Monday, 29 December 2014

Gear of the year 2015

I've just been getting out and doing stuff, really.
To be honest, I haven't actually bought a whole lot of new stuff this year, or at least, it doesn't feel like it. Most of what I have been using has simply carried on working from previous years of use and abuse.

I suppose that goes to show that when you buy good stuff, you don't really need to worry too much about replacing it for quite a long time before it ends up falling off you because it's just too worn out.

I spent a long time in the middle of the year faffing about which waterproof I was going to replace my old cypher smock with. After a bit of a protracted blog I went for the new updated version of it - the Aether smock, which is pretty good, but if you know me and have spoken to me about it, I will, no doubt have talked at great length about the fact it has an internal pocket instead of an external one... seriously, don't get me started.
So yes, its a good bit of kit, but not without downsides.
Would I buy it again? Looking around at the options, yes, probably, but as soon as I find a waterproof which is basically the Cypher smock, I'll be going down that route instead.

Shoes -

Inov8 Mudclaw 300's after 900km
Despite all the rather snazzy looking salomons out there, the Fellraisers being a particularly good example of being mid price point, and apparently very good, I have stayed on the Inov8 train, simply because I was able to get a couple of cheap pairs, the yellow 300's and the xtalon 212's. They still do the job, but the 212's are still a bit narrow - though inov8 finally admitted that they were wrong when they said the new model are "exactly the same" as the old ones (except for a new material in the mid sole), and are now producing them in a "normal" fit and a "race" fit - the normal fit being the more relaxed on which people may be used to.

As a bit of a hack on the 300's, if you have an old pair of x-talon laces, relace the 300's with those, you get better closure around your foot, and they're easier to use than the horrible yellow laces that come with them.

I'd love to get my hands on a pair of the new fellcross 3 by salomon, but at £125 (on sale!) I somehow don't think thats going to happen, especially as the shoes on the left (inov8 Mudclaw 300's) looked like this after 900km. The Salomons would either have to do twice that, or be twice as good, considering they cost twice as much. I don't really see either of those situations occurring. However, the fellraisers might get bought and tested in the next couple of months, so we'll see how they go.

Bags - 

I'm still using the OMM adventure light 20, it's getting a little battered, but still works a charm, and the inov8 2 and 3 litre bumbags are soldiering on. I had to replace a zip tag with a bit of string, but really, they're holding up well.

Insulated jackets - 

I STILL have that arc'teryx Atom SV from about 6 years ago. It goes in the bottom of the sack when I'm out on long, cold runs as a just in case. It gets used a lot when I'm wandering through town to university. It STILL looks great.
The Mountain Equipment Ultratherm is also going strong, and I've had no need to update that at all. Perfect for dawn runs, belaying when climbing and generally kicking around in.

Cycling gear -

Perhaps the biggest game changer of the year was my Castelli Gabba jacket - bought in a sale, and just before the Gabba 2 came out, I'd been hankering after one for a long time. It's a softshell jacket - and I haven't really had much luck with them in the past. My MHW dragon jacket was a bit of a let down, as have been a number of that type of jacket that I've used. However, using the Gabba on the bike in the past 2
months has been a revalation.

Ok, it doesn't keep my dry, but it keeps the worst of the rain off me, it keeps me warm in autumnal and winter temperatures on the bike, it is bright and reflective (lets face it, if I'm going to be wearing a jacket like this, the weather is going to be rubbish, and it is most likely to be dark), and it looks smart. If ever there was a bit of clothing that will enable you to relish getting out there on bad weather days, this is it.

So there you go - not a whole lot of new gear in my collection to write about. Getting stuff that doesn't break quickly seems to be a good problem to have, though it doesn't make great reading, I guess. I suppose I'll just have to put my back into it and try a bit harder.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Bike Commuting

No excuses not to see me.
I'm back to commuting to and from placement on a bike now. I used to be a regular bike commuter in London, and looking back on it, I wasn't exactly the most intelligent of the bunch.
A single-speed mountain bike (black), with a non-descript mucky bag, baggy shorts, black coat (with a couple of reflective bits), and a front light and rear light with batteries that didn't really get changed all that much.
The blessing was that there were a fair few cyclists around, so I was amongst a crowd which meant kind of safety in numbers.

I know that this might be a little redundant as a blog- if you commute on a bike, you probably have your own system and don't need to be told what is out there. However, if you have a loved one who is scrambling around trying to work out what to buy you for Christmas, or a birthday or some such event, this might give them a couple of ideas. 


Exposure Joystick. 
I'm now commuting on dark roads from Glossop to Stockport or Ashton. Lots of cars, not many bikes, its now got dark in the morning and evening, and the weather isn't exactly the nicest. I've spent a couple of years building up my arsenal of lights and gear, and now I feel pretty confident with my setup.

Right now, the most important part of my set up is the lights. There are 2 types of lights. Well, 3 actually.
1. See me
2. Let me see where I'm going
3. rubbish.
Knog Front light

I have 3 lights on the front of the bike, and 3 on the back. Overkill? I think not. I can guarantee that at some point on one of my commutes, a light is going to run out of battery. This will be either from neglect (forgetting to charge), or bad luck (it getting switched on in
Moon Shield and Cateye
my bag and being on all day without me knowing), So having some kind of redundancy is a good thing in this system. I really don't want to be sharing a dark wet road with speeding cars without having some kind of light for them to see where I am.

