Monday, 26 October 2015

Eryri Marathon 2015

So the final weekend of this 4 weekend racing spree through october (yes, I know its nothing in comparison to the likes of Daz fishwick), was the Eryri Marathon. Part of the Glossopdale club championships, I had entered this quite a way back in the year, put it at the back of my mind, and figured that Id work it out at some point down the line.

Training for a road marathon is certainly not something to be sniffed at, but put in a couple of hard relay legs and a fell race in the weeks leading up to it, and try to plan long distance training around those is quite a thing to do. It was only really about 6 weeks ago that I got my road shoes out and started practicing pavement pounding with a vengeance.
To be honest, I was absolutely certain I could run the distance.... On a trail. Its the minor issue of doing it on the road that was worrying me. First go out, I was nigh on hobbling home with calf muscles burning after just 7k. The second time out, after 13k I was hobbling for 3 days with calves that just didn't work. Even up to about 2 weeks ago with a planned 30k run cut short to 24k or so because of a bit of a niggle in the knee was a cause for concern.

I haven't run a road marathon since 2010, and that was London, which I finished in 3:45. This was to be my first as a Glossopdale Harrier, and all things considered, might be interesting.

 We travelled to Wales and registered on the friday. I took the opportunity to have a quick recce of the 2 footpath sections, totaling about 3k of the entire route. The weather wasn't great, and I ran it in x-talons, noting that as long as it didn't get any worse in terms of wetness, then road shoes would be fine for the whole thing. After meeting up with a few of the guys at the Snowdon Ranger Hostel, we ate, drank, chatted, and finally got our heads down. Morning of the race is always the same. But here, in Wales, it was absolutely chucking it down. Buckets and buckets of the stuff. It was also pretty cold.

All the chat about road shoes from the previous night evaporated, and the trusty xtalons came out. They might have done more than 1000k already and lost most of their grip, but they're still game for a wet, and partially muddy marathon. I was hoping that I would be able to keep pace with those around me til the last 3k, when the grip would really give me an advantage. The minor issue being, could I manage the prior 39k at speed, on road, in fell shoes?

 Everyone was having clothing dilemmas. How hot was it going to get? Would the rain continue all morning? Would it stay this cold? As we're going up to the top of the pass would it get colder, what with the breeze? Decisions, decisions.
 I met with Paul Skuse and Vicki H in the race HQ, and also managed to catch up with Jim and Sharon from Helsby, but it didn't take long for the clock to tick down and we had to wander through the rain and the cold to the start, just a bit beyond the Castle at the beginning of Llanberis.
Al was also there, as was Nick (in his stockport colours), and we were soon joined by Caity, Chris and Neil. Everyone still in their disposable see through macs, listening to the starters announcement, waiting...

Then it was macs off, stand in the pouring rain for just a few minutes before we were given the off. I started and locked my watch a bit before the gun went, as is my habit... It stops me having to faff at the start, and worry if the timer is going or not, and it stops me from worrying about looking at my watch obsessively through the race as its not actually on race time. If I'm not running as hard as I can, then I need to speed up. If I need a time in my head to speed up then I'm obviously not going fast enough.

 The gun goes, caity, who was stood in front of me shoots off like a rocket and is already 5,6 people ahead of me within seconds... These road marathons start quick. It takes me about 300m to catch her and ease into a decent running rhythm, and then the endless road started. How fast do you start a marathon? In a fell race, you know there are hard ups and downs that will break up the pace, make you run faster and slower.

Admittedly this marathon has some ups and downs, but nothing quite on the scale of a fell run. Start at a speed and see what happens. In the second km, Rob Grantham, winner of the North Wales fell series appears at my side, tapping out a decent rhythm and we run through nant peris together. It became apparent that he wasn't slowing down, and the pace was a bit too hot for me, especially as the first climb up Llanberis pass was fast approaching, so I let him go, and eased up a little.
Just down from the PyG

I fell into step with a guy wearing raidlight mitts, and we ascended the pass pretty much stride for stride. People passed, we passed others. Eventually he pulled away a little, and I went over the top by the Snowdon Carpark through the drinks station, still clutching my windproof, thoroughly looking forward to the downhill section. I passed a couple of guys on the way down to the Pen y Gwyrd hotel, and was really happy to see Lynne standing at the side of the road shouting encouragement. I ditched my waterproof and ran on down onto the bridle way.

This section was a bit stoney, and I was a little disappointed not to be gaining as many places as I thought I might, considering my footwear choice. It was still raining, but there was that niggle in the back of my mind if I'd chosen the right footwear. Even now I was feeling it a bit underfoot, having not worn road shoes. No time to worry now. Back onto the road, and there was a gaggle of us, all pressing over to the left. There were a few cars on the road, but by no means was it a normal amount of traffic. With numb fingers I extracted a geobar from the pocket in my shorts and ate that, wanting to stave off a crash as much as possible, and the next few miles passed in a bit of a blur of keeping up with people, not being dropped and wondering which corner was the last one before Beddgelert.

