Monday, 21 July 2014

Kentmere Fell race 2014 - English Champs AM

This was a race that I did last year for the Glossopdale Champs and it was a race to be remembered for the fact it was horrendously hot and I felt like I wanted to stop and sit down for the vast majority of the race. With a bit more training under my belt, I was hoping that it might not be quite as bad as then.
However, with 600 people having entered themselves for the race, (there were only about 350 last year), it promised to be a very busy day, and a bit of a sweat-fest.
It was always going to be hard.

We arrived early, and it was already sweltering, after registering, I went off for a quick recce of the finish, to try and remember the nuances of the run in from about 2k out, and ended up pretty warm... yes, it might well be a race in which to carry a bit of water. The fact that it started at 1pm also made it a bit interesting in terms of eating... you can't just have breakfast, but having lunch as well wouldn't work either. So I opted for the occasional snacking technique instead, trying to keep myself fueled up for the race without eating too much, that would slow me down.

More people flooded in, and it being a Pennine championship race, a good number of our local friends and rivals arrived on the scene as well, to good natured banter. A short warm up run later- which ended up as a run up the first bit of hill- and a walk down as it was just too damn hot for anymore unnecessary exertion, and we gathered for the start. It certainly didn't look like there was the advertised 650 people at the beginning, but I was a fair way down the pecking order at the line, so when the shout "go" happened I was still actually only just getting onto the road from the field entrance, about halfway down the mass of people.

The heaving mass of people surged off the line, and up the sharp road ascent, with people dodging and weaving through the crowd as slower runners who started close to the front began to fall back. I made my way passed a load of people, and then we hit the broken rocky path on the way up to the hard part of the ascent. I had already been sweating heavily since the beginning, and looked at my Heart Rate.

(I've been trying to train to HR recently, and thought this might be an interesting way to gauge just how hard I'm actually trying. In normal training I can keep going for an hour at 168bpm, but take me to 170 and I'll need to slow down after a minute of effort).

I'd already hit 172, and it was staying there. Great.
Along the path, and a right into the bracken field. The line, already stretched out hugely slowed to a walk. Great. I looked up, and a massive amount of people were in front of me. Single file, at this pace, and in this heat- top 50 was already looking like a difficult proposition. Just run as hard as you can.
I paced it out up the hill, and went faster when I could. HR still at 172. Crikey.
The sun was coming out my shoulders were burning, temperature was somewhere around the high 20's and it was really close. Proper nastily humid and along with everyone else, I just couldn't sweat enough.

Up the steep part, and Wardy from Pennine stretched out a lead over me- with Dan somewhere in front. Over the lump, the breeze came back a little, and the oppressive heat lifted a bit, Stevie K came past me, and I looked at my watch again. Still 172. Jeez. I literally can't go any faster as we hit the next steep hill towards Ill Bell - the first Checkpoint. Some one comes past me and says something... is he asking my name or my club? No idea.... and get a little worried that I can't find the right words to say what my club is.

The Pennine guys drift into the distance as we get to Ill Bell, and the gradient eases off some as we take the line along before rising again to High Street. Despite the breeze, the heat is still horrendous, and I find myself alone as the pack of runners I was with pulled away from me, and the runners behind stayed behind. No battling people for places now. I'm going at the fastest pace I can manage. Even if a pack of baying hounds approached me now there would be no speeding up. This race is against myself and no external input will
Nearing the top of High Street
make any difference to the effort I'm putting in. Still 172.

Finally I approach the top, as another couple of people overtake me. My legs are burning and lungs are hoarse. Lynne and Alice are shouting me on, and Lynne runs with me to the trig point. I'm going as hard as I possibly can, and she easily keeps pace with me, while keeping up a very one sided conversation. Thats a new one on me... normally its the otherway around. I must seriously be going slowly, and I can't even speak to her, take a final swig of my water bottle, and as I won't need it on the way down, give it to her.