Also, with a ridiculous amount of bright lights, you go some way to mitigating the SMIDSY swipe. If I'm lit up like Blackpool, and you didn't see me, what on earth else can I do to make me brighter? Nothing. Not my fault.
So I have 2 Exposure joystick Maxx's one on the front, one on my head - these are the "See where I'm going" lights - and the one on my head has a Red eye - rear light. I've been using these Joysticks for years. Exposure are now up to Mk9 I think, and my original is a Mk2. It still works and does it's job throwing out up to 250 lumens. Superb British engineering.
I also have a Knog front light - a "see me" light, in case everything else fails.
On the rear, along with that red eye, I have an old school Cateye, and a new Moon Shield 60 light, capable of some ridiculous lumen output. (60 lumens, I'd imagine). It's rechargeable via a USB cable and lasts for a couple of commute runs before needing charging. The Cateye is battery powered, so with luck if either of them die on me, the other will carry on going at least until I get home.

Exposure Joystick mounted on the helmet with a Red Eye on the back. 


The bike is a fairly normal Spesh Allez- apparently one of the most nickable bikes in the UK, the only enhancement is the mudguards- SKS raceblade longs. Oh, and 2 massive locks. A D-lock and an Abus ring lock. That was what I used on a daily basis in London, and if someone can come along and nick a bike through 2 huge locks, they can have it, to be honest. I suppose each lock cost about £50-£60, but, as I said, I've used them since I was in London, and never had a bike stolen, so there has to be something good about them.


For transporting my stuff, I don't use a pannier rack - mainly because one probably wouldn't actually fit on my bike. And I prefer a rucksack. I've used an Alpkit Gourdon for years now. Waterproof (for a good couple of years), and generally pretty indestructable.
Having said that, I put a fingernail through the see-through part of the bag today, and Im going to try to seal it up with storm seal, and see how we go. (note - I did that a few weeks ago, and the bag has been totally fine since then.   Not had any of them break on me before, so maybe this time I've
been unlucky.


My hands get cold. When they get wet they get cold. And generally, they get, just cold.
get the message?
I have a couple of pairs of gloves that get used a lot. The first is the spring/autumn pair - bought from a salewa shop below the Eiger. They are light gloves, but with a windproof backing that slip over the outside. Love them for keeping my fingers warm on a cold morning -
and even on the way home on a cold nasty wet evening, but for a long wet, grim ride, not good.
Once it got proper cold, I get my Sealskinz Mitts on, and have just got myself a pair of Craft Deep Winter lobster mitts to try out this winter as well.
The Craft gloves are pretty thin across the hand, and have quite long fingers. As you can see from the picture below, the Sealskinz look like bags in comparison. Having said that, on really cold days, it is the Sealskinz that win out on the warmth stakes. Even after 5 years of use, the primaloft still works wonders. I'll buy a new pair one day. 

Shorts- to be honest, when I run in the winter, I only ever wear shorts - longs are just too much trouble. Ditto cycling. I know the saying "less than 15 degrees, cover your knees", but I just wear a pair of summer shorts that I find comfortable. My legs are the least of my troubles.
Best buy. Ever. Castelli Gabba


Old school helly base layer, with a Castelli Gabba long sleeved top- in fluro yellow. I've been hankering after one of these for a couple of years now, and just as the gabba 2 came out, I managed to get one on discount. I love it.
Decent pockets, excellent fit- no it is not waterproof, but it is wind proof, and with that comes a lot of
warmth when you need it, and a lot of protection when you need it as well. I'd also use it on a training ride- without a bag, and would highly highly recommend it to pretty much anyone that rides in semi to absolutely horrendous weather in the British Isles. One of the best bits of kit I own - and the only cycling specific jacket I own.


Just my normal Specialized Road shoes, but with a pair of overshoes. I have a pair of BBB overshoes, which were free, they're a bit thin for serious winter riding, but good for autumnal weather. However - I've found my feet turning into ice blocks recently, so I went all out and bought a new pair of overshoes. Endura - and ridiculously reflective. They are warm, but after 5 weeks of daily abuse, there is some delamination of the reflective strips down the back of the zip. There are also some usage holes appearing in the neoprene around the toe areas. And that is with me being pretty careful. I'm going to see if I can get some neoprene glue to fill in the holes. I'd love to send them back to Endura saying "these aren't fit for purpose", but to be honest, its probably just daily wear and tear. If I was commuting
every day for the entireity of winter, I reckon I might get through 2 pairs of these. But by crikey, they're bright and warm. 

Glasses- Well, I wear oakleys - and they are fine when it isn't raining...  but when it is raining, well, they don't have windscreen wipers,. and sometimes it is just safer to not wear them.


One thing I really really don't want to be doing is stopping by the side of the road to deal with a puncture on my way in, or out of work. I've done it a couple of times in London, and really don't fancy doing it here. Having said that, I do have the ability to deal with repairs like that - and this is my kit - it stays in my bag at all times.
However, the reason why I haven't had to stop to deal with a puncture at all is because I've got a pair of pretty decent tyres. Continental Gator Hardshells. Yes, they're "heavy", no, they don't have the greatest rolling resistance in the world, and yes, they kill your thumbs when you try and put them on, but they just keep on going. Love them.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

FRA relays 2014

Glossopdale had 4 teams in for the FRA relays this year. Mens A and B, and Womens A and B. As ever, there was the last minute panic of people being ill, being injured and dropping in and out of teams, but our capable team captains handled all the hustle and bustle with aplomb.

The relays were held on Middleton fell this year. For those who don't know where it is, its a bit south of Sedbugh and a bit north of Kirkby Londsdale. And if you don't know where they are, its basically just a bit to the right of the Lake District.
Being in Leg 2, I was in an early car to get up to the start. Fell running and early mornings tend to go together very well. Or at least, they just seem to go together.