 Finally the town appeared and gels were being given out at the feed station. I stupidly shunned them, having got my own gel out just prior... it saved me having to slow down, and it reduced the weight in my pocket, but maybe I should have used their gel and saved mine til later. No matter, through the town, and Dylan from Sarn Helen had obviously been keeping his powder dry for the first half as he sliced his way through the field.
The 13mile mark came and went, half way through and I still hadn't checked my time. I was looking at my Heart rate, to ensure I wasn't sending it through the roof to something unsustainable, but had no clue how long I had been out. The road climbed out of Beddgelert, and it went on and on. We had driven up this yesterday, and I was prepared for a long drag. I managed to keep up with another runner for quite a while here, and used the fact that he could go at a pace to my advantage... if he can, then I can.

On and on we went. Rob Grantham was in sight but never seemed to get closer, but all of a sudden, it wasn't an uphill struggle, and the road leveled out. I began to stretch out my legs, though various bits were hurting. Knees, ankles, shins, hips.... by the end of this I'm going to be a bit of a mess. If this was a training run I would certainly be walking by now for fear of damage and a bit of a lay off training. But this is a race. I downed another gel, my last bit of food, and kicked it up a gear. Rob was coming back to me, and although it was a decent few miles to the Snowdon Ranger, the distance flew by and we were there before I knew it. 

Neck and neck with Rob, he seemed to come to life again, and the pace quickened. I tried to hold him to it, but this far into a marathon on road... not going to happen. I held for as long as I could before thinking... theres still a good distance to go, you might need some power soon, don't run out. I was never out of touch with him until we hit the final town, the uphill section where we turned right. Final feed station and I grabbed another gel, knowing that we were in the last few miles now. Rob was powering off ahead and there was not a thing I could do about it. The main thing now was to just keep running. Whatever time I came in at, as long as my legs kept turning, and I kept running, it would be fine. If I walked, there would always be the question.... but what if I had kept running?! Up the climb, faster runners overtook me. Despite regular hill rep sessions, climbs are still a serious weakness, and I need to continue to practice.

The road narrowed, and eventually became a track. A track with a river running down it. Even now, people in road shoes were still going at the same speed as me. Have I made a massive miscalculation? Should I have been in road shoes all along? My feet and legs were screaming at me, telling me that, yes, I certainly should have been. Towards the top of the hill, through a gate, where Sikobe was standing, shouting support for us Glossopdalers, and finally the downhill.

Down the track, with 3 miles left, my legs stretched out, ignoring pain. Downhills are great, no matter what you're doing. Slowly I began to overhaul some of the guys that had passed me on the ascent. The path got worse. It got wetter, steeper and grassier. Footsteps that had shadowed me from the top of the hill faded behind me, 2 guys in front were having great difficulty staying on their feet. Tired legs would have a bad enough time just providing the braking force going down the hill, add the uncertainty of underfoot conditions, and they really didn't want to play. I zoomed past on the outside, sliding a little.... 1000k of running wears down studs on x-talons, but I still had more grip than road shoes that started with next to nothing.
Trying a bit hard on the final straight
Down through a gate, and 3 more people ahead, I closed them down, turned a corner, and we were back onto tarmac... still able to catch them, even with better traction for road shoes? Of course. Coming through on right, and hammer down the hill. This is the last mile, and no-one was going to overtake me now. A guy ahead of me was having a bit of a slidy moment on the track, but recovered himself. Still a good 70 metres ahead, perhaps just a bit too much to overhaul considering the road was flattening out.
 Down, and down through into Llanberis, a final right turn, and the finish line beckoned. A crowd lined the street, and above the finish line, the timer read 2:58.... 2? Sub 3? That's absurd, that's ridiculous.
Over the line - Thanks Lynne for the support and the pictures
At that moment I was so glad that I hadn't been obsessively checking my speed and time throughout the race. I ran to feel, and numbers wouldn't have made a whole lot of difference anyway. Stretching out along the finish straight, I gave it all to come in at 2:58:29. First marathon in GDH colours, first one as a club runner. and its sub-3. Slightly unexpected, but very chuffed.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Fra relays 2015

This year the fra relays were being held at Pendle hill. There was quite a bit of controversy for quite a few weeks and months leading up to the event because of restrictions to team numbers being entered, car parking palavers and lack of a mixed team catagory. 
As team captain for Glossopdale I had the lovely task of picking the male teams, and then shifting and patching them up as and when injury or ill health threatened to scupper us as a team, even up to the last couple of days. 
It almost helped that i crocked my ankle last week at the Breiddan hills race as it gave me the opportunity to tell people, with great authority, that if im going to be running on a dodgy ankle, they could also certainly run on tired week-post marathon legs etc. As far as I know, Caity didnt have much of an issue with the girls team, but it still felt like a minor miracle when everyone turned up in the right place, at approximately the right time.

Last minute issues included locating the club tent, the banners and also ensuring that everyone knew the race was on saturday.... Not sunday. 
Still, we all got there and all was well. 