Dib the dibber and set off down the hill as hard as possible to catch the guys that overtook me at the last part of the climb. The Pennine boys are pretty much out of sight now, but it's downhill now, and I know I can do that without overegging the effort. I also hear Lynne shouting well done to Daz Fishwick - so he is pretty close behind... I need to start pulling it out a but now.
2 runners passed in the first km, down easy grass and mud, then across a path and contour. The weather is getting cooler now, and we could have done with that about an hour ago. Around the contours, and I manage to catch another and we climb over a grassy knoll, and suddenly I remember, as Mardale Ill Bell looms ahead of us... it really isn't all downhill from now. Should have read last years blog... that would have reminded me.

Andy Gibbons coming into dib at High Street
I stretch to breaking point on the way up the hill, and I'm running out of energy. Legs heavy, no strength left, and my HR isn't managing to go above 167. Fatigue has really crept in now, and I'm suffering more than ever. A couple more people pass me, and then, although it looks relatively flat on the map, my legs certainly felt the down and up to Kentmere Pike. Just had to keep the legs turning over, despite feeling wobbly legs
and a bit staggery.
Cresting the top on my own, and dibbing, all that is left now is the downhill. Not sure if there is anything left in my legs, but it is about time to just let go an see what happens. Grassy and boggy, perfect - though grip has been an issue right the way around- it was that kind of slightly damp ground that nothing grips properly, but sometimes you just have to go.
2 people taken in the first extended field, and another two in my sights as we crossed the style, feeling it a bit sick. Actually, feeling really sick... am I going to have to stop to throw up? That's be a new one on a race. Then, just as we got to the slightly more technical part, stitch.

Into the distance, and a cooler descent. 
Breathing curtailed, stride curtailed. Speed massively slowed and still about 2 miles to go. Not good. A couple of runners seemed to know a pretty good way down - or at least, a way down through the heather, and we ended up on a pretty horrible path, which was good for me as it made them slow down to a pace I could easily handle, even with a stitch, but as we hit the track section, they pulled away easily as I had to stick to my slowed pace.
Down to the final path, where my recce had ended, and I was in a bit of trouble, strides not flowing, and pace lacking massively. Along the path, and 2 more sets of feet pattered up behind me, very close as we hung a right into the descent to the bridge and the stream, about a km from home.

They passed me as we crossed the bridge and hit the track, as did another runner that I passed on the final descent. 3 more places gone in the last 800m.

As the finishing field came into view I pushed back, taking the first of the 3, holding him off till the very end of the track and the final road descent - in those 20 metres I just let go and passed the second, though the third guy was just that little bit too far ahead that in the final sprint for the line I just couldn't catch him.
As we finished, the rain begin to fall, and I sat around in a daze trying to work out what hurt the most. Legs are minced, lungs hurt, thirsty, sweating like a stuck pig, and generally not feeling amazing. However, that will all pass.

The quest for a top 50 result continues. Considering in the past 6 months I've run further and climbed more than in the whole of 2012, this looks like more of a daunting challenge than I originally thought.

Well done to all that ran, especially those that did Snowdon the day before (and huge props to Morgan Donnelly who came 5th there, cycled to the race, and then came 8th in Kentmere. Insane).

And a final thankyou to Rich and Tim also of Glossopdale harriers, and Ann-Marie from Altrincham who helped push cars out of the field once it had become a bit of a quagmire. You'd think that 400 like minded people who had just run a race together, who all owned waterproofs and grippy shoes
might been a bit more community minded and got together to help..... Well. I think in all there might have been 8 people helping others. The rest sat in their cars and waited in something that resembled rats trying to get off a sinking ship rather than a queue. Yes, the drivers have to sit and wait. But really, it seems that there were a good number of thoroughly selfish people in the field, which really put a bit of a dampener on what was a thoroughly good, hard race.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Dry Run

We've done a fair amount of running in the past couple of years and recently had the idea that a running holiday would be a great idea. A kind of hut to hut type thing, somewhere on the continent. Places have been looked at and discussed as have logistics. But perhaps the question for Lynne and I was is it actually possible and feasable for us to consider a number of days strung together in the mountains, carrying all the stuff we need.