Pennine Legend John Doyle, warming up. Or is that Billy Connelly?
We faffed around for a bit, putting up the tent, a fairly amusing prospect given the rather fresh breeze - which we just so happened to put up pretty close to the hand-over/finish line - perfect for loud shouting at our teams, and indeed others. No matter how well we did,
or didn't do, I'm pretty sure there wasn't anyone else who rivaled us for supporting volume. (Except for maybe the MC on the mic, who kept up a constant humerous babble throughout the entire event.. a good effort).
The leg one runners all set off at a ridiculously fast pace, thrashing off up the hill. The course, from where we were stood was one of those that fell runners dread. "Very runnable". Or, as others have put it, "horrendously runnable".
Mark and I set off to make ourselves ready for leg 2, figuring that we had about 45 or 50 mins before our leg 1 runner, Jamie, got back. We got kit checked, stood about for a bit as we watched the top few teams come in and change over before we wandered into the holding area.

The Start
The first Glossop runner in was Chris, our B team leg 1 runner, swiftly followed by Caity, the Ladies A team runner. Pennines A team had long gone by then, and Pennines V40 team, with Stevie K and Noel had also gone off, but all of a sudden Jamie came into view, round the corner, and tagged us off on our Leg.

As mentioned in the last race report- the Ian Hodgeson relay, being matched with someone who has beaten you in all the races you've ever done with them doesn't half focus the mind on training. Unfortunately I've had a cold for the past week, and DOMs from a particularly nasty training seminar last week, so I haven't been doing anything outside for the past week... I only just managed to get out for a short run yesterday to check that my legs still worked. My basic idea on this horribly runnable route was to hang on to Marks coat tails as he stormed around.
We blasted up the start of the hill with the wind behind us, overtaking a couple of teams before we got out of the first field, and were closing in on the Pennine V40 team pretty fast. I wondered if we weren't going off just a bit too hot, but nothing really to do but keep the pace up. I managed to get in front of Mark as we started the long traverse/ascent up to checkpoint 1, overtaking Stevie and Noel. We kept up a decent pace all the way up, taking teams all the way, and gaining back places on the Glossopdale B team (Harshan and Tom), and the Glossopdale Ladies (Zoe and Julie) before we got to the checkpoint.

A bit of walking, a lot of running, and an awful lot of breathing, and still we climbed. Up, and past a Bowland team, HBT ladies, Helm Hill, and so on. My ears popped for the 2nd time on the ascent, and suddenly I could hear again. We hammered on up the hill, I wasn't so concerned about who we caught now, but rather that Stevie and Noel didn't catch us back up. Mark took the lead, and I struggled in his wake, but we stayed very well matched through the whole way up, which I was very happy about.

We actually hit the top a lot faster than I expected, and dived down the otherside of the hill, passing a very shouty Andy Fox (if you've never seen him excited, get out on an FRA relay), and followed the flags (which were quite unhelpfully yellow, against a backdrop of yellow grass... exceptionally hard to see), down to the "pointless" checkpoint, a 200m drop, and then a climb straight back up again.
I waited for Mark at the bottom of the drop, tying my shoelace, before facing the climb. Pennine V40's were behind us, but in eyeshot, closing us down as they dropped down the hill, but I was relatively confident of our climbing ability... though the field was stretched out in front of us, up a hill that was Jura-like in steepness, but not in terrain.
At times, it was less like the FRA hill running champs, and more like the UKA uphill bearcrawl champs. It took us a while to get up that steep slope, covered in heather, and tussocks and holes, but Mark and I were in touching distance as we reached the top, and began the run through the mist up to the summit.

Dib at the top, and then a hoon down a hill, with blustery weather buffeting us from the left as we slipped, slid, ran and fell down the hill. Another 3 teams overtaken on the descent, another dibber, and then the final stretch back to the handover. It was only about 2-3km, but into the wind all the way, and across rough ground. My legs were shot, but everyone was in the same boat. Stop and walk, and a load of teams would have come past us, so we battled on. Overtaking Buxton, and tucking in with Rossendale.
About a mile away from the end, we were neck and neck with Rossendale, both teams as fast as each other, as I noticed my shoe had come undone. Again. (for the more observant of you, no, I was not using the patented "wendy dodds technique" of doing my laces up, as mentioned at Kentmere).
Ah well. I'm not stopping now, by the time I've done tying it up, they'll be too far ahead to catch.

As we ploughed into the final descents through the fields above the event centre I realised that the transit areas were getting really muddy. Quite deep and muddy. Loose shoe and deep mud was most probably going to end up with me losing it somewhere, so I made a decision that if it came off, I'd just leave it there, and come back for it later.
Thankfully, I managed to dance through the last few bits of bog and retain my footwear, coming into the finish area a good 10 seconds before the Rossendale team, handing over to our leg 3 runners.
Me and Mark coming into the finish.

The terrain was horrendously runnable. The wind was ridiculously stiff. Mark and I ran out of our skins, coming in 27th fastest on our leg, bringing us from 84th to 40th overall. No wonder I felt rough at the end for about 20 mins.
We slowly recovered, eating and drinking, and the other Glossopdale teams came in, with the Navigation leg guys going out.