The blokes I travelled up with were left to competently put the tent up. Being one of the first teams to arrive, we had a decent area to play with, and I went off to get the team packs. On arrival and presentation to the registrars, saying I was from Glossopdale, the lady looked down her list and asked "are you a Hunk?".

When Caity and I registered the teams, we could write down whatever names we wanted on the SI entry list. In somewhat high spirits, instead of the usual "glossopdale men, ladies and v40" we instead thought it would be a much better idea to enter teams as the Glossopdale Hunks, Babes and Old Gits. Unfortunately we did not have the opportunity to enter a female v40 team, so didn't get to enter the Glossopdale super-babes. Which was a shame. 
I didn't really expect to see the names written on our race packs. (I was hoping....but you can never be sure).

After getting back to the tent, which was in some state of upness, the maps, numbers and dibbers got distributed, cups of tea were had, and we started getting ready for the relay. Leg 1 runners, Ben, Caity and Andy B started warming up, and I realised that considering the start was about 5mins from the tent, the tent was about 7 mins from the changeover point, kitcheck was also needed prior to me starting on leg 2 and leg 1 would probably only take about 35 mins, I should probably get ready. 

Faff, of course ensued, and after a while, Mark and I made our way up to the changeover area, where all and sundry were warming up ready for leg 2. We have both raced on this hill before, and know there are some considerable ups and downs, but we haven't actually raced together all that much. Last time we raced as a pair was this time last year, and last time we competed against each other was at the Holme moss race in august. I was pretty sure it was going to be ok....

The first teams came through, big names hurtling down the in lap to pass on to just as great names on leg 2. We're only running against British fell running champs, mountain running champs and all the rest of it. Always good to be rubbing shoulders and comparing yourself to those at the peak of the sport. 
First Glossopdale in was, as last year, Caity. The girls team of Cheryl and Zoe got the drop on us, and it seemed like an age before Ben came dropping down the hill like a stone to release us from the starting area. 
Mark went off fast and hard and my legs and lungs really didn't like it. Uphill for the first 500m and I was barely hanging onto his coattails. Various things like asking him to slow down, or just pulling him on the back of the vest to get him to relax the pace a bit went through my mind. To be honest, I wasn't close enough to grab him, nor did I have the breath to say anything, being run ragged at the very beginning of the course was not entirely on the plan. 

We passed a couple of teams on the outward leg, our own ladies team among them. The first hill hit, and we scalped another, with Eryri coming past us for good measure. 1st checkpoint, over a wall, and we were directly behind a couple of teams. The ground rose steadily and way ahead of us was a gaggle of other teams who had set off a good 2mins in front of us. 
In my head I was thinking "no Mark, don't overtake this team, my legs don't work" 
No stopping him at this point, and ignoring my silent pleading, he forged on passed a team, then another, and another, with me following doggedly in his footsteps. 

Crickey this is hard. Heart still hammering, legs not really responding, going uphill at speed is still my absolute nemesis, and still Mark set an unforgiving pace. By this time, barely a word had passed between us as we ran in companionable silence. Well. Kind of. Conversation would have been severely limited to single word sentences, at least on my side...
Up through bog, and the group in front of us appears to be getting closer. Only about 3 teams between us and what looks to be a Pennine vest. (Friendly local rivalry and all... It would have been nice to catch them up, considering the amazing runners they had on leg 1). 
Mark was still leading us on, but I was finally feeling a bit better, a bit more in control of lungs and legs, and was happy to be led on the charge through another couple of teams, the gaggle in ahead of us now getting tangibly closer. 

Onto a path, and a dive down the steep side of Pendle hill. Careful now, if there is anywhere that I'm going to go over on my ankle, its here... Careful... Carefu.... Oh, there it goes. My left foot hit a rock, and the ankle twisted slightly. On a normal day it would have been an 'oh, that was lucky, I didn't totally go over on my ankle'. Today was quite a bit more sore, going over on an already tender ankle was not what I needed, but it could have been worse. I took it a little more steadily down to the bottom of the hill, now with Mark in my wake, and was able to get a slight breather as he dibbed the checkpoint. 

The 2 Pennine teams were now only just in front of us, 30seconds or so... Which on a climb seems in touching distance, but in fact, is not. Mark and I climbed the hill steadily. It wasn't as fast as I would have liked, and we barely gained anything on those in front of us, while a team came through and past. 
2 more teams, who had obviously set off too fast were now paying for it and we caught them, but the Pennine group remained elusive. I chugged a gel, and we hit the top, turned, and followed the crowd back down the hill to the next checkpoint. 
Single track, bracken on both sides, and very difficult to overtake anyone. I tried, but there was only ever enough space for one person in a team to overtake, leaving the other half to be frustrated behind the overtakee.... Not wanting to be separated from Mark, I slowed down, and we passed through the dib point together. 

Left, and up the clough. A number of route options were being taken here, some staying high, others crossing the clough early, some late, what to do? Most important was to make a decision. Neither of us had reccied the route previously, so it was a take it on sight type thing. We stayed on the true right bank for as long as possible, walk/running along the contour. Others broke right to cross the stream earlier, but we stayed true, and ended up coming out of the clough and hitting the path ahead of one of the Pennine teams, and bang at the same time as the other. 
Another quick route decision saw us not bother with the path, but strike out directly across the moorland, across tussocks and bog for a good while, before finally coming to a fast runnable track that would take us all the way to the top of the hill. 

