Tuesday, 5 September 2017

French Alps Holiday

Yey, Holiday Time! The original plan for this holiday was centred around Tim running the TDS - one of the UTMB races. Going from Courmayer to Chamonix the race covers 110km with 7000m of ascent - so not a short or easy one. Unfortunately injury led to Tim pulling out of the race but the holiday was still on. Tim's written about this over on his blog.

We got ourselves a 4 day lift pass so we could enjoy the Aiguille de Midi station, and get up higher on a few days without the 1000-1500m of ascent needed to get out of the Chamonix valley and on to the high paths. Cheating perhaps, but with a 3hr walk up switch-backs, it isn't something you want to do every day.

Weather was super hot the first half of the holiday, then mixed with a few days of low cloud and rain. We went from super hot to -10 degrees on our last trip up the Aiguille de Midi!

On our way up to the Aiguille de Midi, 3842m
The cable car journeys take 20mins from the valley floor rising 2700m 

Mont Blanc with Digital Crack on the chunk of rock...a hard climb (understatement I'm told)

Back down at the Plan de l'Aiguille at 2310m we had a wander up to Lac Bleu

On the first Saturday we headed up to the Gorges de Notre Dame for a walk up to Col de Bonhomme, an 18km round trip with nearly 1200m ascent.

View from Col de Bonhomme

The next day we headed back up to Chamonix early, wanting to avoid the heat of the day for our walk. But first, Tim headed up to the Plan Praz cable car station the hard way - up the Vertical Kilometre route which goes directly up underneath the cable car. I took the easy option in the cable car this time.

Mont Blanc from Chamonix town centre
I met Tim at the top, and we caught the high level cable car across to Le Brevent. Thankful of the cloud cover, we walked over to the Refuge Bellachat for coffee then down a million and one switch backs back down to Chamonix town centre.

Looking across to Mont Blanc from Le Brevant, 2525m

Heading down the first steep section from Le Brevant

On Tuesday Tim was off doing some Alpine climbing with Kev who we were staying with....you'll have to ask Tim for details of what they did, I just went to see them off as they left the Aiguille de Midi station, out of the ice cave and down the arete onto the glacier. I watched them get smaller and smaller as they crossed the glacier until I could no longer make them out.

Kev and Tim getting ready in the ice cave

They're the two on the left, just leaving the ice cave

and off down the arete

They're just visible by the sticky up rock on the arete

With the majestic Mont Blanc as a backdrop, Tim and Kev are down on the glacier next to those round dots....they're tents!

I took myself off on a delightful run/walk across the high level path from Plan de l'Aiguille to the Mer de Glace train over at Montenvers. Apart from a couple of guys up ahead and a few other runners I had the path to myself - my pace was somewhat slowed because I couldn't resist stopping to take lots of photos!

The Mer de Glace, claiming to be the largest glacier in Europe it is sadly retreating at an alarming rate

The next few days were rainy so we had a good relax, short runs and walks and caught up on doing 'not a lot'. On one of those days we did a little driving tour up to the Col Des Montets - visibility was not great but we did see plenty of markers out for the UTMB races.

Lac Passy - a lovely 2.5km circuit ideal for running, but also windsurfing and swimming

Our final day came too quick and with it more low cloud and rain. Perfect for me to give the Vertical KM a go. Now, this is no easy thing. The Chamonix VertK is one of the toughest because to be classed as an official VertK route the overall distance covered can be no more than 5km, obviously with a minimum of 1000m ascent. The one in Chamonix covers a short 3.5km - meaning it is steep. Very steep. And, to top it off - with no option to go around, right near the top is a section of via ferrata - not ideal when I get vertigo!!

Nevertheless, this was on my list of things to do so here I was. Tim was giving it another go (without getting off course this time!) so we set off together and once he'd finished he'd come back down to give me some encouragement to keep going. I was pleased to get over 700m before he came back down to me.