Soon enough, Dark Peak A came in for their final transition, sending off Rob Little on the final leg with a good couple of minutes lead on Calder Valley in 2nd. If we were to be anywhere near as good as last year (in our heads) we needed to get our final leg runner off before Rob finished. Unfortunately Tim C, running with Andy O on our Navigational leg had twisted his ankle pretty badly within the first few miles of starting, and they were not quite as fast as they wanted to be. However, they ran on, and managed to get around the Nav leg and get our leg 4 runner, Alasdair, off about a minute before Rob came flying into the finish. Superb, we're doing pretty well, it has to be said.
Charlie and Andy hand over to Al.

Al came in 50 mins later (or thereabouts), the GDH A team coming in 50th overall. There was obviously some stiff competition this year at the sharp end of the race, considering that we were in the mid-twenties last year. Still, room for improvement next year, I think.
Al, with his perennial double thumbs up pose.
As a team we managed to get all our teams off on leg 4 before the mass start, something that hasn't been done before, so well done to all those involved.
If you blow this picture up, you can see Alice jumping with joy as Sue and Jude are arriving just before the mass start, giving Alice a few minutes headstart on everyone else.
Also - fantastically well done to both John Hewitt, running his first race since Dollar - a good comeback from injury - and also to Alice, running with a dodgy tummy, and generally not feeling exactly well.
John Hewitts race face.

To be honest though, I think everyone on all the teams deserves a mention as they ran with heart. And that's the important thing.
Womens A - Caity Rice, Zoe Barton, Julie Cox, Cheryl Stitt, Lindsay Palmer and Jo Nuttal
Womens B - Alison Holt, Rachel Walton, Vicki Hamilton, Sue Clapham, Jude Stansfield and Alice Willson
Mens A - Jamie Helmer, Mark Ollerenshaw, Andy Oliver, Tim Culshaw, Alasdair Cowell
Mens B- Chris Jackson, Harshan Gill, Tom Young, John Stephenson, Charlie Eaton and John Hewitt

Well done guys. Well run.

And finally, can I say how wonderful it is to see Si Coldrick out on the hill and racing well again. Great to see him well after the Cow episode earlier this year.
Good effort Si. I swear the titanium gives you an extra few seconds of speed.

Full results here.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Ian Hodgeson Mountain Relay 2014

Early Morning Pick Up.
It's October, which means we're coming toward the end of the fell racing season, and the relays have begun in earnest before the XC kicks in. This year we've had a few injuries across the spectrum of Glossopdale, and so the team for the IHMR didn't look quite the same as it did a few weeks ago (with the ever gallant Andy O standing in on leg 2 at the last minute).

As such, we weren't entirely sure quite what the running order would be, as it happened, even until we got there.
The team takes shape
I picked up Andy O and Mark O and we travelled up in the morning, expecting to meet up with the rest of the team at Patterdale. Everything was going well, as we picked up Phil just outside Patterdale, having ditched his Camper-van somewhere. Caity and Al soon turned up, and having registered the team, I was busy handing out numbers and commemorative coasters. We got around to 30 mins to go before the start, and Jamie arrived, fresh from a night of no sleep, thanks to a child being ill, so that was everyone except for Tim C, who was ostensibly meant to be our leg 1 runner.
Time ticked down.
10mins, 5mins, 3min... as the teams were being called to the
Tim and John Arrive!
start line, a car crawled its way through the crowds. Its Tim and John. Yay! However, by this time, Plan B had already swung into action, and Jamie, who needed to get back to the family joined up with Phil on the start line while the logistics for the rest of the day started in earnest.

Tim, Mark, John and I stood around with a cup of coffee, watching the leg 1 runners hoof it off into the distance, with Phil and Jamie somewhere around mid-pack. We then went off to get changed, as John enjoyed himself trying to work out just how to put his bike back together.
Soon enough (too soon, in fact, but nevermind the details), Al was back, and the 4 of us, with John gamely trying to keep up on a bike, headed up to Kirkstone pass, ready for the change over from leg 2-3.
We figured it would take about 45 mins for leg 1, and maybe 1:30 or so for leg 2, all things being well.
Phil and Jamie, heading off on Leg 1

We were one of the first cars up at the pass, which wasn't a bad thing, getting a parking space being a bit of a priority. It was flipping cold up there, and the mist was down. Same as a year ago - there really wasn't a whole lot to see around the place, though occasionally the veil of fog lifted slightly, and we were given a glimpse of Red Screes.
Soon enough the car park began to fill up with runners and supporters. Big Jackets on, and we wandered around re-acquainting ourselves with the fellrunning fraternity. Unsurprisingly, Borrowdale stormed into view first, Morgan Donnelly and partner being a couple of minutes ahead of the next pair - Calder Valley, who in turn were followed by Dark Peak.
The view at Kirkstone, taken when the cloud had lifted...

No need to worry, we weren't expecting Andy and Caity til a fair while longer.
We stood in the wind, and looked expectantly up to the hillside. Team after team streamed in. Pretty quickly, Pennine had come and gone. More and more teams came and went. Andy and Caity must have got lost. Hopefully they got lost, as that would mean neither of them is injured...
Pennine Handover
Then Pennine V40 arrived in- and Stefan gave us the news that he'd seen the Glossop pair heading off somewhere that wasn't the right way... Ah - our suspicions were correct. well. Nevermind. We'll just have to try and make back some time on the last 2 legs.
Pennine Womens team came through.
Pennine Ladies, handing over

The marshals were beginning to debate when to have the mass start, as there were now only 8 teams of 70 left on the hill.... We knew it was coming, but it was forestalled as a couple of teams were seen through the mist, making their way down toward the road. Andy and Caity! Yes!
As they came in, decrying their navigational skills and a twisted ankle, Tim C and Al shot off up Red Screes and we all bundled into the car for a welcome bit of warmth.
Andy O and Caity come storming in
Caity and Andy can join the many many people that have messed up navigationally in a race. Not really a problem. Ok, we may have set off on leg 3 in 62nd place, but really, thats a minor issue. They're relatively non-injured, and learned something from the situation. We're here for a decent day out in the hills and were never going to win, so we settled in to see what happens on the next 2 legs. Added to that, they've probably got the most distance AND ascent for their money out of the whole lot of  us today.