Lynne showing no fear on Striding. Very proud. 
Neither of us has any experience with Mountain Marathoning (a glaring omission from our parcours, I know, but life is like that), so this was something that is a little outside of our knowledge base. We thought that it might be an idea to have a bit of a dry run in our own country, going from YHA to YHA in the Lake district just to get a bit of a taster to see if this kind of holiday would be a goer for us.

Route deciding was the first thing on our minds. Originally it was going to be a start on one side of the Lakes, run to another YHA across a few hills, about 20 km or so, and then run back the next day on a slightly different route. In the meantime, we would do a little bit of work on Lynnes head for heights, ideally taking in Striding edge on one day, and the Swirral on the other.
After looking at routes, and, more importantly, Yha's that were either not totally booked, or not completely ridiculous prices, we decided to start at Glenridding, do a circular route back to the hostel, ignore the fact we had a car outside, and then do another circuit as a second day. It would take a bit of willpower not to jump in the car or drop stuff off on the morning of the second day, but in case of any unforseen difficulty, it was probably the best plan.

Off up Swirral
Packing was fairly simple. Emergency waterproof stuff - we certainly wouldn't be going without that. Evening clothes (no, not Black Tie... just a spare t-shirt and lightweight trousers), Ultratherm, spare pants and socks, a toothbrush, charger for phones and watches, first aid kit (some plasters), a camera, some bars for food during the day, a torch and a couple of water bottles, one of which is a filter bottle, just in case we needed to drink from a dodgy water source.

All of that, wrapped up in waterproof bags, fit quite happily into my 35 litre OMM Jirishaenca, (and Lynne had pretty much the same in the OMM Adventure 20). Putting it on, it felt a bit heavy, but not really excessive.

We set off on the run, straight up to Striding edge. When I say run, we figured it would be good to just take it easy and see how it went, so very little running was actually done on the way up. The weight of the bags
and the gradient of the hill kyboshed any attempt at moving faster than walking. The day went pretty well, up Striding, and following the BG line to Dollywagon/Seat sandal (but missing out Fairfield). Then we took a somewhat rubbish line off Seat sandal to Dunmail Raise, where I have to confess to beginning to feel really quite tired.

The food that I had packed was probably enough to sustain me for a run this long under race conditions, but we were moving a lot slower than I had anticipated. Not only that, but it was a lot hotter, and the heaviness
of the bags was weighing on my shoulders a lot lot more than I had ever thought it could. In short, I wasn't in great spirits, and my energy levels were pretty low.

Lesson Learned.
A couple of Geobars and snickers bars are not enough to keep me going for a day when carrying a rucksack with a fair amount of gear in it.

Still, we had quite a way left to go. Up Steel fell, and back off it again down to Grasmere, then up the OCT line to the saddle between Fairfield and Seat Sandal, up Fairfield, and across to St Sunday, then down and around back to the Hostel.
So much for running, the majority of the day had passed at a walk, maybe a bit of a run, but we seriously weren't prepared for the weight of the bags. We can run all day with bumbags and light rucksacks, but put a bit of weight in them, and our speed was seriously compromised. The distances we think we can travel over a certain time will need to be re thought.
Not only that, but the day to day energy expenditure and amount of food that we need to eat also need to be re thought.
Collapsing at the hostel, we ordered food, showered, dozed and then ate. A lot.

I really didn't feel like doing anything the next day. The fact the car was outside the hostel was really quite a big draw, and it was discussed that as this was just a dry run, we should consider everything we had learned so far, dump the bags and take a really easy day, just to stretch the legs. My right leg was giving me a little pain as I got up and had breakfast, and it would just be silly to injure myself on something that wasn't even a training run.

Having said that, after a decent amount of breakfast, we packed up, strapped on the shoes, and just got going. No problem. Again the long walk up to Swirral across the ridge, to Helvellyn, then back in reverse BG to Raise, and off back down to the Hostel. not a long day by any means, but it was a day with the rucksacks on again. It felt a whole lot easier. Maybe it was legs and bodies getting used to carrying that much weight, maybe it was the heroic amounts of breakfast that morning, but as the day went on spirits continued to be high.
It may well have been because we knew it was going to be a short day. Had there been another 20k and 1700m of ascent still to do when we got back to the car, it could have been a very different matter.

