to put on my last layer of insulation, a light to mid weight top. As I climbed conditions became more extreme, with quite high winds, driving snow and fairly poor visibility. Fortunately I was going strongly and was able to reach the top of the pass, 4.6km and 770m on from Arnuva in 1:14, a reasonable rate of progress. I was certainly passing people all the way up there. The checkpoint at the top was a perspex mountain shelter with a couple of very hardy guides in parkas scanning our numbers as we crossed the border into Switzerland.

From Grand Col Ferret the initial descent was very reminiscent of the Lakes on a blowy winter day. Fast running all the way down to the mountain refuge at La Peule, where there was no manned checkpoint. We continued on down through woodland and Alpine meadows and woodland to emerge at a wooden bridge over the Dranse de Ferret river. Here I took my first proper break, sitting for a few minutes to eat and enjoying the sound of the river.

A little further down was the village of La Fouly, and the second fully stocked checkpoint of the race. Arriving after 5hr30m of running,  I sat for about 8 minutes, sorting kit and eating a little soup and some fruit. I'd now covered 31.4km (a mere 19.5 miles) but already climbed 2,050m (6,700'). What's more the last five miles had been mostly downhill. The next section was never really going to suit me: a long drag along the valley with relatively little climbing through Praz de Fort and Arlaches to Issert, where the climb to Campex would start.

Just before Praz de Fort my Garmin beeped its last, the overly quick death of its battery no doubt hastened by the cold over the Col earlier. I was pushing on but quite cold I think and I just couldn't be bothered to start the GPS tracker on my phone. I don't remember a checkpoint at Praz at all but there must have been one - I have an official split time from there. I do remember crossing the river on an old bridge with all the traffic stopped and passengers leaning out of their car windows to high five us. It may have been due to the time of day we were passing through but the Swiss despite their reputation did seem to embrace the spirit of the race as much if not more than even the French, and the warm of their support carried me for the next few miles.

Down a gravel road a little was the beautiful hamlet of Arlaches. A lady was giving out hot sweet tea from her front garden and I stopped for a couple of cups worth. No charge, and all do jsut to support the race. It was also momentarily not actually raining here (or that may just be my memory). My base layer (a North Face merino) was giving me serious problems where the weight of my rucksack comes onto my hips, so I stopped just round the corner from the tea lady, swapped it with a synthetic layer and slathered a load of Sudacreme over a very sore chafed area on my lower back.

At Issert we crossed back over the river and started the climb to Campex. This was a bit of a low point. I was glad to be hiking hard up a climb again, but it seemed like we heard the sound of the announcer and the supporter's cowbells at Campex almost as soon as we started to climb, but the ascent itself went on for ages, through a not particularly interesting wood. Even at the top we crossed a road and I thought we were there to face another few minutes of muddy trail before I popped out right next to the huge checkpoint marquee. I arrived in 432nd place having been on the go for ____.

And here the wheels started to come off. I got into the food queue straight away and ate a plate and a half of pasta and a bowl of noodle soup. But part way through the second bowl of soup I started to shiver with an enormous spasm which put much of the soup on the marquee roof. I was pretty comfortable at Praz de Fort, I can only think that I got cold on the way up to Campex, but I was working pretty hard, so maybe I never went through the shivering phase. Anyway I'd not really been cold like this and it scared me a bit because I had no warm kit to put on. A kind French lady broke away from looking after her husband to lend me her gloves, scarf and a blanket and I wrapped myself in these and tried to warm up. Declan Faulkner from Ireland wandered over and gave me a soaking top which he'd just changed out of. I managed to find a heater eventually, get the top dry and get to the point where I felt warm enough to set off for Bovine (it's relative, I was still flipping cold), but I'd spent an hour and a half in the checkpoint instead of the 10 minutes or so I'd wanted to, and lost about 500 places.

I ran up along the lake and then gently uphill along the road to follow the markers into the forest. It was just starting to get dark. The forest roads offered easy running and I managed to keep pace with everyone. Eventually the route turned onto more technical ground and I finally admitted it was virtually dark and put my headtorch on at the bottom of a climb up the side of a waterfall. Here I got totally stuck behind a French lady. We were in a queue of runners but despite me clearly being stronger and faster she was unwilling to let me pass. A guy in front was helping her, it may have been her chap, and she may have been worried about being separated from him on this tricky section, but I was getting colder and colder. I explained to her that I was cold and needed to go faster, but it was no good. Ever time I tried to pass across came the trekking pole and out came the French swear words. I spent about 40 minutes labouring along behind her up a 200m slope I'd climb in 10 minutes in a fell race. When I got to the top I was totally freezing. I passed the whole group within about a minute of reaching easier ground and had a great run in to the Bovine checkpoint along a path though an Alpine meadow which was rapidly disappearing under a covering of snow. My head torch was playing up and somewhere along here I ran into a cow. Hmm. Anyway I got up to Bovine and had some more soup and hot sweet tea. The checkpoint was amazing - just a cow shed full of steaming bodies, with a few naked bulbs for light and a long table with basic provisions on it.