I drove down to Sykeside, where Mark and I ostensibly began warming up - firstly by actually warming up with the heater in the car, and then with a bit of a run about. Not expecting Al and Tim to arrive any time soon, we killed time, chatting with some Pennine runners, and I ran up to the look out point to see what I could see. The Dark Peak Ladies had gone off a good few minutes before, along with a few other teams, but Pennine Ladies were still hanging around.
Catching up with fellrunning buddies
I turned around to look up the hill...What could I see?
Al. And Tim.
Crikey. They'd picked up 22 places in the leg.

My view, shortly before realising that Al and Tim were right behind me.
I hammered back down to the start pen shouting for Mark, tearing off my jacket and throwing it at Caity. Mark appeared into view, jacket still on as Al dibbed the dibber, and handed it over - and off we went. Following a pair of runners up the path to the first checkpoint, Mark comically trying to take his jacket off and run at the same time - eventually got it stowed into his bag and we started up the main drag to Hart Crag. On the way up there is a split where we could see 4 teams in front of us take the right hand choice. Uphill through bog. All the way to the top. I remember recceing this with Andy 2 years ago. The quickest line then was up the path, and thats what I'm going with today.
Ignoring people in front of you taking one line and doing your own thing is quite difficult when the clag is coming down. Mark was a few steps behind me, and I struck off up the path. If we can take these hard, we can take back a decent few places up here.
No-one else around.
Keep it up, legs pumping, arms working hard, Mark having trouble behind me - which I'm happy about. I was thinking it'd be me fighting to keep up with him. (the hill reps must be working).

We popped out out over onto the top of the rise, with the rest of the hill to the top of Hart Crag in front of us, but, most importantly, with the Dark Peak Ladies and 3-4 other teams still somewhere off to our right, in the valley coming up to our level. Excellent, time to bust on up to the top. Keeping on keeping on.
I led on up through the mist to the top, dibbing in at the summit, as another team appeared out of the mist from a completely different direction. Wierd.
Thanking the marshals, and running on fairly tractionless rocks, off into the mist we went. I was fairly confident of the route, and just blasted away, knowing that on a good day, Mark would trounce me completely, on an off day, he'd only just be behind me. Through the mist, on and upward to Fairfield, past Daz's memorial plaque, and memories of 2 years ago, and then a storming descent through the scree to St.Sunday Crag.

Across St Sunday, we very nearly took a very very bad line, which I again remember reccying a couple of years ago and thinking - no. Never do this route. Luckily, we just stopped leaping down an inviting looking gully, and carried on along the right path.
Off the craggy bit, and down some fantastic grassy lines that I was just making up as I went along, and then the climb to the top. It went on for quite a while, and with no-one to chase up the hill, it was a real drag, but at no point did we stop running. There were a pair who appeared behind us, and were following our every move. I had my suspicions that they would shadow us all the way and then try to out sprint us at the end.

Nothing really to do but go. Over the top, dib, and down the rocky path, making up lines around footpaths, staying on the grass as much as possible. We flew down the hill as hard as we dared on slippy stones and bog, aquaplaning through puddles, and if anyone ever tells you that their Inov8s are the grippiest shoes in the world and grip to ANYTHING, well quite frankly, they aren't running hard enough.

Final dibber before the horrible stone step descent to the show ground, and we were finally overtaken by the lurkers behind us. Mark was running hard with loud footsteps as we charged down the road, but they were just too far ahead of us for a sprint finish to change the outcome. Shame, but there you go. 1:19:38 - 3 mins faster than last year. Excellent, and we picked up a further 5 places beyond Al and Tim's effort.

We ended up 35th overall, and in the end, barely 2 mins behind the Pennine V40 team. Not too bad a come back from quite a navigational amusement on Leg 2. Good day out on the hills, and with some great lessons learnt.
Well done to the team, Phil, Jamie, Caity, Andy O, Tim C, Al, Mark O, and of course, the irrepressible John H for his support throughout the day.

Apologies for the lack of photos during our leg, I was a bit busy trying to put one foot in front of the other as fast as possible... and finally, a link to the results for the day.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Crowden Horseshoe 2014

I was in 2 minds as to whether to write this one, but it was indeed a race that I entered.
To be honest it was a bit of a spur of the moment decision, it being very close indeed, a good run out, and on a lovely day. I also had a modest chance of a top 10 finish if it all went well.

Despite the fact the it was a pretty quiet race last year - only about 70 ran - this year it was included in a couple of club championships, (ours included), and about 170 runners were trying to park and register in the area around Crowden Campsite when we got there. With only about 20 mins to go until the start, it seemed like it would be an impossible task to get everyone sorted and ready, but it was only 6 mins after the allotted time that we were lined up and ready to start.
There were mandatory kit checks for a few people that Des called out to the front, and we waited for those to take place, before Alan Kirk from Pennine gave a very short and succinct countdown to "go".

