Monday, 21 May 2018

NOT the Old County Tops

Kit Faff!
How to start? I've been a bit off it for a while - well, since the 4 Inns actually. Looking back at my diary its been about 7 weeks of sniffles, general fatigue and stuffiness. Not what you would call a decent training block. I've been meaning to do some serious hill training since January, and in that time have done a single session. Just the one. To say I was a little worried about doing the Old County Tops with Chris would be a minor understatement. Especially when he declared that he reckoned we could go faster than last year.... I was basically imagining being in a lot of pain for about 7 hours as I got dragged around the Lake district by someone a lot stronger and in better shape than me. I knew I'd be able to do it, but it might not necessarily be fun.

Rewind back to February when we entered the OCT. Chris said... to be fair, I really want a crack at Ramsays round this year, and if it comes to it, and the weather looks good on the OCT weekend, I'm going to have to bin it and head to Scotland.... so I figured that would be fine - and basically hoped that he'd forget about it.

Food prep for the weekend
I lacked fitness and basically resigned myself to a hard OCT. Then Tuesday arrived and a text. "how about we bin the OCT and head to Scotland"? Oh dear.
My fitness was probably good enough for 7-8 hours on the hill... but a round that might be up to 24 hours long? Now that is a bit of a different proposition.

Now if you don't know, Ramsay's Round is about 100k and 8000m ish of ascent going over the Grey Corries, a few hills to the East of Loch Trieg and the Mamores. There is a 24 hour time limit, and the ground underfoot is.. well, it isn't a picnic, by any means. Chris had already done both the Bob Graham and the Paddy Buckley in sub 24 hours, so this was the last of the big 3... he wanted to get it done, and my fear was that in my current state, I'd be an anchor holding him back, and might be the reason why he didn't make it. I made this abundantly clear to him, but, as Chris does in these situations, he breezily dismissed my concerns talking about "long term fitness".

And so I agreed.

Idiot.

The next 3 days were spent feverishly borrowing a map, looking at the route (here's a tip, look at the
1:40 vs 1:25
1:40k map, it makes it look a LOT easier than the 1:25... that is truely terrifying), getting tips from John Ryan who had recently completed a round in 20 hours, and asking around for ANY support that anyone could provide, cooking, and generally getting gear together.

Unfortunately, this weekend is pretty much the busiest in the fellrunning calendar. Everyone at Glossopdale Harriers was racing something, everyone we knew from Carnethy was off doing something else, so it looked like a pretty much solo onsight attempt. At the last moment, a guy called Pawel from Lochaber AC got in touch saying that he had been on the Mamores on the wednesday, and would happily help us out on that section if we wanted.... a true godsend. Someone who knows a bit of the ground! So we decided that we would do the round clockwise - mainly because we could get the objectively dangerous Grey Corries out of the way while still vaguely awake, and run the "runnable" Mamores at the end when we were tired... (ha).
This just goes to show how little we knew...
Chris had been up Ben Nevis once before. I had never set foot on any of the hills in the area.
What could possibly go wrong?

Nope- I didn't get round with a lot of grip
Friday came and we headed up to Scotland after work, the plan being we would go to Fort William via Loch Trieg to stash a drop bag there, and then start from Fort William at 2am, meeting Pawel at the foot of the Mamores at 4pm. We figured that since John Ryan had got around in a mere 20 hours, we'd be on for somewhere around there as well.
We got to the Youth Hostel at around 1am, sorted our stuff out and had a quick 20 mins lie down in the back of the car before putting on our shoes and getting on with it. Yes... we started it after having already been awake for about 18 hours.

I put on my mudclaws... and thought... oooh, they feel a bit tight. They might have more grip than my semi-dead x-talons, but if my feet are going to swell, I'd rather have less grip and better fitting shoes.... so went with the old semi-ungrippy x-talons instead. I'm sure it'll all be fine.

2 am came, we clicked our watches on and set off up the Ben.