About a quarter of the way up and in the cloud

Maybe halfway now....totally in the cloud and feeling the calves burning

Yey - I've done the via ferrata section, calmly helped by Tim's reassuring words
After celebrating at the top we didn't hang around - it was cold and we needed to change clothes so we jumped on the cable car down to Chamonix.
In search of coffee....we headed back up the Aiguille de Midi one last time
We had a day pass so thought we'd nip up and see the snow that had been falling - rain in the valley is sure to mean snow up there and we weren't disappointed. In the picture above you can see the lighter green stripe up the opposite hill - that's the cable car route up to Plan Praz - and therefore you can clearly see the route of the Vertical Km which we'd just done!! 

Snow scoured mountains became obvious - but only on the return trip down from the Aiguille de Midi - on the way up the cloud was so thick you couldn't even see the cable car cables!!

Mont Blanc is in the background....honest!

Back in Chamonix town centre it was heaving - the UTMB race was expecting the first finishers in a few hours so we grabbed the most delicious burger and chips I've ever tasted (Poco Loco not far from La Poste if you go to Cham you must go). That VertK had given me a raging appetite!  So, we ate, hung around and soon we had the first UTMB finisher  - Francois d'Haene in only just over 19 hours - incredible for a race 170km long....then 15mins later Kilian Jornet came in second.

A superb holiday, with a good mix of adventure and relaxation. We'll be back to the French Alps - there's a lot to discover out there.

Monday, 31 July 2017

DNF at The Old Crown Round

After a month of not running a great deal I was a little nervous about toeing the start line of the Old Crown Round. At 24 miles it is a long race, add to that it's in the Lake District with about 2200m of ascent, much of it on rough path-less terrain. It was going to be a big ask. But, my head was prepared for a good long day in the hills with a few mates. For I had company with Eleanor and Alasdair. Tim sadly couldn't join us owing to an ongoing hip issue but he was up in the Lake District with us for the weekend and hopefully would get his own adventure on this hill done.

8.50am came. We were registered. We were wearing waterproof tops - the incoming rain was due any minute. Sure enough, 8.57am as the race organisers started counting us into the start area on the road it started to rain. And rain it did. In biblical proportions. I was soaked through pretty much before we started, and on the 3rd re-count was starting to get cold. Not the best start.

Finally we were off, running up out of the the village of Heskett-Newmarket and down a tiny tarmac road for about a mile, then across fields and finally into open moorland. And here's where the fun really started.

My head had gone from....'this'll be a lovely long day in the hills' to 'OMG how steep is that hill' and 'this rough grass is horrendous to run on' - well not run, just walk and hop a bit, and 'will it ever stop raining'. I think my winge-meter was on super drive for which I apologised many times to El and Al. The weather was grim - thankfully not very much wind but raining and soaking underfoot. Not just wet, but sloshing puddles and rivers everywhere. I have never known the ground to be so wet except for in a river!

This race had partially enticed me because there was beer involved. I joke that one of the reasons I run is to drink beer (other reasons include chips and cake!). So with 4 beers being provided a'top 4 of the local hills (all named after said hills) by the brewery in Heskett-Newmarket - who wouldn't want to have a lovely day in the hills with a snifter of beer here and there?!

Well, to get to the first beer you needed to get 6km from the start and climb about 450m. Slurp...'Carrock' went down nicely if a little odd at not too long after 10am!! Al's navigation was tremendous, getting us safely down a steep but rock and scree-free line from Round Knott to the river crossing at Mosedale. The River Caldew was in good flow with all the rain we'd had and the marshals informed us that the suggested route followed the path up the valley to a footbridge, though some had chosen the river crossing to give a more direct and much shorter line up onto the traverse below Bowscale Fell.

We chose the river crossing - it was going to be slow up the valley anyway so we may as well take the direct steeper line. Arm in arm we crossed the river. This wasn't one to cross solo as it was knee deep with hidden rocks and moving swiftly. I was thankful to be the middle person!!

Next came the climb towards our second main summit - Blencathra. Visibility was still not great - 50m sometimes more, sometimes less. Runners were spread out on various lines but each tracking vaguely in the same direction. The ground was soaked. There were very few faint trods to follow and it was still raining. I was still not having fun. It was also really obvious to me that my companions were a lot stronger and could move a lot quicker than me.