The predictable surge off the line was there, with me floating around in about 15th or 20th as we hammered down the path to the YHA, with the trio in front just edging out a lead even now. Ahead of me, Mark O and Chris were the 2 Glossop vests in front of me, along with a good number of others. Past the YHA the path narrows radically, and if you follow the person in front of you, single file rapidly kills off any speed, so I went for the high knee approach and bashed through about 10 or 15 metres of rough ground, overtaking a load of people, and getting myself into about 8th.
Up, past the style, and Lynne taking photos - trailing Mark O by a footstep, looking up and again, seeing those leaders, just eking out a bit more distance on us. Breathing hard, we turn right, the path levels, and goes into the horseshoe proper.

Displaying horseshoe.jpg
Chasing Mark up the hill
The ground is quite broken and slippy along the way, but not to worry. You just don't, do you? I try as hard as I can to keep directly behind Mark. He overtakes someone, and the path narrows, so he begins to get away from me and the person between us. At the next wider part of the path, I do the same and work to catch up. Further, the same happens, and then we come to a stream before the next short and sharp climb.

I'm right behind Mark, and take a slightly different line across the stream. My right foot lands, slides down, bringing my left knee into sharp, sudden, excruciating contact with a rock.
Pain. Like a funny bone pain in my knee. But worse.

It's one of those instant things where your body isn't quite sure what to do. I jumped onto the grass, held my leg, tried moving my knee, tried everything to stop it hurting. A good number of people who went past asked if I needed help, if I was ok, or if I needed them to stay with me, but I waved them away. (thanks Mark, Mark, Daz, Chris, Caity, and all the others that I can't remember).
I definitely was NOT ok, but it was a glorious day, I was about a km from the start and could limp back if necessary.
I sat for a while, assessing the damage. Not much of a cut, muddy legs, and a fair amount of pain in my left knee. I was intending on helping someone out with a cycling challenge this afternoon... If I gave up the race, went home and then got on a bike for 4 hours, that would be a bit silly wouldn't it?
People streamed past me, up the hill as I contemplated what to do.

Right, try the hill.
I fell in with those around me, got about 10 paces, and stepped to the side. Looked about.
And unpinned my number.

After the 170 or so runners had gone past me, I limped down the hill, and back to the start, handed my number to Des, waited for 20 mins to cheer in the leaders, and then went home.
My knee is now pretty swollen, it hurts like heck to bend it, and considering I can barely walk at the moment, I suspect I won't be running for a couple of weeks. Or cycling for that matter. However. It is an impact injury, there was no twisting or grinding or snapping and there will (hopefully) be a spectacular bruise that I can show off.
Ice. Anti-inflammatories. Easy exercise. Not rushing things. That's the way forward.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

OMM Aether Smock - first impressions

Standing on the start line in Sedburgh, the runner next to me turns  and says "so Tim- is that your new jacket? Make your mind up and spend your money? I look forward to the review".
Or words to that effect.

As an aside- and in reference to my previous blog, he also mentioned that he has a Pertex shield top, and true to form - or at least, true to what I've found, the hoods appear to be purely decorative, unless you have an inordinately large head.
We didn't have much more time to chat as someone said "go" and I quickly ran out of breath. 

So anyway, in order to make my decision I sat down with my thoughts and previews of all the jackets, the 3 that stood out were the Inov8, Haglofs and OMM. I trawled the net, found the OMM at a substantially knocked down price, and before I could think twice, I just bought it. Job done.
As much as I would have liked to play around with Ino8's bespoke fabric, or Haglofs Active shell smock, the OMM won out, perhaps mainly because I was so happy with the Cypher smock before it.

Now, you may think I'm a bit mental, spending £140 on a jacket, as another of my clubmates wisely pointed out, whats the point in spending more than £20 on a jacket when its not going to be waterproof after the first 3 outings (as their £100 jacket appeared to be) - especially if it is going to spend most of the time in your bag.

Well, hopefully this blog will spell out the reasons why I spent my cash on the Aether Smock.

The first thing I noticed about the Aether is that although it is made of eVent, the fabric feels a touch lighter than it's previous incarnation, and it appears to be an upgraded version of the fabric. On the scales (yes, on occasion I can be THAT much of a geek), it weighs in at just under 200g, it rolls up smaller than the Cypher does, and is lighter in the bumbag. Thats a good start for a new and improved jacket.
Cypher smock - size S - 239g

Aether smock - Size S - 186g
The first time out for this jacket was a race- Sedburgh hills. I know what they say about never using new gear on race day, but it had to be done. The old Cypher just isn't up to it anymore.

Cut to the same pattern
The Smock has very few seams on it, and is made with exactly the same pattern as the Cypher smock was. The main difference I noticed as I put it on, is the cord pulls on either side of the hood and on the waist cord. They are basically a lighter weight version of cord pull, but not one that I'm entirely au fait with. After a bit of playing about (and looking at it, as opposed to trying to feel what was going on), I got the hang of it. To be honest, its pretty simple. The Cord pull on the waist is also slightly offset, so it is no longer slap bang on the side of you as you wear the smock, but slightly forward - kind of in line with where you would expect a jeans pocket to be, instead of the side seam
The new hood toggles. Actually, pretty easy to use once you actually look at them and work it out. Not so easy when you're running along and haven't looked at the design...

The other major thing that I noticed (indeed, noticed when I tried one on in a shop) is the pocket inside the smock. As far as I'm concerned that is a step back, and the only thing that should stop you buying this jacket. Its a faff to get to when you're moving fast, and for stowing stuff on the move- empty gel wrappers etc, On the Cypher. the outside pocket was great - zip, stow and go.
The japanese have a word for this. Shi-nikui. or "difficult to use". It's in a fiddly place with a fiddly zip. What happened to the useful and usable outside pocket?
Now it is a bit more of a palavar - unzip, reach into you jacket with a soggy begloved hand, fish around for the pocket zip, try and undo it, stuff something into it, fiddle around for the zip, do it up, do up the jacket again, carry on.