We decided that going around on a 24 hour schedule would be the best - John Ryan had indeed had a fast round, and most of the people that we knew had gone around on an Anti-clockwise route, so their schedules would be totally different to ours. Best to find a general schedule and see if we could stick to that. The minor issue being that if we dropped behind it, we would be behind on a 24 hour target. Not a good thing.
The only GPX track that we had was that of Johns recent Anti-clockwise round, so we knew where he had gone - but that meant if we followed it to a T then we would be climbing his descent lines and ascending his descent lines - not the most optimal way to get around - so it was a guide at best. Along side that we had a map and a compass - and on leg 3 - we had Pawel.
Chris... the calm before the storm

Straight up the Ben we went - at a ridiculous pace. I told Chris to tone it down a little - knowing that I was the weaker one of the pair and didn't want to blow out too early. The schedule said that we needed to summit the Ben in 1 hour and 30 mins. As we marched on up the hill I did a couple of calculations. If it takes about 30 mins to descend Ben Nevis, then on the race, that means to get a 2hour time, you have to get up there in.. 1:30. Hang on. Are we going at Race Pace?! We seemed to be - or near enough. I know that the Nevis race starts in a slightly different place, but still - 1:30 to get up Ben Nevis at the beginning of a 24hour round seemed a bit suicidal.

Up we went in the dark, passing 5 other walkers on the way, path, rock, and then snow on the ground, along with cloud all around us. We marched on as quickly as the terrain allowed us and had to rely on the hand over headtorch technique of navigating in fog at night in order to workout where the top was. Apart from a minor issue of losing footprints in the snow and being unsure of the summit and coming a tad too close to the edge for comfort, we got to the top about 7 mins down on schedule.
Already.
My heart didn't exactly sink, we had a little trouble in the dark - and figured that once it got light we'd catch up on the time - not too much of a problem.
Coming onto the CMD arete. maybe?


Compass came out and off we dropped to the CMD arete to find our way across to Caern Mor Dearg. This lovely bit of hill was fantastic, there was just enough light to appreciate the spectacular situation we were in, though it was still full on headtorch levels of light considering the terrain we were on. However... my right knee started to complain a bit. The FIRST downhill section and my knee hurts? Really? Come on.... I decided not to tall Chris- it'd just sound like moaning- and resolved to keep an eye on it for the next few hills.
Over and across to the summit as fast as we could, hit the top - 5 mins down on schedule... then turned the wrong way, dropping north for 100m before realising our mistake -the terrain off to the side we were meant to be going looked like an absolute sheer drop, which is why we (I) made the mistaken assumption that we couldn't possibly be going down there.... however, we went back up, looked carefully, and then committed to the ridge line.

It was getting a little lighter now, and there was a fair amount of cloud in the sky. Could free summits? Sometimes... but mostly not... across and over to the monster that is Aonoch Mor... a big old down and up - something that would become a bit of a theme throughout the day. Over and up to the top of the Mor, and by this time we were moving as quickly as possible- and yet - still 10 minutes down on schedule. crikey?! how fast do they think we can move? We'll just have to keep going and try to nibble back some minutes for the rest of the leg. We're BOUND to be up by the time we reach Loch Trieg.
Sunrise- just off Aonoch Mor

As we headed south back to Aonoch Beag the sun momentarily showed itself across to the East, and provided some fabulous views. Headtorches were no longer needed as we bashed on up to the top. and around the edge to the descent which- to a week ago had been too snow clogged to get up or down safely. Maybe a chance to get some time back? The hill was blissfully clear of snow, so we launched our way down the hill and across to Sgurr Choinich Mor. I was sparing my right knee a bit as every step was jarring. Considering it was probably just muscle ache, I put up and shut up, and just went at it. I can descend as well as Chris on any day of the week with or without knee pain - it's the ups I have issues with.
A climb to Sgurr Chonich Mor, and a drop and contour at the 900m level to catch the col that climbs to the top of Stob Coire an Laoigh... still 15 mins down - and we're going as hard as possible, given how long we expect to be out.
Really- I have no idea where I took this

The next section involved ridges and scree and a lot of broken ground, and a fair amount of mist - ahead of us, mountains faded in and out of cloud - and across to our right we saw a glimpse of the future - Binnein Beag standing alone from the Mamores - another down and up to contend with later in the day.
Up to Stob Coire Claurigh, and my goodness me, we're 15 mins up on schedule! The elation! We carried on a bit, with me expecting to see Stob Ban appear in a moment - and it did - a lot further away than expected. Oh. That wasn't SCC. On and over and up, and over and up, the scheduled time came and went, and we eventually topped out 15 mins down again.
I was beginning to get a bit psychologically worn by all this clock watching. If I was late, it didn't really matter - Chris really wanted that sub24, and I was the reason he was going slower than he could actually go. What if I was the reason he failed on this attempt. Not cool... despite all the protestations that he thought I'd be fit for it, things were not looking as hopeful as they might have been.
I began to hatch a plan that if we were looking likely to not be on time by the mamores, to cut him free to catch up the time and I'd bin it and head home down Glen Nevis.