I have always said this would be a lovely day in the hills....but today was not lovely. I was soaked, in need of the loo but nowhere to hide, probably ate too much at breakfast, head now spiralling negatively as my body cursed the rough ground and steep climb. Although Al was doing the navigation for us I was keeping a check on the route on the 1:50k map we'd been given. O.M.G. Blencathra was still a loooong way away and a lonnnnnng way up to go.

I hated myself for having such a negative outlook but couldn't snap out of it. We were hanging in roughly last place, which although it didn't bother me, we were only a third of the way round and I knew I couldn't go faster. Checking the map I could see a point ahead I could bail out. There's a path before Blencathra that cuts under Bannerdale Crags and down to Scales on the main road. Or I could go up Blencathra, have the beer there then peel along the ridge line and again pick up the path down to Scales.

I must have talked myself into and out of bailing at both these points a dozen times. Each time weighing up the pros and cons of my first DNF. I felt really ambivalent about DNFing a race. I wasn't really bothered. But the more I thought of pulling out the more I wanted to finish the whole route. The feeling to have finished the race, in those conditions, with good friends, would have been brilliant. I didn't want to miss out on that feeling and be the one wondering if I could have gone on, should have gone on. Self-doubt is a worrisome curse.

I decided to push on to Blencathra - much to the delight of my companions. I again voiced my thoughts that 'I'll be really slow' to their protests of it not mattering. I tried to calculate overall duration we'd be out if I continued at my snails pace. It was going to be long.

So, with a massive 'shut up head' talk to myself I vowed to get up Blencathra, and silently voiced to myself that perhaps the whole route was possible.

On top of Blencathra the delightful beer in a box was located. It was here I realised my hands were getting cold. Like really cold. Up to know I'd been joyous in the knowledge that although it was chucking it down most of the time we'd been out (and now thankfully the rain eased off as we approached the summit of this 868m high mountain) my hands were warm. It wasn't a particularly cold day despite the rain so the sudden realisation my hands were going numb was a bit scary. I fumbled to get my rucksack open then really struggled to pull on gloves, followed by waterproof over-mitts. I necked the beer - no points for classy drinking there for me - then we made our way back down the steep section of Blencathra before peeling left and towards Skiddaw House.

I had reckoned if I could reach the summit of Blencathra then Skiddaw House (a hostel) was a point of safety - an actual building where I could warm up, sit and drink the soup the organisers were providing and take real stock on what I was doing. It was mostly downhill too. El and Al were literally skipping down the hill making it look effortless but my body just wasn't playing happy. There was a path but it was still rough and rocky in places - and here I slowed to a walk. Before too long they were waiting for me much lower down. I felt bad holding them up. I tried to make them go on ahead and keep pushing but they insisted on staying with me.

After a short uphill section we reached Skiddaw House. I was feeling kind of alright and ready for a mental battle to push to the end. So, after a quick 10min stop for soup and a brew we pulled on rucksacks and started the climb up to Skiddaw.

Me and Eleanor  at Skiddaw House

There was nearly 500m to climb before we'd top out on Skiddaw at 931m - the 6th highest mountain in England. Al decided that he needed to warm up so did some running up this section. I could barely keep walking so to run was just damned impressive! Although slow, I was moving and that's all that mattered. Left-right-left-right - continuous forward progression and I knew I'd reach the top. I did feel quite drained though, energy diverted to digesting the cheese sarnie and bar I'd eaten back at the hostel perhaps.

Skiddaw House below us by the trees as we make progress up to Skiddaw summit

Celebrating no rain and a great view!!

Alasdair and Eleanor in the final push up to Skiddaw summit at 931m

After about 45mins we reached the glorious summit and our third swig of beer. The weather was being kind to us, views down to Derwentwater next to Keswick and far beyond with dramatic clouds billowing in the sky. This was why I came into the hills - to see them and appreciate their beauty. Such a shame we'd had a deluge for the first 3 hours of our outing.

Cheers from the summit of Skiddaw

By now we'd been on the go 3.5-4 hours. At the start of the descent off Skiddaw I could feel my knees weren't happy. I've had a recurring 'thing' in my knees and have been working on strength training to reduce this occurring, but here it was again. Once again El and Al seemed to float down the lovely grassy descent and I was left wincing in pain hardly able to walk. Bugger. This was not good. With some serious head chatter I kept saying it wasn't happening, surely I could just run a bit more. I tried to run, I put in some pace to see how it was going faster than I normally do but OUCH, it Hurt. So, a slow steady walk was commenced (progress however slow is still progress and sitting down and crying wouldn't get me anywhere!) until I caught up to my patiently waiting friends a few hundred metres below.