Less efficient. It would be good to get OMM's feedback about that as to why they've put the pocket inside. It doesn't make it any more waterproof, and just aids ingress of water where you don't want it when having to access the pocket.

Gripe aside, the arms are still a decent length, and the wrist cuffs with thumb loops are still there- which is excellent. I'm not sure I'd buy a running waterproof without these now, they just seem like the right thing to have.

The hood is of an excellent design - 3 points of compression onto the head, and moves as you move your head. No turning to see what is going on and getting a lovely view of the inside of a damp piece of fabric. I'm not sure if the front compression elastics are going to flap around as I run in the wind and the damp, but that is yet to be seen. The rim is wired as well but not with as solid a wire as the Cypher was. I suppose it would be more appropriate to call it "reinforced" rather than "wired", although this isn't ultralight, is a good thing for long wet runs in the winter.
The inside of the zip at the top also has a bit of soft touch material on it, to prevent mouth/chin chafage as well, which is becoming more and more standard on jackets these days.
Mouth/chin non-abrasive patch

Bits of reflective stuff are on the arms and on the bottom - which is cut quite deep, so that it sits under the bumbag well, and doesn't ride up, and an all over sense of protectiveness completes this jacket nicely.

This is a light eVent shell. Yes, it is expensive, yes, I fully expect it to be weather resistant (not waterproof- only cars and pubs are truely waterproof) over the next couple of winters. It will be used in training, and will be used on a weekly basis, and will also be my racing jacket of choice. It will get a thorough testing and will go through a lot of abuse, and I sincerely hope that it copes as well as it's predecessor.
One thing is for certain. I trust this jacket to do the job a lot more than a £20 one from decathlon.

Yes, I would have loved to try out that Haglofs Active Shell, yes, I would have loved to have had a blast in the inov8 race shell, but my cash has been spent and the die has been cast. I'll write a bit more of a review once the Aether has been through a bit more rubbish weather.

Overall - The Aether Smock
Cut from the same pattern as the Cypher, with a more up to date version of the eVent fabric. It is lighter, has a couple of tweaks in terms of the elastic closures on the hood, but is not without its failings. The main one being the re-arranged pocket arrangement (as it were).
Have I made the right decision?

Not sure yet. I hope this new fabric will be up to the weather I'm going to wear it in, and I may (or may not) get used to the pocket. Had it been full price, it would have been a more difficult decision to buy. 

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Sedburgh Fell race 2014 - English Champs AL

Some people say this is just a massive traverse. Tell you what, if thats what it is, its a traverse with a shed load of ascent and descent in it. Crikey.
The drive up to Sedburgh was somewhat reminiscent of last year. Mid august. Rain hammering on the road and the car, Carl driving. Last year it cleared up quite a bit for the race, this year really didn't look promising.

Page 1 of the annotated map
I'd done a little bit of homework in terms of looking at times and route prep, but I hadn't been anywhere near the course since last year - so certainly no recceing was done. I did write a few more notes on my map this year though, and although I couldn't find a track that Nic Barber had done for the race (my normal target is his time from last year), I did find Wardy's strava track from last year, which was substantially faster than mine, so jotted down a few notes on his times at various points around the course.
Not that I looked at my map once during the race, but it was useful to plan where I was going to eat and drink in order to keep going and not stutter to an ignominious halt on the climb up to Calf as I did last time.

Fell legend Wendy Dodds Gives us a shoelace tying lesson   

All planned out, we got to Sedburgh and the hall where we registered and caught up with the other 2 Glossopdale Harriers doing the race, Chris and Caity. Wendy Dodds was also on hand, and gave a quick masterclass in shoelace tying for fell races ("I taught this to a 5 year old at Jura, so you should be able to follow it").

As we sat in the hall watching others come in and register, the rain lashed down outside and there was the usual clothes faff. Vest only? Lots of people wearing helly's. Vest+ helly? Too hot? Nip outside. No, definitely vest and helly. Start with waterproof on? Off? On? Hat? Gloves? Too much?
I didn't get outside until about 5 mins before the race started, by which time the rain was a little less severe, and managed a quick jog up and down the road before being called to the start. Not the greatest and most useful warm up in history, the first 30 mins was going to HURT no matter what I did.
From previous experience (Ennerdale), I tend to go off way too fast on these races and get nailed by large amounts of people from the middle to the very end. Today was a day for being a bit more conservative. Start easy, race easy, finish strong, and as the note on my map said - Don't You Dare Give Up.

We surged off the line, and I started to ease into the race, chatting a little with Stefan from Pennine, before watching him eke out a lead over me. Its the first couple of k, so I'm not too worried, its early days yet. Up onto the first climb, and there is the path through the bracken that gets really congested, skirt to the left and follow Nic around the blockage, and up the hill. It's another couple of minutes before Stefan - caught in the blockage - catches up and passes me. Keeping calm, I plod on, keeping my thoughts to myself, and thinking about the rest of the run, rather than the present. My thighs ache badly, and I can feel fatigue gnawing at the edge of my consciousness. Need to keep things real, and ensure I'm able to still run in 2 hours time.
Chris appears beside me. Am I going too slow? No. Keep to the plan. The climb steepens out and we walk, I pass him, wondering when he'll make the next pass on me. Up, into the wind and the cloud, keeping the jacket on at the beginning was a cunning plan, and we hit the top before turning left into the teeth of the wind, into the low cloud - so low I can barely see the runner in front of me. Follow the stud marks and see where they lead. Last years route is faded in my memory, but the wisps of recollection enable me to follow the paths to the right place and we drop out of the cloud, down to the water crossing at Ivy Crag and the vicious ascent to the Checkpoint at Castley Knotes.
First planned food. Chug down half a geobar even though I don't feel hungry. Take off the coat as I'm getting warm - but leaving it on one arm and wrapping it around my wrist. If I need to put it back on again in a hurry, I can.