There was no hope of getting warm there so I pushed straight on and ran very hard down the technical and by now extremely muddy track to Trient. It was now totally dark - I took a few chances passing people and my poles saved me once from going over an edge with a fair drop - I know because my headtorch suddenly lit up the top of a tree, right next to me but on the same level as I stumbled. I wasn't quite ready for more similarly steep descending from the Col de Forclaz into the village but I made it down to Trient ok.

I stopped for more hot food in the checkpoint and was ok for about 20 minutes but then realised just how cold I was as the shivering started again. I was seriously worried that I might need outside assistance if I went back on the hill in that state but didn't really know what I could do. I had no dry clothes and there seemed to be no heat source to warm up from, other than the food and hot tea. I tried lots of sweet tea for maybe 45 minutes but that was just preventing me deteriorating and to be honest I wasn't thinking straight by now. In the end my guardian angel, one of the checkpoint staff who'd earlier got me to use my emergency blanket to try to warm up, came back and told me that I should go to the medical room. I thought for some reason that I would be disqualified or forced to withdraw from the event if I'd used the first aid post so had avoided it, but following an assurance from the checkpoint volunteer, I wobbled out of the marquee and across the square to a room opposite the church where there were several broken runners and a busy first aid team.

They got me out of my wet kit and into a couple of foil blankets, then wrapped me in some woolen blankets too. The paramedic suggested I rest for a while and as I started to warm up I realised that this was not it, that I had plenty of time in hand over the cut-offs and that I could possibly continue if I could find a way of fending off the worst of the cold. Fortunately that presented itself a little later as the paramedic came back with some of my clothes which were now slightly drier, and a running top of his own. He put this on me as a first layer, then crafted a coat for me from a couple of foil blankets and a load of micropore. On top of that we put my remaining (wet) clothes as a token effort at insulation and finally my cag. How much easier it would have been if I'd worn a thin fleece and carried a thicker spare. Anyway a final cup of tea saw me on my way again.

I was moving quite well and I teamed up with a French guy and chatted away as we power hiked up the switchbacks through the forest towards Catogne. Towards the top he started to drop behind and I ran on, up into a snowy Alpine wilderness, with the occasional tree and an amazing snowy single track path winding its way across the Alp, passing close by a hut I (falsely) thought might be the checkpoint before curving around a couple of spurs to reach the Catogne checkpoint for real. There was a roaring log fire next to the small gazebo and perspex booth and I lingered for a moment in the warms as my tally was checked and I passed back from Switzerland into France.

The descent was technical, particularly in the upper reaches, and at least one huge drop into a gully was guarded by some red and white tape and a flashing battery roadworks light. I wasn't moving that quickly, but the improvised foil tunic was doing its job and whilst I wasn't warm, at least I wasn't dangerously cold either. I can't remember much of the lower reaches of the descent to Vallorcine except interminable forest tracks linked by short muddy firebreaks, then the small group I was running with popped out just above the village onto a cow field and I took my first and only fall of the race, sliding maybe 20 yards down a steep muddy slope and covering my kit and most notably my chafed lower back with mud (actually it was mostly cow shit but I didn't figure that out until later thankfully).

At Vallorcine someone had rigged a patio heater and I stood  for several minutes with a cup of tea enjoying the warmth, and for the first time in eight hours I was just about ok on the temperature front. I pushed on fairly quickly though, wanting to keep going while I was feeling ok. As I made my way out of the checkpoint the sign said "next checkpoint Argentiere". Now I wasn't expecting this, I was expecting to be climbing up to at La Flegere next, although I did think we would bypass the Tete aux Vents on the way as per the text we'd had before the start. I managed a brief word with a checkpoint volunteer who assured me when I asked "Toute en vallee a Chamonix?". "Toute en vallee" was the answer, and in that moment I knew I'd make it as the conditions low down weren't too bad.

We followed the rack railway out of Vallorcine and up to the Col de Montets, then ran down a steep single track into a gorge and back up the other side. After a further kilometre I came into a quaint village which turned out to be Argentiere. The checkpoint was a marquee by the church. I went almost straight through, just stopping to fill my water bottle with hot sweet tea. I was passing a lot of people, and tried to keep the pace high on the rolling run in towards Chamonix. We popped out of the woods at another village which I mistook for the edge of Cham itself, but then realised we hadn't come far enough. I was pretty tired but I just kept concentrating on running down the next person in front and this helped the time and the last few kilometres go fairly quickly. I finally caught sight of features I knew were Chamonix about 2km from the town, just as a tall runner clad entirely in Salomon gear whizzed past me. He was absolutely motoring. I was spitting nails wondering how someone cold take so long over the CCC then finish that strongly. Anyway there were other runners ahead I was catching, so I got my head down and ran as hard as I could for the finish (I don't think it was that fast). Coming into Chamonix and passing the last few runners in front, there were little groups of people even at 6am cheering me in. What and amazing feeling. I needed it too as the finish was set out so that runners looped through the town and past many of the landmarks before finally reaching the finishing straight. There was a guy in front walking the last few metres with his kids, but I didn't really register, maybe I should have let him finish, but I was across the line too quickly to think about it.