Down and up to Stob Ban, and my knee was hurting on the ascents as well as the descents now - the next down was going to be huge- about 500m of down, followed by even more up to Stob Coire Easain. I must have fallen over about 6 times by now - the grip on my shoes just wasn't enough to hold onto the soggy ground, though they worked pretty well on the rock - so any falls tended to be onto something soft, at least. The descent took a while- but we didn't lose any time, still down on time, but maintaining the same amount - could be worse.
The climb was massive, and hot, it seemed like we were going upwards forever and ever. Slowly the terrain changed from bog to heather to stone and we topped out on a wind blown summit again, 15 - 20 mins behind... ach, nothing to do but carry on.
More food, more liquid and the traverse to Stob a Coire Mheadhoin (to be fair, by this point we'd given up attempting to pronounce the names, and it was very much - how far down are we? as opposed to - what is this one called?).
the descent to Loch Trieg. Probably

Then the long downhill to Loch Trieg and the drop bag.

We had high hopes that we'd get to the bag with some time to spare on the 24 hour schedule, but it was not to be. Down and across the hill, the paths indistinct, boggy and generally hard to run down meant that we arrived to the bag about 20 mins down. I was beginning to seriously doubt my ability to speed up - this was certainly the fastest I could possibly manage over the terrain, and although we weren't losing masses of time, we certainly weren't gaining any. I was worried for Chris's chances to get around in 24 hours and suggested that if it came to it, he should get on with the mamores section without me, I'd make my own way out.
Dam wall- Loch Trieg

He was having nothing of it, insisting that the schedule would become easier as we went on.... we'd see about that.
Bag drop- secret location in the woods.

We stuffed down food, a coke, a lukewarm coffee and rammed our bags full of food as well. From now it - it was just past 10am, there would be no other food replenishment (apart from seeing Pawel) until we finished. Maybe sometime around 2am. As quickly as we had got there, we left, heading on into the sun and up the long tortuous ascent of Stob Coire Sgriodain. It's a long slog. As in a LONG slog. Not particularly steep, but the main aim of this part of the round was not throwing up all the food we had just stuffed in at the drop bag, so we took it as easy as we dared.
Over a few false summits and to the top, and then a light jog around the bowl to ascend Chno Dearg, where we caught up with a couple of walkers out for a bit of a bimble.
Chris with a couple of walkers on Chno Dearg
We walked to the top with them having a bit of a chat before dropping down the hill to the valley before Beinn na Lap.
Having never been on the ground before we took some pretty rubbish lines down the hill, and ended up having to climb up a ridiculously steep heather clogged hillside to gain the somewhat flatter shoulder of Beinn na Lap. How we didn't lose more time here I really don't know. We were both a tired and I was starting to fade physically as well as mentally.

From where we got to the shoulder of the hill to the top was a good 2-3km, and although it wasn't steep, it was definitely not runnable. The sun was out and the wind was strong as a headwind - it was hard work to get to the top, but once there, we came across pretty much some of the first actually runnable section of the round - the descent to the South end of Loch Trieg.
The only really decent runnable descent
The gradient was such that when running my knee wasn't in pain, and we made good time on the descent, blasting away down the moorland and scrubland to the track. Our next time check would be meeting Pawel, who was a good 12km away down what was theoretically a decent track - and for the first couple of km, it was. We maintained a steady pace, jogging away until we got to the turn off along the Abhainn Rath where the path became less distinct and less well trodden and walking becomes the only real possibility.
Lack of path - lack of speed.

Surely we were losing time here. Progress seemed painfully slow, the ground was frustratingly broken allowing you to run for a dozen metres before stopping to jump over a stream, or get around an obstacle. We were not moving smoothly, and kept stopping to refill waterbottles as the sun beat down on us. On and on we went until we were in the middle of a bog. A light came on in our heads... Ah - THIS bog, the one that we looked at previously and didn't want to end up in... in which case the path was to our south. Through the bog.