It's a long climb to the top, and now I'm in Jura mode. Damage limitation- keep the legs moving and don't let anyone past. Climb to the top, and the descent down I make my mind up to catch up with the guy in front of me. I manage to close the gap by a fair amount, but he heaves away from me on the next modest up. Then we go into the single track traverse around Fell head, coming up to an hour into the race and I'm beginning to feel a bit better. So much better, in fact that I grab my second planned bite to eat, and catch up to 2 runners, and after what seems like an age, overtake them.
Me? Overtaking? on a Champs race? That hasn't happened before. Maybe going slow was a good thing.
Way ahead in the distance, I can see Nic, Wardy and Stefan in Pennine vests, all thrashing it out together. Too far to catch for the moment, but you can hope they might knacker each other out. I'm certainly not going any faster at the moment. A third into the race, if I try that now, I'm really going to suffer on the hard last third.
Page 2 of the annotated map

Next up is the double climb and traverse, through two saddles and down to Check 4 at the bottom of Hazel Gill. Stomping up the hill, the only thing going through my head was Pachabels Canon - Lynne has been practicing it a lot at home - and it suited my foot cadence. Up, towards the top, a long and torturous slog, only to thunder down again to the bottom, ready to do it all again, and then traverse. I think I may have gone too high on the second ascent, but at least I didn't end up getting slowed down by all the Gills on the side of Hazelgill Knott.
The jacket had come on, been taken off, the sun had come out, the rain had come in again, the wind was behind us, and with half the race gone it felt like we had had the gamut of seasons from spring to autumn - with a fleeting glance of summer int he middle. The jacket went on for the descent to Check 4, and with my first planned gel in my hand, it was probably going to stay on for the duration now.

The long climb up to the Calf. It's long. It's soul destroying, and it is not pleasant. On my map at this point was Don't you Dare Give Up, taken from a twitter feed.
That was what was going on in my head (alongside Pachabels canon). Every step of the way I ran. No walking. No Giving Up. One person passed me, I passed another. The temptation to stop and walk was there at all times, but no. Keep going. Keep running. Pass another? I honestly don't remember, but there was no walking. To the Calf, a dib, and beyond - time for gel 2. Last year I was really suffering even before this. That climb did for me, but now, no. More power.

A group of 4-5 of us formed, dissolved and re-formed, over Bram-rigg top, and then up to Calders. Into the cloud again, and a Horwich runner came alongside me - "are we meant to skirt left at somepoint around here?" "No idea mate", I reply.
We were, of course, and 4 of us climbed an extra 30m to the top, while a we were caught up by a Bingley runner, who shrewdly took the intelligent option - around the side.
Now following the Bridleway, pretty much to the end, the 5 of us switched places, overtook and re-overtook. I kept my place for a while, lost a place, and then regained on the climb - the never give up attitude taking me past 3 guys who ended up walking.

Chris's failed shoe - stopped him performing well
Do I need another gel? Not now, close to the end. I can see the final checkpoint, and the 2 runners ahead of me dib in and take a radically direct line straight south. Not the racing line at all - and probably deep in bracken at this time of year.
The Bingley runner and I dib and take the more trodden path off Winder. The hill gets steeper and steeper, my quads are burning, and my knees ache, the Bingley runner keeps a steady few yards ahead of me, and the hill gets slidy towards the bottom. We both slip and fall, and I just go with it - sliding down the slick slope, not quite catching the Bingley lad, but coming close, and then we hit the road and he stretches out.

I have nothing left. There is someone behind me, and it is all I can do to keep him away from me. What can I do? Concentrate on the guy in front. I glue myself to the Bingley runner, and stay with him to the end. 3 seconds in front of me - I just couldn't close the gap.
2:30:57. A good 10 mins up on last year, fantastic, and, in the end, about a minute behind Stefan.

So, what of the placings?
My computer printout says 47th. 47th? Thats top 50 - but there are always a few glitches, people missing dibbers etc. Have I done enough to hold onto that top 50, or are there more than 3 people ahead of me that have lost theirs?

Final results, out on the web a few hours later- 49th.
Woot. Championship points. Finally. Ok, only 2, but finally I have them.
Very Happy indeed.

At this point, I have to extend my thanks to Tom Brunt, Simon Bailey, Dan Chan and Stevie K for not running, as all 4 of them would undoubtably have beaten me, and I would have been out of the top 50.
Still, its all about turning up on the day.
Chris had a bit of a nightmare race, with his Inov8 x talon 212 ripping itself to shreds on the second descent. The rest of the race can't have been much fun with a shoe looking like that. Well done to Wardy and Stefan for also scoring Champs points this race- and congrats to Caity for coming in 2nd GDH, and (I think), 4th lady.

There will be a blog in the near future reflecting on the Champs races this year, and just how bloody hard it has been to get that elusive top 50 - but this time- the taking it easy plan- seems to have worked.