I didn't really have any emotion left for the finish. As soon as I stopped I was cold and tired and just wanted to get into some dry kit. I collected my finisher's gilet (which frankly I could have done with about twelve hours ago), and made my way to the gym to get my kit and change.

Emily had passed me at Campex while I was warming up and run a great race, finishing in 17 hours _____. I texted her to let her know I was done, and she came down to meet me. We couldn't really face a beer but a coffee and a pastry went down well and we headed off to sleep for a while then watched our friends Noel, John and Sandy finish the 100km one country version of the UTMB which the organisers had deemed safe for their race.

It was a great experience, and a race on which I learned so much. The kit essentials I didn't have was anything with sufficient insulation to keep me warm when all my clothes were saturated and also a proper mountaineering cajole, rather than a lightweight racing cag of the type I'd use in summer in the UK. The kit essentials I did have were my shoes (Saucony Peregrines) and sticks (borrowed Raidlight aluminium poles) which saved me numerous times from potentially nasty stumbles and falls in the mud. A film canister (remember them?) full of Sudacreme was the most useful other item. My torches didn't work very well and I've replaced them with an LED Lenser H7 which seems to be better. I carried way too much food, only using a few gels really outside of the checkpoint food. It's definitely better to be a bit slower and carry some real insulating clothing than to have to stop because your hypothermic. Twice.

Oh, and the guy who passed me as I ran into Chamonix? Turns out that was Francois d'Haene, about five minutes away from winning the UTMB. I forgive him now.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Update and a Howgills Racing Weekend - 19/08/2012

That's me nearest the camera, just starting to move a bit about a third of
the way round the Sedbergh race - thanks to Ian Charters for the photo
Well it's been rather a long time since the last update, due to a house move and some changes in working arrangements, so I thought I'd catch up just on the races and events. I'm still keeping a training diary, but training runs etc., will only be on here if I have time.

June, July and August have been geared (as far as possible given everything else going on) to preparation for the CCC (Courmayer-Champex-Chamonix) Race which is on the undercard to the UTMB. I've not been able to do as many long runs as I'd like, but highlights have been the Callow Race (short but brutally steep) and the Wenlock Olympian Walk. I was also honoured to be able to carry the baton in the Endurancelife Real Relay which followed (and caught) the Olympic Torch, only the Real Relay only resorted to mechanised transport for ferry crossings and went 24/7 for several weeks.

My final weekend of prep for the CCC was spent in the Howgills, racing the English Championship Fell Race at Weasdale on the Saturday, and then doubling up to do the Sedbergh Hills race on the Sunday. A description of the 2011 Sedbergh Hills race is here:

Anyway, I drove up on Saturday morning for the Weasdale Race which was a 2.30pm start, arriving as the ladies were about half way round on their 12:30 start.

The race is held as part of the local village show, complete with sheepdog trials and outsized veg competitions. It was obviously going to be a wet one judging by the state of the show field, and my suspicions were confirmed as the first ladies started to come in covered in mud. Mercia was represented by Fannie, Mel, Naomi and Ros, all of whom seemed to have done very well. It might have been a bit of a tough introduction to UK fell running for Fannie who is a Hungarian orienteer but joined Mercia a while ago as her boyfriend is a long standing member.

The mens race started with a great cavalry charge down the event field and onto a short road section before dropping down to go under the A685 in a half flooded sheep culvert. From here on there was about a mile of gently climbing and very boggy rough ground to cross another road near a farm and gain the open hillside. The first climb was tough but mostly runnable, although I felt I couldn't get going and found myself further down the field than I'd have liked. At the top we had a great view across into Bowderdale, and I decided to get my head up and enjoy being out in the fells, and back off a little - no point in injuring myself on a day when it just wasn't happening, with a big event coming up.

The view was great, and so was the short descent to Leathgill Bridge (actually a col) which led on to the only hiking climb of the race, to the summit of Randygill Top. From here a flat mile to the trig point on Green Bell should have been very fast but I still couldn't get myself going and enjoyed the view occasionally on a 80 to 90% effort level. I fared no better on the long descent over Stwarth back to the road, but I did manage to pick up a couple of places on the run back through the boggy section, and a couple in the finishing field, which was a tough uphill 200 yards.