This time when I said they should push on they must have sensed I actually meant it, and that I actually wouldn't be able to finish the route in anything short of a stupidly long and very slow time. If all I could do was walk up and now walk down we'd be out quite a few more long hours. There was about another 10 miles to go. The safest thing for me was to return to Skiddaw House and descend to Threlkeld. That was the safer decision for them too, otherwise they run the risk of getting cold waiting for me.
Clouds gathering once more, rain definitely on the way again

So, with a sad heart seeing my friends carry on I was resolved to getting off the hill without doing myself any serious damage. The weather was OK for now, but gathering clouds on the next summit (Great Calva) was promising more rain. It wasn't fair - or safe - for me to attempt to continue. I really really did want to though.

With a bit of heather bashing and a jump over a thankfully narrow river crossing I picked up the track to Skiddaw House. I reported to the marshals that I'd pulled out and had arranged a lift back from the main road back to Heskett-Newmarket. Thankfully I'd managed to contact Tim who had indeed got himself up the hill for a decent wander - he was going to drive round and pick me up from the Blencathra Centre.

Looking at the map, at the point where I pulled out I probably had a good 6km to walk to the road. I had a few short slow runs but each time there was a bit of slight descent my knees grumbled and slowed me to a walk. 3 months since I ran the London Marathon and with very little specific hill training this DNF wasn't a great surprise, but still a disappointment. I know the weather gave me a massive dose of demoralisation but ultimately my body just wasn't ready for the distance of this race in combination with the rough terrain in the first half and the apocalyptic weather.

Looking back up to Skiddaw House as I descended off the escape route to the Blencathra Centre

I owe great thanks to Eleanor and Alasdair for the support they gave me on the 24km of the race I did with them. Massive kudos to Eleanor for completing the race - her longest every run by some considerable distance. I am immensely proud of her. Al is an old hat at long arduous challenges, and his experience in the hills was very much welcomed in the tough conditions.  Knowing he had the navigation nailed took the pressure off and stress out of the day.

Thank you to the race organisers and those wonderful marshals out on the hills - I really do mean it when I say thank you to each and every one of you. I am grateful that you chose to stand out on the hill for us on top of a mountain - it's no easy job, especially in such wild places. Thank you to the lovely ladies providing refreshments at Skiddaw House. Thank you to the brewery in Heskett-Newmarket for the delightful beer and the landlord at the Old Crown for the hospitality before and after the race. The few beers I had in the pub once I got back were delightful. Finally, thank you to Tim for his amazing support, driving round to pick me up and his beaming face of pride knowing I did the best I could do on the day.

The hills and mountains will be there another day.
I'd like to come back and finish this one.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Kinder Trog Fell Race 2017

The day dawned claggy. That should have put me on high(er) navigational alert. I knew a decent chunk of the race route. Fairly confident I'd say, but totally in the knowledge of where I'd get the map out. Well, me, along with many others took some interesting route choices in the clag. This was going to be one tough fell race for me - distance, ascent and the shear challenge was all a bit daunting.

This is a race with a description of 25.7km and 1062m ascent. I did a bit more than that!

After arriving early to register I walked the final kilometre through the village just so I wouldn't disgrace myself by getting lost on the last bit. Back at the scout hut things were getting busy, numbers being pinned on and Glossopdale Harrier club mates arriving.

10.55am and we're all gathered on the road ready to go. I was chatting with Cheryl when suddenly we were off...no shout of 'Go' or any sort of race organiser briefing that we heard, but then we were near the back of the pack.

The first 9km or so is pretty much all up hill. And my lungs knew it. I set off with the aim of completing the race, not pushing and punishing myself by blowing up on that first section so I eased to a walk fairly soon on the climb up to Lantern Pike. It was humid and the threat of rain and clag on the tops loomed.