Finally I was feeling good. The gradient was runnable, it was excellent underfoot, and everyone else seemed to be slowing down. I ran well within myself, stalking the teams in front, and accelerating past them when the path provided the opportunity. Unfortunately Mark was having the same trouble as previously... Limited chances to overtake, and if the opportunity is missed, its a while before you can get past. As we arrived at the next checkpoint, there were 6 of us together, but I was at the front, and Mark was 5th in line, but still in easy communicable distance, so we weren't breaking any rules.
No trouble. Regroup, through the gate, and onto the flagstones into a headwind. 
Mark and I swapped leads up the final part of the hill, taking over as the other tired. Pennine were in close pursuit, and we topped out together, time for the final plunge down. 

I let my legs take me as fast as they wanted to go. The line wasn't the best line, perhaps not the fastest line on the hill, but I made it work. Mark was suffering from a stitch on the way down, but was able to keep in touch, and we passed the gate at the bottom a with a few seconds advantage. Now, just the final section home, just a kilometre or so. This final part of Pendle hill reminds me of cross country when I was a kid, I think its just the terrain underfoot rather than anything else. Mark and I close in on the finish, hammering down hill as hard as we dared, coming in barely a few seconds before the Pennine Open team, having made up a good 2 mins on them. 
I know we don't have a chance to beat them overall, such is the strength of their club, but to regain some of that lost time on our leg felt really good. 

To cool down we headed back up to Pendle hill again, via a steep climb, and came down via leg 4 and were in time to see the lead teams final leg runners battling it out up the hill on the glory leg. 

Overall we came in 36th, the Old gits were 94th and the Babes came in 107th. It was a superb experience to be in the finishing field as our final runners came in, the rest of the team clapping and cheering them on. I couldnt actually cheer, myself, because I got quite choked up, actually. It was great to be a small part of such a lovely bunch of people. 
Even if we did take a ridiculous amount of time working out how to take the tent down....

Thanks muchly to the organisers, well done to Calder Valley for the overall win, and 2nd ladies team as well... What a great day for your club! 
And well done to Pennine v40s, a well deserved silver medal in the category. Superb effort! Well done. 

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Light insulation - Montane Fireball Verso 2015

Montane Fireball Verso - packed up
This time last year I wrote a quick blog about the different options in terms of Fast and Light insulation layers, looking at price point, amount and type of insulation and general packability. This was basically to workout which one I wanted to buy. To cut a long story short, last year nothing was purchased, I made do with what I had.

This year saw the introduction of a number of new insulated tops, a lot of which are reversible, following the somewhat trend setting Inov8 Thermoshell. The idea of this is that on one side you have windproof material, on the other is a wind permeable material and sandwiched between them is a layer of thermal insulation. Most often this ends up being one of the permutations of Primaloft. Extras like pockets and wrist cuffs etc are put on and off each jacket to give options across the market, but ultimately they all seem to want to do the same thing.

My choice was ultimately swayed by price, and perhaps the only reason why I chose a Montane Fireball Verso over the Thermoshell, or the Berghaus Vapourlight Hypertherm reversible and the other options out
there was price. I was able to get the Montane for quite a bit less, so I jumped at it, knowing that at some point this year, there are going to be some grim nights in which I'm going to be running, and a layer like this is going to be quite a necessity.
size small - 237g

The question is, just how warm are these jackets - for running in, and as an emergency warm layer, does the whole reversible thing work, and  is there any point in buying one?

First Impression

Well, I got the "shadow grey" Verso- because the Black ones were out of stock. The first thing I thought was... how do I tell which side is windproof, and which is the breathable side? It certainly doesn't have a massive sign telling you that on the material.
Baffles sewn in - the Hypervent side out - breathable fabric to the fore
One side has baffles sewn into it - and a chest pocket, the other side is baffle-free, and has no chest pocket - it also has Pertex Quantum written on the arms. Aha, a clue.

The windproof material is on the side without the baffles, so theoretically, with that side out, it should be a slightly warmer jacket - the heat building up on the inside will be insulated by the primaloft and the wind shouldn't be able to permeate the fabric to whisk all the heat away, making it a lovely warm micro-climate.

Pertex Quantum side out - windproof.
The opposite way around, with the permeable fabric outer-most (hypervent), should still be warm - like wearing a pertex jacket, but with primaloft on the outside. The heat build up should be regulated by the fact that the wind can blow through the primaloft meaning that although you stay warmer, there is still a wind cooling effect.

Although the 2 options here may seem a little odd if you just want a jacket that keeps you warm as you sit down to make a brew on the hill - you have to remember, this is not what this jacket is made for.
Think fast and light.
As far as I can make out, it is for cold days when you need a certain amount of insulation and element protection, but if using it one way out is too warm, or indeed too cold, you can turn it the otherway out and hey presto - a solution without having to carry another layer.