The time was ok for a tempo run I suppose, and I didn't injure myself although having been flat all day I did spend a couple of hours afterwards wondering whether doing Sedbergh would be a good idea or not.

Anyway after a couple of drinks with Pete, Ros, Tom and Naomi, and a meal, bed at the excellent Takoda campsite in Kirkby Stephen and a good night's sleep in my compression socks resulted in a much fresher feeling me the next morning.

I managed to scrape together something resembling breakfast (bowl of muesli with hastily purched pint of milk after my flask had curdled another pint, Dairylea Dunkers x 2 and a couple of cups of tea on the camping stove in the square in Kirkby Stephen), and headed over to Sedbergh. It was a lovely morning and a nice drive. I parked up and wandered up to the registration at about ten. I think numbers were a bit up on normal because of the previous day's race (I saw several people who were doubling up including Fannie) and also because Sedbergh had been a champs race the previous year. Pete Bland's van was in attendance but I resisted temptation.

I started the race fairly steadily and generally held position through the Arant Haw section and up to Castley Knotts (except a quick pee and laces stop by the sheepfold when Wendy Dodds came screaming past never to be seen again). I really did hold back along the traversing sections, content to hold my place within a group which was making steady progress but not taxing me. As I got to the steep stuff at the northern end of the course started, the rain also started. I'd been a bit warm but suddenly I realised I was quite cold and so I decided to push on rather than stopping to gear up. I really got moving nicely, and started to descend a bit more aggressively as I realised I might be able to make a decent time despite the steady start. I pushed hard up the long climb to the Calf, running some sections as the path traversed out of Bowderdale, then really got going as the route crossed the 600m contour, running hard to and over the Calf.

This year I was forewarned about the need to take the second trod to the right and got the Calders cut off spot on. This was a really good section of narrow path, traversing across the top of a steep rocky corrie. I picked the fence corner below Calders up and set off on a long fast descent. Even the 140' of climbing over the shoulder of Arant Haw didn't slow me down too much: I felt like I was really on a roll, unlike last year when I was limping in with the backmarkers.

I felt strong enough to run much of the gentle climb to the top of Winder, passing a few more runners, then got stuck in to the excellent grassy descent. My well worn x-Talons didn't have a great deal of grip on the by-now very wet grass and I do admit to doing 50m of this descent on my arse. I passed another couple of runners here, then hit the wall at the bottom and had my only nav moment of the race when I wasn't quite sure which way to go. I lost a few seconds trying to work it out before I heard a couple of supporters (maybe they were marshalls) shouting me from the left. A hundred yards along the wall was the gate, then it was out onto the farm track and then the road in full flight after a sub 3:15 finish.

A hard effort on the road and I finally made it into the field and through the finish (someone told me to stop running which was a good thing) in 3:14:something. I'm well happy with that given the deliberately very steady start.

I'd doubled up, done nearly 7,000' of climbing at something approaching race speed over the weekend and felt ready for the CCC, so job done from the point of view of a tune-up, despite the disappointing day (performance wise) at Weasdale.

Pics to follow if I can find any!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Kind of Callow - 16/05/2012

Sunset over the Mynd from Callow - well worth waiting for
Tonight I ran (almost) the Callow race route, taking in the summits of Ashlet, Yearlet, Grindle and Callow and dropping down to valley level between each one. I took the wrong line onto Yearlet where I should have follow the gully much further up, but otherwise this is pretty much the way.

Church Stretton from the start of the Yearlet climb

Tree and Ragleth Hill from the rocky start of the climb up Grindle

It was nearly sunset when I got to the top of Callow so I paused the gadget and waited for the sun to set, using the time to take some pictures and ring Chris at the Ragleth to order my steak and stilton butty for tea!

Legs were a bit tired on the way up Yearlet, but they got back into gear nicely for the remaining two climbs. 4.8 miles, 2,400' in 1:26:37 on a fairly easy effort level.

Tuesday Night with Bluebells - 15/05/2012

Ben, Roger and Phil on the top of Helmeth Hill
Tonight Gareth came up with another lovely route, going over Helmeth Hill and taking in the lovely bluebells there, before heading up Caradoc and returning via Hope Bowdler Hill, Cwms Cottage and Helmeth Hill again.

Debbie and Naomi at Three Fingers Rock
Paul, Tom, Rob and David at Three Fingers
I enjoyed the run although my legs were a little tired still from the Brecon race. 6.2 miles, 1,500' approx., 1:20:00 moving time.

Brecon 40 Ultra - 12/05/2012

Full write up to follow.

Small Batch Training Run - 08/05/2012

More to follow.