We struck out going south, waded across the river and eventually got to the path- a solid bit of ground- thank heaven for that.
Chris looked at his watch... dyou reckon we can get to Pavel in 25 mins?
Under normal circumstances, 4 and a bit km... easy... today? Not so much.

We ran the downs and alongs, and walked the ups - the ups were barely an up at all, more of a slight incline, but it was all about just keeping moving. Chris decided to jolly me along by pointing out that if we'd have done the OCT we would already have finished and we'd be sitting in a field drinking tea and reflecting on the day.
My reply was curt.

Slowly but surely, the lochs came in sight and we turned the corner to see the ruins at the north end of Loch Elide Mor and the figure of Pawel waiting for us.

We met Pawel 5 mins up on schedule, just about 4pm. He had Coke and Mars bars - all of which almost eclipsed the fact that to our west was the forbidding mass of Sgurr Elide Mor. We were all smiles and joy while introducing ourselves and downing vast quantities of sugar - the main thing was that Chris was in pretty decent shape for someone who had run that far and had been awake for 36 hours. I was in slightly less good shape, but now were were ever so slightly up on schedule - for the first time in 14 hours, there was a slight psycological boost.
Which lasted until we started to go up the hill.
The indefatiguable Pawel. What a decent chap.

I was certainly the slowest of the 3 of us, and instead of thinking "I'll never be fast enough to gain any time back", I was now thinking "just keep moving - don't leech any time".
In our heads, the Mamores was going to be the "easy section". Hills with paths, runnable bits, not quite as much climb as the Grey Corries.
Ha.

Each step up Sgurr Elide Mor was hard, and I kept telling myself that it was the "last big climb". How untrue. Still - you have to kid yourself to keep going.

From the Top of Sgurr Elide Mor, it's a down and up to Binnein Beag- and island on its own with a semi-runnable scree descent. At the bottom of that we looked across to Binnein Mor which still had a fair amount of snow on its flanks, deciding a decent ascent line, considering the normal line was un climbable. We opted for the far right flank, followed by a trek up the shoulder.
I was starting to be physically worn down. I had been exhausted when we met Pawel, and now we had done another 2 massive climbs... running on fumes didn't even cover it... I was barely even running on vapour.

the shoulder up to Binnein Mor
Sugar, haribo, shot bloks, water. That was the main thing that was going to keep me going now. It was unbelievable how slowly we were going up the hills, because of my lack of fitness. Chris was easily cruising, and I was getting frustrated at not being able to go faster. Still, at the top of each summit, where I was constantly expecting to hear "we're down by...." he kept saying "we're up by x mins". The whole thing was now just a battle to NOT stop.


Looking across to the west were the outlines of the Mamores. It was about 6pm.
The only way off now was to go over them. On schedule, that would mean another 8 hours of effort - and I was beyond rock bottom.
By this stage I have no idea where we were- these photos are Pawels

On to Na Grugauchean, and then the out and back to An gearnach, dropping our bags to make things lighter for the small section. I nearly bonked, and on the way up Stob Coire a'Chairn there was a moment when my legs simply failed to do what I told them to do.
We were an hour from dark, about 30 mins up on schedule and I was in a bad way.

If I started slowing down any more, 24 hours were certainly not going to be possible for me. Chris was way stronger, but I was in a pretty bad place - if I told him to go on an finish without me, he would easily get round - but I'd still be up on a hill in the dark, semihypothermic and generally not in a good way. I simply needed not to stop.

More sugar. The legs started working again, and metronomically I started climbing.
All the way through this section, Pawel was just ahead of me, Chris was just behind, tapping out the miles, and making sure I was ok. We struggled across to Am Bodach - just one more out and back to go... but tiredness was encroaching as well as fatigue.
Chris looking really quite jolly- probably at the bottom of the scree chute Binnien beag
Caffiene chewing gum was produced which provided a short lived boost, though my hands were getting cold and I had been stumbling badly for a good few hours. I gave Pawel a packet of shot blokz and asked if he could be ready to give them to me one by one on the next few climbs. My body was operating on burning whatever it could get, and these seemed to be working.