In this Jacket, the Primaloft used is the new Primaloft Silver - which some people believe is basically the new iteration of Primaloft Eco (Primaloft Gold being, apparently the new iteration of Primaloft One), having said that, Primaloft now have a dizzying array of types of insulation, and to muddle your way through them would probably take too much time, and by the time you've worked out which one is best for your use, it'll be summer again. There are indeed various Clo ratings, but to be honest, I'm just going to get out there and see how it feels. 
Mobility in the top


I'm generally a small in most jackets, and the small in the Fireball Verso is a really good, snug fit. I can get it on over a running top, and it would go over a waterproof as well, but it might require a bit of coaxing. Most likely, if it was that cold on a run, I'd stop and put it on under a waterproof. The fit itself is a good reason not to put on too much weight over the winter - or there is no way I'd get the thing on come January.
Long sleeves and thumb loops

Even though I have the small version, the arms are a decent length, and come right down over my hands. The thumbloops are in the right place, both ways out, and do a good job of keeping my hands toasty.
The only pocket
The pocket is a decent size - you can certainly hold more than just a bar in there, though there are no handwarmer pockets - as previously mentioned, this is very much a piece of clothing for moving in, rather than sitting still. If it was going to be used as insulation for sitting around waiting for a kettle to boil, I'd really rather have something with a little more puff to it - or another layer on top. Equally - it could be used as an emergency layer for getting you off the hill when you have to slow down and need a bit more warmth than just a running top, but I reckon you'd certainly want to be kept moving with it on.

Having said all this, I've really only used it a couple of times so far. It really hasn't been cold enough to try it in anger yet, but its getting colder, and I'll be out and about in it as soon as its got to a decent chill. 

Monday, 12 October 2015

Breiddan Hills Fellrace 2015

Looking across to Rodney's Pillar
So it has come to this. The final race in the WFRA north wales champs. (also, coincidentally, the final race in the Open WFRA champs, and the South WFRA champs, AND the first race in the winter Shropshire series). Needless to say this was always going to be a bit of a stacked race, and quite a full one as well.

I managed to get a quick recce of the route done on Friday on my way down to my cousins stag do (not the greatest of preparation for a final race, I have to admit), and was able to get a bit of an idea as to just how steep the ascents were, how long they went on for, and if there were any sneaky lines that might be of use. Well.... the recce basically taught me that there was going to be no let up for the entire race. The hills are all runnable - even the steep ones are short enough that if you can brute your way up them, they can be run. The downhills afford no break, and everything else is a short blast along the flat to where the next hill begins.

This years route
Not really having enough sleep or food over the weekend, didn't quite set me up wonderfully for the race, and even after driving up from Breacon in the morning, I wasn't entirely feeling it even after meeting up with Lynne and Al who had driven down from Glossop. After registering, Al and I warmed up, up the beginning hill - essentially 2km of uphill drag that is totally runnable. At the top we met Mel - a bloke from Hayfield who had also travelled down, but was helping out with the race - and he showed us the final descent, a bit that had eluded me on my previous recce. This was most useful as it enabled us to get a handle on which was the best descent line onto the final path.

We headed back down the track to the start, saying hi to the usual suspects - Rob Grantham, Jez and the Buckley guys, and commenting that the field was particularly strong today. A good number of Mercia were out, and a few fairly nifty roadies as well - this was not necessarily going to be an easy day out, especially with a field numbering in at about 160 or so.
A short speech, dealing with the formalities of the race - the only kit required today was a windproof jacket, and with no more to-do, we were set off up the track.

Horribly runnable
Although I was pretty much at the sharp end of the start, Jez Brown got the jump on me and surged off up the hill with the main group of fast lads. Knowing the hill was just going to go on and on, I stuck to a pace that I knew (or rather, thought) I could maintain. 5-6 guys were in front of me, but as the climb went on a few more came past as my legs refused to go any faster, and my lungs started to complain about being used in such a manner. Even within the first 3 minutes, it was clear this was going to be a day of suffering and not being able to go fast enough.
Jez was pulling out in front of me, and we hadn't even gone 2km yet. Not a good sign. I grimly dug in, and as the path rose and rose, I just tried to limit my losses. By the time we finally came to the first downhill section, Lynne clocked me in at about 11th. I lunged down the narrow path, through the gate at the bottom and into the field of cows, who were looking lazily on as a steady stream of runners bisected their field.

The flat wasn't doing me any favours either. I wasn't gaining on those in front of me, and I really hoped I wasn't falling behind. The legs still weren't having any of it, despite trying to desperately go faster, they felt like they had been filled with lead. Ahead, the skyline rose above us- the route we were about to ascend and run along.
Through the gate where, 2 days before, I'd stood on a Blackthorn branch, and the thorn had gone right through the sole of my Inov8 and into my toe (ouch), thankfully, no thorn today, down the path, a right, a left, and the first "proper" climb of the day.