Lakes Trip - to 07/05/2012

Reccie of the Great Lakes Run

Fixed-O course at Langdale Campsite

Langdale Pikes follow

Training to 02/05/2012

Just a few brief training notes to bring things a bit more up to date:

17/04/2012 - Tuesday Night Run

Up via Snatchfield Farm, then traversing under Hazler Hill to Gaerstones. Ran along the spine of the Bowdler Hills to Battle Stones, then skirted the head of the valley, running over instead of around pt 334m for an extra hundred feet of climbing. From the Old Cardington Lane, we went up the steep side of the Caradoc and then came down the Three Fingers Ridge

6.3mi; 1,351ft; 1:15:49 (moving)

18/04/2012 - Burway Hill

Met up with Pauline, Charlie and Em on club business for a bit, then I decided to go for a jog up Burway Hill. Ran up the Burway from town to the cattle grid and then managed to climb to the top of Burway Hill and on to Devil's Mouth at a steady slow run. I then traversed round into the top of the southern arm of New Pool Hollow (I was really aiming for the western arm which has a nice path in it). Anyway the southern one is well gnarly and I had my oldest pair of fell shoes on so I had to take it easy at the top. Nice run back to the car via Rectory Wood.

3.6mi; 809ft; 0:45:55 (moving)

20/04/2012 - Bluebell Run Reccie

Ran round the Bluebell Run race route with Em, Roger, and Mark B. Nice night for it, but a cold wind on top. Stopped for a comfort break at the bottom of the valley between Yearlet and Ashlet (usually referred to around here as "The Ramp") and then ran steady all the way to the top trying to catch back up to Em. I had a grand time down Townbrook trying to keep up with Mark, who's astonishingly fast.

4.9mi; 1,180'; 0:54:26 (moving)

23/04/2012 - Corndon and Stiperstones

Finished work nice and promptly so I headed over to Shelve (via the excellent shop at the Stiperstones - they now sell a few bits of Torq gels and bars). I ran the Hike route from Shelve over Corndon to Nind, then used the track which skirts east of Black Rhadley to reach the shooting centre driveway and climb on up to the Bridges - Bog road. I crossed straight over here and the mixed weather turned quite nasty as I headed up the Stiperstones. It hailed the whole time I was on top, and in the end I was getting pretty cold so I headed back down on the lane which comes out pretty much where the Hike leaves the road at Tankerville to go to Shelve. I followed the Hike route back to the car, just about getting warm again by the time I got there.

12.5mi; 1,885'; 2:25:28 (moving)

24/04/2012 - Big Climbs for a Tuesday Night

This week the group went for a big climbing night to keep the Newporters happy! We went up Townbrook Valley and then turned left to climb the steep east face of Yearlet. From the top we went straight on down steeply into Ashes Hollow and then used the sheep track traversing along the south side of the valley to reach the Grindle spur. 10 minutes of effort got us up to the top, and we descended by Nills to the footbridge. We climbed the Ashlet fence to the corner and then used another new bit of route, traversing the east face of Ashlet above Hopes Wood to reach the top of the Hundred Steps and return to Stretton through the Rectory Field.

4.8mi; 1,838'; 1:11:02 (moving)

25/04/2012 - Wrekin Streak Marshalling

Not really a run but I did do a fair bit of running around, marking out the juniors race and then marshalling it.

About 3 miles and 700'; not timed

26/04/2012 - SyTri Track - Sqauts Session

Another murderous session from Sam, the master of pain! This time it was a series of efforts and squats. We did a series of 1 min easy, 1 min hard, 1 min easy, then squats! It was a bit grim really, especially when I realised the squats were a pyramid: think we did 8-10-12-15-15-12-10-8. Good fun though, very well coached and a good stretching session after. I had pretty heavy calves for a few days afterwards though, and once again didn't run at the weekend.

01/04/2012 - Tuesday Night from Little Stretton

We've decided to mix it up over summer a little with the first Tuesday night run of each month being from Little Stretton not Church Stretton. This should enable us to get over into Callow Hollow and Minton Batch, places we rarely go on a normal Tuesday because it either means long routes or huge amounts of climbing.

We started off with almost an Ashes skyline, mostly sticking to paths as it was pretty misty up top. The route was up the valley for a couple of miles warm up, then using the Valleys ascent ramp to Barrister's Plain (Cross Dykes). From there it was good paths round Round Hill and along the ridge to Pole Cottage and Pole Bank. The return was via Boiling Well, the col at the top of Townbrook Valley and the summits of Yearlet and Ashlet, then a headlong plunge down to the footbridge in Ashes and back to the cars. I felt ok and had no problems with the calf.

6.9mi; 1,338'; 1:18:07 (moving)

02/04/2012 - Hilly Tempo Road Run

First time out on tarmac since the Regency 10k! Nice little run up to Dinchope and then down to the B road from Wenlock to Bridgnorth. I took a right there and ran down to the Halford turn, and came back through Halford and up the climb to Ireland Cottage. I concentrated on a nice fast turnover and ran a decent time considering the hills.