With plenty of people around me we made our way over the fields and down to Monks Road. What a super boost to see Andrea and Brae on the track, then Julien, John H, Alasdair and Dave H on the road. It is brilliant to see club mates out supporting, thank you.

Onwards, I grabbed a quick glass of water from the marshals then crossed the roads. The marshals were brilliant and actually stopping cars for us. The next section was a combination of run/walk as we climbed towards Kinder past Burnt Hill.

Near Burnt Hill, thanks to Frank Golden Photography for the pic

The dreaded stone flags appeared soon enough. I got my head down and thought positive thoughts! Cheryl had pulled away long since but I had caught a glimpse of her ahead when I cross the main road. Too far to catch now, and that put me as last Glossopdale Harrier but still smiling because I was out doing it.

I ate a little, kept drinking and got myself up the steep stone steps onto the Kinder Edge path. At some point between the flags and here I'd put on my waterproof. The rain was now falling heavier, not just misty moisture and it was being blasted into my right ear so I reluctantly put my hood up, knowing I'd be heating up quickly.

I'm not a fan of the running around the edge path - rocks sticking up all over the place mean you have to pay constant attention to where you put your feet. This means I only tend to go that way when it's clear as the views are amazing. Not today - visibility at perhaps 50m at best shrouded us in rain and clag. I fell into a rhythm and saw three other runners not too far ahead. Knowing this section can seem like a long way in the clag (Kinder Downfall race in 2012 was totally clagged in too) I pushed myself on to catch them.

From not too far after the steep climb up, to somewhere above Cluther Rocks we were in a train of four. Hardly a word spoken, each in our own world. There was one chap who was mostly at the front and he was setting a nice pace. I could have gone faster, but this was good for me, steady, rhythmical and sensible given we weren't halfway. I loved the mesmerisation of our footfall and the pace that slowed to a walk on the slight inclines and rockier sections. Then picked up to a run naturally.

At some point after Red Brook and before the trig there's a section of rocks you need to climb up through and the guy at the front beared off to the right around them. I reminded myself I was running my own race so kept on the path I knew to be right. The other three runners dropped away in the clag. Cairns appeared like ghosts out of the mist. I knew I'd passed the trig point but couldn't see it. Then the triangle path of paving appeared and I was sure, totally sure, I needed to go right. That was my mistake.

So on the wrong route I trundled along. At some point I knew I was wrong. There'd been runners appearing from various directions already then all of a sudden Cheryl appeared coming towards me!! A short discussion later and we were continuing on my 'I know this is wrong but think I can put it right' route choice. She decided to be 'misplaced' with me rather than strangers. I also thought it better to drop out of the clag and put it right, rather than retrace steps and not really know where to go, wasting time. Without finding the trig point and then following a bearing you could wander up there for a while.

Sure enough we popped out on the Kinder Downfall route after negotiating the steep steps of Kinderlow End. We resigned ourselves to the climb back up to Edale Cross to pass the check point. The amusing clag-lost runners were all around - some looked like they were wandering aimlessly over towards Oaken Clough and I heard later some had gone down Jacobs Ladder.

The next section was a down and steep up to pick up the bridleway past Mount Famine. We kept a good pace and soon enough were at the top. The usually very boggy path was nicely dry and before we knew it we were on the descent to the next road crossing.

Having a good natter on the bridleway heading to the road crossing to Peep O Day
Thanks to Frank Golden Photography for the pic
Another friendly face (Carl) appeared and boosted our moral. The road crossing was negotiated safely then the climb up to Big Stone. It teases you, sitting up on the horizon, seemingly getting closer but feeling like it isn't doing so. We got there in the end, along with cramp hitting Cheryl's calves. Finally the last climb was done and we were at about 3hrs 30. Could we finish under 4 hours? We had a vague idea how far it was but pace was slowed a little as we did map reading necessary to keep us on the right paths. Plus cramp stops, then on the final descent though the trees to Phoside my right knee started to be really painful with each foot fall. Ouch! Nothing for it but to carry on. Forward progress will get you there in the end, however steady.