I was being pursued relentlessly, and was in danger of being out of touch of the runners in front of me, so tried to gun it up the first hard, steep slope. A swift turn to the right, and Jez is 4 places in front. Karl Steinegger was ahead of me, and a few others. The hill steepened, and everyone was walking pretty much. My legs worked under protest for about 20 running paces before I ended up walking, but still managed to power my way past Karl and another runner - keeping ahead of them during the descent, and then proceeding to be picked off by another runner on the way up the next peak.

Looking back from Middleton fell
Steep ups mean that your legs take a real pummelling on the way up. If this gives way to a sudden hard, racing down, the legs don't entirely respond well, and only through willpower do they really keep going. Add in another really hard up, followed by a down, and repeat, you have a recipe for completely knackered  legs and lungs before you've actually got half way round the race.
Downhill through loam
Another, smaller niblet of a top, which you can just about run over if you keep the momentum, and a grassy down to the road - following another runner who I have been trading places with for the past few minutes, turn left, and then the ascent to Gofa Pike. Up, up, up. I manage to keep running for a little bit more than him - Jez is about 40yards ahead, and virtually untouchable at this stage, a Mercia guy paces with me up the hill, and finally I break free of the Merionydd runner that I've been trading places with for the past km.
Walk, run, walk, run, walk, run. We've done the grassy section of the race, thats out of the way now. Here come the rocks.

We follow the path over the top, and then it becomes rocky and dodgy underfoot. I've seen this before - only a couple of days ago, but really don't remember too much about it, only the 20ft cliff that we need to get down in a minute... oh - its here already, hop, hop, hop, crunch - argh.
My left ankle turns in, Hard and pain shoots through it.
That proper hurts.
I manage to get down and along, and keep running, swearing (not exactly under my breath). The pain massively takes my speed away - dammit, we're just coming to the gnarly descent, where I was planning on making up a fair amount of time. The Mercia guy who is with me voices his concern at my limping, I tell him I'll be fine, grit my teeth and attempt to hurtle down the loam filled descent in the trees, taking a huge amount of weight through my right leg - left ankle not being particularly happy. I make up no discernible time, and barely make it out of the trees ahead of the guy I should have trounced down the hill.
Into slightly more open ground and I'm openly limping. Left ankle - not good. Right leg - now a bit trashed and screaming at me for putting too much weight through it... really not good. I assure the Mercia guy I'll be ok as he again voices his concern as he passes me.

We hit the road, and I see Jez ahead... he slowed down and the Mercia guy is catching him. Dammit. There is no way I can go faster, this pace is pretty much it now. From now on it's hold on and hope for the best.
Descent from the Pillar
A gel goes down as we hit the final climb of the day. A long, long uphill which is never really not runnable. Those in front of me have disappeared, I don't look behind, and concentrate on hitting the floor correctly with my foot so that it doesn't jar too much. Past the pheasant cages and boggy ground, up, and then down through glorious single track to the bottom of the steep ascent to Rodneys pillar. Jez and 2 Mercia guys are
battling it out on the climb as I begin my ascent. No-one comes past on the way up - thats a bonus. I plunge on up the hill, top out and head down.

Final downhill. I've held onto this place so far, all I need to do is carry on as I am for another mile or so, and all will be good. Just don't do anything silly on that foot. Down the steeps, my left foot keeps turning in to try and protect itself - which isn't great, as as soon as it turns in, it is more likely to turn over again. Concentrate on keeping it straight.
Hammer down the path, and down and left, past Chris Atherton, marshalling at a crucial point. The final techy descent and each footstep is a rod of fire into my ankle, I'm nearly limping at high speed, but just keep it on going, a sharp hard right and down through trees instead of the path, and then the final 600m. Hard packed dirt road, wincing every step, I hurtle into the finish - not entirely sure if the guy holding the tape is holding it for me to run through, or as a funnel.
Your brain does funny things to you when you're that knackered.

Trying to work out if I was to go through the finish tape, or if it was a funnel
10th. Just over the hour with a crunched and rather painful ankle.
Without that sprained ankle, I reckon sub-hour would have easily been a go-er. Having said that, Medium races are not a strong point of mine. I've found that out this year, and I think I'm at the point of either saying "meh - they're not a strong point, I'll just race them when I have to", or going out there and attacking it as a weakness and trying to get better. I'll let you guess which approach I'll be taking.
Checking the ankle

As it turns out, there was a long and complex affair involving the results of the Welsh champs, I know I wasn't in the top 3 in the Open Welsh champs - (which was a shame, must try harder next year), but I came 2nd overall in the North Wales champs, behind Rob Grantham, who stormed into the lead at the beginning of the year, and has been pretty much unassailable, despite having a less successful couple of races towards the end of the year. Jez came in 3rd overall - so I was obviously just about able to come in close enough behind him to keep that 2nd overall.
Pretty pleased with that.