All that being said, we at least now have a much better idea of what might be involved in a longer running expedition. Perhaps the most important point being that if we want an actual "running" holiday, it will be best to do it from a base, and go on day long expeditions, rather than attempt to run hut to hut.
If we do attempt to go from hut to hut, even light weight, speed will be massively curtailed, and it will be more of a lightweight walking holiday rather than a running holiday.
Food is massively important. We knew that anyway, but a long, slow day of nutrition has a bit of a different
strategy to a long running day of nutrition. Something a little more substantial than bars needs to be thought of. A couple of bagels, or something like that. Or more Feedzones.

Oh, and get stronger. The stronger we are, the lighter the packs will feel, and the easier it will be.
Simple, useful stuff, which it has been good to learn over a couple of days in the Lakes, rather than somewhere farther afield where it isn't as easy to bail should anything go wrong.
Next time, we'll have to adapt routes and expectations a little bit, and see how we can make things more comfortable.
I couldn't take a picture of how knackered my legs felt, so I thought a picture of what is left of the grip on my Mudclaws would be a good illustration. If I could have taken a picture of how my legs felt, they would have looked like this. 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Mountain Bear Fell shoes - review

I managed to get a pair of these fell shoes from a clubmate who won them, and subsequently didn't get on with them because of the shape of their feet. We happen to be the same size shoe, so I gladly took them away to try out and see what they were made of (as it were).

At first look, the Mountain bears appear to have some really quite substantial uppers, made to withstand some serious heather bashing and rock scrapes, and the lugs are a decent depth, with good mud-clearance spacing.
I'm a size 7 in inov8s, these are also a 7, and they fit well. I had no issues with the way they feel, and I suspect my clubmate just has feet that fit only quite specific lasts.

They look pretty good for general fell running, and that was pretty much borne out over the first few runs across Bleaklow, and on some more specific hill reps. I've worn them for about 120km, and they were worn for about 50km before I got them, so although they have been worn a bit, it isn't like they've been completely battered.

Grip issues

In dry conditions and on semi-dry peat, these shoes do excel. They feel solid, the grip is grippy, and I felt pretty confident in them.
So far so good.
The lugs look pretty good, eh?

Once the rain starts falling, or if there is a little dampness on the ground things change quite radically.
First things first - wet rock. I know that there really isn't any shoe around (to my knowledge at least), which grips to wet rock. Some shoes inspire a modicum more confidence than others, but generally speaking, wet rock is something to be got over either as fast as possible, or as carefully as possible.
The Mountain Bears are like ice skates on this kind of terrain.
After only a couple of hundred kms, the uppers are beginning
to split. Same issue as the old inov8s. 

I'm not known for pussy footing around on descents, or for being particularly concerned about rocks or downhill sections of runs and races. However, with slight dampness in the air and on the ground, every footstep in a vaguely downhill direction was a bit of a gamble in terms of "will it or won't it hold". Most of the time on wet grass, the shoes performed ok at best, but are prone to occasional and severe lapses in grip.
Uphill, they are fine (unless on any kind of stoney surface), but at speed, I really didn't feel like I had any confidence in them at all.
Sorry to Trailrunning mag, but I'm going to have to call you out on this one. No matter what you say about these shoes having good grip on wet rock, that is complete nonsense. If you aren't prepared for the lack of grip confidence it'd be pretty dangerous. Bambi on ice springs to mind.

I also spied a small, but potentially significant crack on the
outer toe of the right shoe as well. 
Which is a shame. I badly wanted these shoes to perform well. As good as Inov8 are, I feel that they are
slightly going off the boil in terms of build quality. What I have to say about them, is that they seem to have got a bit of a grail thing going on with their rubber - by luck or judgement, I'm not sure.

These Mountain Bears are good in the dry, and are great training shoes in the summer. (They're also pretty good in the wet as well, as long as you want to practice your reaction time to slipping). However, I wouldn't race in them, and I certainly wouldn't race in them in the wet.