Across the two fields and the really muddy bit you couldn't avoid - right up to my calves! Down the slippy concreted track and the final road crossing to a massive cheer from Des (cheers for that, made us smile!!). Through the car park with about 2 minutes to go until our self-imposed (well mine I think) deadline....across the bridge....into the field!! yey! Once Cheryl realised that was actually the finish she stopped insisting that I left her to push on....we crossed the line together, hand in hand and smiling - 3 hours 59 minutes and 42 seconds. And we weren't last. Not that it really would have mattered because we finished.

The finish line still had a good few runners and supporters there who cheered us in - that was wonderful. Thank you all.

Thank you to the race organiser, marshals, tea and sandwich providers, photographers, those who supported and anyone else involved. It's a really tough race, challenging conditions and one which I will definitely be doing again. (at least I should get a pb if I don't get misplaced again :) )

A big thank you goes to Cheryl for the delightful company - I'll get misplaced with you in any race :)

My record of the route is 26.8km and 1181m of ascent....so a bit over on both counts. I am really pleased with my time and will be back.

For your amusement - the route choices taken by the racers!

As a final note (rant), my experience was a little damped by a few other runners. Please, if you are going to do a race where it is advertised with these abbreviations  - "ER, PM, LK, NS" - read the descriptions and do your homework. NS means you need Navigational Skills. Yes the route was "PM - partially marked" but NS means you might actually need to get your map and compass out, or recce the route beforehand. Don't constantly ask those around you which way to go, is this the right stile, do we go down here etc...and certainly don't harangue the marshal to physically show you the route when their job is to take numbers of other runners approaching to ensure the safety of all. It was tiresome to hear your tirade. It is your responsibility to learn the skills required for the race you have entered. Rant over!

Friday, 9 June 2017

Wincle Trout Fell Race

The motivation to run this race was pretty much entirely fuelled by the novelty that each finisher receives a trout! What a random and useful souvenir to receive by going for a run! This year's race was also one of our Glossopdale Harriers championship races, so it seemed right that I run it.

Tim and I haven't been to Wincle or the area before so drove down really early with a picnic and a plan to recce the start and finish in a leisurely manner before the 2.45pm start. As it happens, we got there so early we walked around the whole route in the glorious sunshine. I do like knowing what is coming along the way in a race so this was a very helpful recce walk.

The route is a loop taking in a few steep descents, a good section through forest on the Dane Valley Way, onto moorland and enough rutted farm fields to mean I didn't want to fully let go on those descents for fear of turning an ankle. There was also a refreshing river crossing and nettles to dodge. Each third year the race starts in a different place, the top- middle- or bottom of the hill. 2017 was the toughest finish, being entirely uphill to the fields high above the Dane River.

crossing the River Dane

letting my legs run free on the firm grass

the final uphill zig-zags were hard on energy sapped legs

the finish straight - more uphill and I just couldn't get past anyone

The race was 8.6km and took me just over an hour. I am pleased with how I ran - measured effort without breaking myself. I always feel like I should be able to give more in a race but at the time it feels like I am putting everything into it. I'd recommend this race to others for sure, the village fete was worth the £1 entry fee with traditional stalls and lots to see. Thanks to the race organisers - the course was wonderfully marked and marshaled, giving the runners no chance to go wrong.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Lantern Pike Dash fell race

For many reasons I chose to run the Lantern Pike Dash fell race this year. The main reason being because I can. Not perhaps because I want to, this race isn't one I would seek out with masses of enthusiasm. But, I can run, so I did run.

It is a ridiculously short race, departing from a field behind the Lantern Pike pub, going up to the trig at the top of the hill then turning and coming straight back down. 2km logged on my watch and an unconfirmed race time of 29:43. I ran with a running mate from the Glossopdale Harriers - her very first fell race and we were aiming for a sub 30 minute so target hit nicely.

The hill is stupendously steep...no real path, just a vague trod through the grass and heather and bilberry bushes. Going up there were times I needed to pull on the flora....and coming down Mandy did a spectacular slide - deliberately of course. Much merriment and fun was had, and a massive load of us from Glossopdale were there creating a sea of blue and orange.

Mandy and I...at the very top and about to round the trig before the descent

Thanks to whoever took the photos and to Mandy for a brilliant 30 minute dash up and down a hill on a gloriously sunny day.