At the prizegiving, Craig - the Chairman of the WFRA mentioned something that should probably be mentioned here as well. All the money that gets paid to enter any WFRA race, apart from that which goes to help put the race on, is put back into local charities. Quite simply, there is no profit. By taking part in a race in this championship, grass-roots sport is giving back to grass-roots charity, which I think is really quite fantastic.
Al and I have been to pretty much every North Welsh champs race this year, and I have to say that it has been a very enjoyable experience. Friendships and rivalries have developed some excellent races have been run. The lack of politics has been most refreshing, as has the intelligent kit choice needed for each race, not having to be bound by overly prescriptive rules.... also - the enforcement of the kit requirements, and disqualification of those that try to cheat it.
The North Wales Series has been brilliant this year. If you have been reading this blog throughout the year and haven't actually got over to enter any of the races, I would highly recommend it. 

My racing year is now all but over, and I have to say a massive thanks to Craig, the WFRA committee, all the race organisers, the sponsers of the series I ran in (inov8 and Cotswolds), and everyone that was so welcoming to the races in Wales.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Ian Hodgson Mountain Relay 2015

Pre race GDH (no rory)
Ian Hodgson Mountain Relay - from now on to be known as the Hodgson Brothers Mountain relay was a decent day out for Glossopdale this year.

Caity and I had a bit of a dream last year of being able to put together a Mixed team for this fantastic event, it might even lead to us being in the mix of the top 5 or so of the Mixed teams on a pretty decent race with some excellent competition.
Jill and Kirsty, are, to be honest, our tarmac specialists, and although they have both run fell races, are much happier thrashing around something flat and solid underfoot. Caity and I spent a good amount of time bringing them around to the idea that the First leg of the relays would be an excellent fit for them (it being the shortest, and with the least amount of ascent). They played along, and came out to run for us. The morning was a little misty, but nothing like it had been for the past couple of years- and they were in the mix right from the beginning, apparently trading places with Pennine Mixed team, eventually coming in 2 mins behind them or so, in 2nd Mixed team, and 37th overall.
Their road speed had not deserted them, and they flew the flag high!

Jill and Kirsty - the Road Crew
Al and Chris took over for leg 2, and hammered off up the hill. Chris is an excellent climber and Al is a fearless descender. I was hoping that together they would even out and bring in a good time. They are both used to the fells, Chris being perhaps the more experienced racer, though Al is certainly the more
Al and Chris - about to warm up to get to leg 2 start
experienced long distance challenger. They made great time over the tops, gaining 10 places overall, to drop
into Kirkstone pass in 27th place. Caity and Zoe were ready to take up the mantle, but were again, after an excellent leg from Pennine, still about 3 mins behind the 1st mixed pair.
Zoe getting some pre-race shut eye

Post nap - ready to race
Change over
Off up t'hill
Off they shot up Red Screes, and I scarpered down to Sykeside to wait for them to come in. Rory was there as well, having come up from University to make up the team, and had drawn the short straw to run on the longest leg with me. Pennine came in a few minutes before - and off went Si Caldrick and Nic Barber... yup, the Pennine Mixed was pretty back loaded, and there was no way we were going to catch them on the final leg.
Caity and Zoe - post leg 3

Not long after, Caity and Zoe came storming into the 3/4 change, having gained a minute on the now absent Pennine mixed, and Rory and I shot off along the flat to the hill. The long slog, was indeed long, and a slog, I led on the way up, and Rory was working hard to keep up. We topped out with Holmfirth just ahead of us - having overtaken on the climb. We worked hard and got back time on the short descent, but were pretty much in a pack of 3 teams, and it wasn't until we dropped down Cofa Pike that we managed to shake Holmfirth.

Another team- Eden, I think it was, were a constant with us all the way across and along the tops, we managed to keep with them until St. Sunday, but they steadily pulled away on the descent. We dropped well, but on the final part of the descent, footsteps behind us heralded the approach of Borrowdale. My heart sank. I was pretty sure they were the 3rd Mixed pair, and we were now, at the post, going to be pipped into 4th. We kept with them to the final checkpoint, and we were all still together... to be honest, I was surprised that they weren't going any faster. There was no way I was going to let them beat me down to the gate- even if I had to wait for Rory, so I threw myself down the hill, and easily got to the gate ahead of them.... but then had to stop to wait for Rory for a short while. Not a problem, but there was no point in me rushing ahead without him - we are, afterall, a team.
Rory and I heading into the finish

Borrowdale were far gone as we trotted down to the road, looked behind and saw there was no-one behind us. We chatted as we came into the final field, and I passed the dibber to him for the final checkpoint. I heard out of the field that it was indeed the Borrowdale mixed team - and that they had come in in 2nd place... so we were 3rd.
3rd Mixed team. Better than we could have possibly hoped.

This is what you do with emergency food

Rory modelling his prize.

As one of the Captains of  Glossopdale (Caity being my opposite number), I have to say that I'm properly impressed and chuffed with the guys and girls today. I'm not entirely sure if this is entirely true, but I'm fairly sure this is the first time GDH have won a prize in this relay. (its certainly the first time in history I can find).
Very proud.
The team (minus Kirsty.... ah, we just can't get EVERYONE together even on a relay!)