6.4mi; 606'; 0:51:44 - average pace 8:05/mile

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Regency 10K at Leamington - 15/04/2012

The day after Coldeale I headed to Leamington with Zoe for her final tune up before the London Marathon. Chris Penny had suggested racing the week before as a confidence boost and to get into the midset of running through a big crowd (he should know about preparation for marathons having done 2:17 in his prime) and when Zoe and I talked it over we thought it might be a good idea.

We got parked up and headed to the start field with (we thought) plenty of time left, joining the queue for the loos about 30 minutes before the start. With five minute to go we were still in the queue with only eight portaloos for 2,000 runners. We eventually did manage to use the facilities in the nick of time, and only had a minute or so to get on the start. As a result we started about half way back through the field.

The first four miles were on narrow-ish bridleways around a park and golf course, and I found I was stuck in traffic a lot with slower runners, so adopted a burst - easy - burst -easy approach to passing, using the verges and edges of the fields as much as I could. After four kilometers or so things started to thin out a bit just as I got onto the wider road section. I grabbed a cup of water at 4.5 kilometers and had a couple of sips.

From here on it was just a case of trying to maintain a good pace and form for the remainder of the race, which was routed through the picturesque Regency streets of Leamington town centre (actually I wasn't looking much and found that out from the programme). I had a rough spell from 6 to 8 kilometers but kept the pace up and ran through it with a fairly strong finish, concentrating on form and nice short strides at a high cadence.

It seemed to work - I ran a new PB, finishing in 44:25 (old best was Ellesmere in 48:00). This was a slightly easier course, but I negated that by having to run through half the field. Note to self for next time. Zoe also did very nicely, finishing well up the ladies rankings (7th V35 I think) at a race distance which doesn't suit her.

My splits (per mile) were 7:08, 7:26, 7:26, 6:48, 7:17, 6:52 and 1:28 in from there. The first 5k was 22:47 and the second 5k 21:38 (average 6:58/mile or 4:20/km) - I'm really pleased with a big negative split here even recognising that it was helped by the crowding in the first half of the race. My best 5 mile split was roughly 35:49 (average 7:10/mile).

All in all it was a pretty good morning's work, topped off by a lovely post-race cooked breakfast provided at short notice by Zoe's friends Jo and Graham.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Coledale Engl / Brit Champs Fell Race - 14/04/2012

Starting to motor at the top of the final descent
Saturday saw me up bright and early to meet Pete and Mel in Walsall for the drive up to Coledale. This is the second English Champs race and the first in the British Champs series this year. We arrived in good time and met up with the other Mercia runners near the registration tent. Andy D had been up for the week and was able to give us a good briefing on the course before the start. My target for the day was to get a bit closer to David Malia than I was at Lad’s Leap, and to try to run under 150% of the course record (Simon Booth’s record was 1:11:25, so I was aiming for 1:47:07 or better).

Pete and I wandered back to the car to kit up and then walked back to the event field to see the ladies start – they were off about 15 minutes before the men to avoid perceived bottlenecking problems around the course. We watched them go and then it was time for a few last minute kit adjustments. It was pretty cool in the field when the sun wasn’t out so I went for a thermal top and thin tights thinking it might be cold on top. We’d been given a Buff at registration to celebrate the inclusion of the event in the Buff Mountain Running Cup, and I took that and my gloves with me, as well as the windproof and leg cover. I’d hydrated up, so didn’t take any water with me, just a gel and a few jelly babies. I noticed I had my headtorch with me and hoping I wouldn’t need it with about eight hours to dark, I got it out and waved it around a bit.

The start was very quick, uphill for 150 yards through the field to a gate where I passed my torch to Pauline and Joe Faulkner for safe keeping! From there it was down a stone track (very dusty) at some speed and then onto the village lanes, climbing to the steps which lead onto the Grizedale Pike climb. As promised there was a huge bottleneck here, and we stood pretty much stationary at times. One or two tried to push their way round – I hope they were road runners and have now been sent for re-education. After I guess a couple of minutes delay we were up the steps onto a runnable section of the ascent. I found myself about 50 yards behind David in a group including three Pennine runners I recognised from the Edale Skyline. It’s nice how you often end up running with the same people. Rick Ansell of Tring was there too, I’d last seen him at Mam Nick on the Skyline but he told me he’d sadly had to drop out after that.

The route soon steepened and I mixed walking and running to the top of Kinn, where there was about a kilometre of good runnable and fairly level path before the route steepene again. I had to walk pretty much all of the climb onto Sleet How and then up the well defined east ridge of Grizedale Pike. Just before we got to the top the wind got up and it started to snow gently. I grabbed my windproof (carefully positioned near the top of my bum bag with a bit sticking out to make unzipping and getting it on easier – I’ll do that again) and got it on before the checkpoint at the top (791m / 2,595’). Thank you to the three hardy souls taking numbers as we went through.