Friday, 2 October 2015

Fell shoes... whats going on?!

old school
I have been accused of not liking particular brands of shoes - of dissing various companies. I apologise if that has appeared to be the case... I try to call people out on things which have been claimed - and have fallen short (in the face of great hype), and I have pointed out shortcomings which should not happen. If equipment performs well, and does what it says on the tin - brilliant. However, when that doesn't happen, questions should be asked, and, in my opinion, the manufacturer should be called out. So, no, its not that I don't like particular brands, its just that some of them do not live up to the expectation which they project... and with that in mind, lets talk about offroad shoes.  

I started to wear fell shoes in about 2006, the first pair I bought
were Inov8 Mudrocs, and they cost me about £60. They gave me the most horrendous blisters on my heels until I worked out you needed to steam the heel cup to make them fit a bit better.
My mate had the Mudclaw 285's - those white ones with the offset lacing- again about £60, again, they gave him the most horrendous blisters imaginable, and our weekends of adventure racing often ended with us comparing battle scars, both from falling over, and from the inevitable foot damage caused by shoes that were, yes, uncomfortable, but also were by far the grippiest shoes out there on the market.

Since then I've gone through a variety of shoes, each time paying probably no more than £80, maybe £85 if I was unlucky for a pair of race sharp, comfy shoes with decent grip to see me through maybe 6-8 months of racing, and then maybe another 6-8 months of non-racing, training and general kicking around.

In the past few years, Salomon have really upped their game, from the original XA pros (which I loved), to the SpeedCross 1,2 and 3, then came the Fellcross, which, to my knowledge was really the first time fell shoes crossed that line in the sand of £100. Since then, we have had the Fellcross 2 and 3, the Fellraisers, the Sense Soft ground, and now the S-LAB Speed, retailing at an eyewatering £145.

From inov8's side of things, it was really the trailroc that hit the super £100 level. The perennial favourite, the x-talon stayed generally at the same place in terms of cash, but have recently steadily risen in price, the same can be said of the mudclaws, both now being sold at £95, and with the introduction of the Race Ultra at £110, and the Terraclaws at £110-120 we seem to be at the place where every pair of shoes being introduced to the ranges are hitting a ton.
Scott's retail at about that price, but Walshes, for some reason, are still about the £70 mark. 

Although most fellrunners that I know are a bit canny about buying shoes - getting last years models (or even the year before) from places like, end of season sales at Pete Blands, and getting various discounts at online retailers, I've started to wonder just what the heck is going on?

I know that shoe makers have to make money, they have to pay wages etc, and snazzy graphics and manufacturing costs do indeed go up - hence why the prices have gone up. However, has inflation really gone to such a level that we should be paying £100 for a pair of shoes that are pretty much going to be worn out in 6 months? I know I can't afford to be paying that, and so am hunting around to stockpile a few of the older pairs, which seem to be fairly bombproof while I can get them at a decent price.

There is the argument that if you don't want to pay the price, then there are a few cheaper models around the place - but truth be told, the grip on them isn't as good as these expensive shoes... but then, the expensive shoe grip hasn't necessarily increased as the price has increased... neither has their longevity. So what the
heck am I paying for at £100+ for a pair of shoes?

Am I buying grip? As mentioned, the grip on the shoes today doesn't appear to be too radically different to the grip that I was getting out of x-talons 3 years ago at £70 a pop. (I have to mention here that Salomon certainly didn't have the grip right on any of their previous shoes - Fellraisers being a particular low point - but apparently the S-LAB speed is pretty good with grip.... but an £145 for grip when the others have been shoddy? I think that might be slightly taking the piss)

Am I buying longevity? The shoes I am buying now last for about the same amount of distance and time as the shoes I had back in 2006. Yes, they are more comfortable, and when I get a pair that self-destruct after about 200km, if that, I tend to take them back and complain.
Am I buying "cool design"? well - maybe on this point - consider that walshes have stayed pretty much exactly the same for years, and inov8 have gone through a number of redesigns in about a decade... maybe I am - and ditto with salomon.
Am I going to be faster? Am I buying speed?! Well, the answer may or may not be no. In terms of road cycling, I commuted on a mountain bike for a number of years, and then changed to a road bike... my commute was a grand 3 minutes faster. That being said, a road bike makes a heck of a difference over a long ride. Indeed, grip and comfort make a huge difference over a race of any distance, but the grip I have now doesn't make me any faster than the grip I had 3 years ago. Buying new shoes does not make you faster as a runner.

So... it doesn't appear to be that I am buying more grip, more speed, or indeed shoes that last any longer than the ones that were being sold 3 years ago - they just look a bit snazzier.
Until someone shows me some objective evidence that their shoes are now grippier, stay grippier for longer (upwards of 900km), double that if I'm going to be paying twice the price of a normal shoe), and indeed last for that long in terms of sole and upper, then, to be honest, I think I'm going to have to stick with looking for deals for old models, waiting for some serious sales, or just stick to Walshes.

(as a side note, it should not be thought that because all the photos here are of inov8s that I think they are rubbish - on the contrary... the only reason I have only pictures of inov8s is because they are the main running shoes I have been wearing for the past 7 years, so inevitably I have gone through a fair few shoe life cycles).