The next section was a good fast run contouring under point 739m and then down to Coledale Hause. I started passing the last of the ladies here and also started to feel I was moving ok having felt a bit slow on the big climb. The next stage was the ascent of Eel Crag. This was quite a steep scramble up bouldery grass and a bit of a gully towards the top. There was a bit of rockfall going on up here so I stayed over to the right away from the loosest section. Maybe with 500+ runners the danger here’s a lot more than usual on the race and it would have been better routed 300m up the gully from Coledale Hause before climbing to Sail over easier ground.

Anyway I managed to run all of the second section of the climb to reach a second checkpoint at the summit of Crag Hill (at 839m / 2,753’). There was a fairly steep descent over quite polished rock off here which I enjoyed and took a few places on. I don’t remember the climb to Sail but the race was routed over the summit and I presume I must have done it! Then we were away on the descent, down a good path, or in my case down the grass to the left of it, overtaking more ladies. I was still following Rick here but I’d lost touch with David on the climb up Eel Crag. After half a mile the path swung left to contour downwards under Scar Crags. This section looked narrow and rough, and I attacked hard as the group of 8-10 in front of me slowed, running past Rick and several other blokes with some of the ladies mixed in. Further down the path became rocky and rough but more gently graded on safer ground, and I kept putting the effort in, struggling with the path and trying to use the more level ground to the sides as much as possible. A couple of guys passed me here, and I was relieved to turn off after a mile onto singletrack to contour round to Barrow Door.

I tried very hard to keep running up to Barrow, and managed quite well with only a couple of sections of hiking. Rick passed me again near the top. I knew the descent was long and very runnable, so I got moving as quickly as I could at the top and fairly quickly had passed four or five men. From there on in there were only a couple of ladies I could see in front of me and I kept pushing on hard, using the ladies as a target to chase down rather than feeling any pressure from behind. This works better for me if I need an incentive to keep the speed up. Eddie Davies had climbed up to about halfway on the descent and gave me a great shout up “Bloody ‘ell Jim, well done lad, give it some welly” which was just what I needed. I passed the second of the two ladies a hundred yards from the event field gate and flew on in to finish in 1:43:55, over three minutes ahead of target. I didn’t realise at the time, but I’d also got a lot closer to David because he finished a single place and 24 seconds ahead of me. I reckon I can call that one a good run.

Hopefully there will be some photos to follow!

We stayed and nattered for a little while, but Pete (44th in 1:17:29) and Mel (8th lady in 1:28:27) needed to get back to their families so it was back to the car, the A66 and the M6. A long day, but an excellent trip! Mercia results below:

4 Anna Bartlett LV40 01:26:36
8 Mel Price L 01:28:27
52 Kim Braznell LV55 01:45:04

13 Steven Cale M 01:11:51
20 Tim Davies M 01:13:09
44 Pete Vale M 01:17:29
55 William Neill MU23 01:19:00
57 Andrew Davies M 01:19:07
62 Paul Jones MV40 01:19:57
81 Roland Stafford M 01:22:12
114 Tom Roo M 01:25:42
139 Andy Davies MV45 01:28:14
265 David Malia MV45 01:43:31
266 Jim Tinnion MV40 01:43:55
326 Ross Powell MV55 01:54:26

Friday, 13 April 2012

WOW Reccie - 13/04/2012

The Wrekin, from the Sheinton - Wenlock road
Managed to get away from work tonight on time and get a bit more reccie running in for this summer's Wenlock Olympian Walk. I decided to run the bit of the Ironbridge - Much Wenlock route that I'd missed on Saturday. This is roughly miles 50 to 55 (Much Wenlock to Ironbridge) and miles 96 to 100 (Sheinton to Much Wenlock) of the WOW 100.

I started with the latter, leaving the car at Sheinton and following the route up and across the Sheinton - Wenlock and Buildwas - Wenlock roads, then along the course of the old railway until a mile short of the finish, where the route joins the outbound leg to pass Wenlock Priory into town.

View across the valley dropping into Farley - this will be about mile 98!

Halfway through mile 99 - Wenlock Priory

Set into the pavement about 200 yards from the finish - should we amend
it to say "Wenlock Olympian Walk" just for that weekend?
I stopped at the Guildhall and snaffled a bit of food and drink, then walked five minutes back on the start of the 50 route. Then I started to run, first past a mill and through fields, then on a short steep climb, a gentle descent and another climb to Wyke. A steady climb through a few small fields and then on a lovely single track along the edge of the wood brings the route to the top of the Benthall Edge climb of the Tinsel Trail.

From there it's a cruisy, fast (but muddy today) descent past the power station to drop onto the course of the old Severn Valley Railway, which is followed past the Iron Bridge. I cut back across the new bridge and road ran along the wharfage to the Museum of the River. You can follow trails along the river most of the way back to Buildwas then. I was feeling fairly comfortable and kept running easily (10 min / mile pace) right through to Buildwas, and then on the road to reach the edge of the woods on the Builwas estate where a steady climb (and the only place I ran fairly hard) leads back up the hill to Sheinton.

River Severn at dusk
13.5 miles and 1,250' in 2:21 for an average moving pace of 10:27/mile despite a couple of very steady miles early on. I did a really thorough stretch when I finished, and another one back home later, to try to prevent any stiffness for Saturday's English/British Champs Fell Race at Coledale.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Training to 10/04/2012

The track leading down from Flounders Folly on the Hills and Dales Hike
A couple of fairly easy sessions to recover after the big day out in Snowdonia.

First a nice very gentle recovery run with Em on Wednesday night. It was pretty cold and raining on and off and I really couldn't be bothered, but Em got home from work and came out the bath with her running kit on so I felt obligated really. And I'm really glad I went out. We had a really steady run to Halford and then back across the fields and through the woods. I concentrated on good running form - short strides and up on my toes, trying to do it easy like Caballo Blanco used to say: "Easy, Light, Smooth, Fast". Caballo may be gone but as Em reminded me his inspiration lives on. We cruised round for a very gentle 4.7 miles and 550' in almost exactly an hour.

I meant to get out and run all day on Friday but didn't manage to leave the house until half past five. I grabbed Em's Shropshire Hills Visitor Centre leaflet on the Hills and Dales Trail which was supposed to be about 6 miles. I thought I'd cut up onto the route at Lower Dinchope and then run the end (into Craven Arms) first, then the remainder of the route, finishing from the bottom of Callow Hill via the bridleway back to the house. The run to CA was pleasant, only disturbed by a few brambles in Berrymill Wood.

Ireland Cottage from the edge of Berrymill Wood
I went right to the visitor centre in the hope of a drink but it was shut so I set of back up to Halford Wood. This was pretty hard work after the Corvedale Road: two fields had been freshly ploughed and cultivated right to the hedge (so no path at all), and it's a steep climb too. There's a nice view from the top, particularly of Lower Dinchope nestled in the valley. It's a very quick jog down to the village, and then a pretty stiff climb up to Flounders Folly at the top of Callow Hill.

Lower Dinchope, with Caer Caradoc behind and to the left
Flounders Folly at the top of Callow Hill (locally known as The Tower) 
View across Hopedale from Callow Hill. The Wrekin is just visible centre right.

I came back down easy but fairly quickly via Moorwood Farm and through Strefford Wood. A lovely evening run: 8.2 miles and 1,250' in 01:24.

On Saturday morning (07/04/2012) I headed over to Ironbridge to meet Em, John and James for a bit of WOW (Wenlock Olympian Walk) Reccie. The section for today was the first and last few miles of the second 50 mile loop, so it's part of the hundred, but not the fifty.

In wetting drizzle, we ran from Ironbridge over into Coalbrookdale then up the Rope Walk to join the Tinsel Trail route to Little Wenlock. On over to the Wrekin and a slog to the top. This is going to be tough, long climb (it's continuously uphill from Coalbrookdale to the top of the Wrekin), especially 90+ miles in. We ran down through Garmston and Leighton then via fields to Cressage. There's a pretty long road section from here to Sheinton. At Sheinton, Em and I both had aches and pains and decided disgression was the better part of valour, so we cut the route short and left James and JT to head up towards Much Wenlock.

Em and I ran down to Buildwas (walking a lot of the road sections) and returned to the car via the footpaths on the north bank of the Severn and then up the Wharfage past the Tontine. The rain finally stopped about five minutes before we got back to the cars. 17.3 miles and 1,800' in 03:28.

Over the Easter weekend I didn't run but had a couple of nice short walks, around home on Easter Sunday and at the head of Lake Vyrnwy on Easter Monday (rain again). I went to the point to point meeting at Upton on Tuesday and left a bit late to get back for the whole Tuesday run. However Tom came to the rescue, texting me the rough route, so I knew I could intercept the group at Little Stretton.

As I pulled up the first runners came down through the campsite, so by the time I'd thrown a fleece and some jog pants in my running pack and put a shirt and a pair of shorts on, it was time to play catch up. Luckily for me the guys had given themselves a good working over coming across Ashlet, so I didn't have to go too silly to catch them. We went on up Ragleth Hill, then along and via the lane to Gaer Stone. I climbed pretty well and descended nice and easy, but fairly quickly down to Cwms Cottage. From there we cruised on down to Stretton via the Hike field. 5 miles and 1,100' of climbing in 00:58.