Sgurr an Lubhair came and went in a blur, and then out over devils ridge to Sgurr Mhaim, where we finally needed our headtorches again. Pawel mooted the idea of a massive down and up to Stob Ban... but considering how slow I was on the ascents now, we agreed it was better to go back the way we came and keep our height even if it was longer underfoot.
Later in the evening. Waterproofs on - wind getting up, contemplating the next down and up

I kept telling myself this was the last hill. THIS was the last hill... THIS next one, that's the last one.... but no. It seemed like it would go on forever. Up Stob Ban, and the end was finally in sight, I was taking in more sugar than ever before and my teeth were beginning to get sensitive to the shotblokz- but I wasn't going to stop. For the last 4 hours I had been surviving on will power, and it was all I could do to get to the top of this thing... then a final easy summit and home.

At times like this, when it's dark, the wind comes up and chills you to the bone, and you've been awake for more hours than you can count, NOTHING is easy. I was pretty blindly following Pawel now, Chris was occasionally giving out timings, we were up, but not as much as previously. I figured that we just needed to get off the damn hill before I became a liability- and in the dark Mullach nan Coireen seemed a LONG way off. I might as well have been mainlining haribo at this point, we trudged along the ridge- the ridge that- in my head, sitting at the kitchen table- should have been so easy and straight forward- was a complete never ending nightmare.
Slowly by surely we edged our way forward through the strengthening wind. At every step I was more and more conscious that I wasn't really moving fast enough to generate enough body heat- hypothermia might well have been a real risk- sitting down and crying (which, many times seemed like a pretty decent option) was the worst option, and there was nothing else to do but just keep going.

Finally - the top, and the final descent started. "we've got 2 and a bit hours to get down" says Chris. It's about 6-7km depending on how you do it, but our legs are trashed. Our heads are spinning, and the ground is pretty treacherous in the dark. Descending 900m is normally pretty fun - but not now.

Down and down, through scree, rock, bog, trees and eventually onto a track. Looking at out watches, the decision is made to get to the road and go along that... slightly longer, but much less chance of a mistake. We can't walk past a Youth Hostel without noticing it.

2 miles of road. "shall we jog a bit?" says Chris.... but my jogging pace had disappeared about 5 hours previous. It was all I could do to maintain a walk.
On and on the road went, the danger of the hills, the weather, exhaustion, everything was all behind us, and slowly eventually, the YHA appeared.
23 hours and 21 minutes after we set off, we had returned.
The end.

I have to say that this was one of the hardest things I've done. My lack of recent training certainly had something to do with how hard I found it, and there is no way that I could possibly have got around without Chris or Pawel.
Onsight, less than well prepared and generally unencumbered by knowledge of any of the hills has to be one of the worst ways to do this round. Don't follow my example.
2 blisters. That's it.


Strava route is here

Monday, 7 May 2018

Cake race 2018

A proper summery race. Sun, dry heat, not a bit of shade, hard underfoot and generally hard running. With cake and beer at the end. What's not to like?
As a GDH champs, this was always going to be well attended by the Blue and Orange massive, and there were (or might have been) 32 of us. Ben Tetler was there, and he has been on fine form recently, putting in an excellent training block. Diggle and the surrounding hills are also his general stomping ground, so he was going to be putting in a good performance.

We started off, and I decided to be fairly circumspect in my start. Having been a bit injured from Teenager (muscle strain in right glute med) this was going to be a bit more about testing myself over 10 miles to ensure I'm not going to break down on the Old County Tops later this month. We started up the horrible rutted path on a fairly long, but very runnable climb. Although I started a few people back from the front of the line I soon found myself railing against the pace and picked myself up and past the guys in front, within about 400 metres I was in the front group with Ben and about 4 others. The pace felt fine.

Ben was resplendent in a massive beard, and he told me he hadn't really run in the heat much so far this year....Well, now might be a time to push him and see how he fairs... So I ran up with him, and as soon as he caught a glimpse of me, put a spurt on, which fairly broke him away from me and the other 3-4 guys. By the top of the first hill I'd managed to pass everyone else and had 2 runners on my tail, with Ben stretching out a lead of about 10 metres in front of us.
Down the causeway type thing onto the moor and a run up over Saddleworth. As we passed the reservoirs the hard breathing behind me gradually receded and I seemed to be very much on my own - Ben was bouncing away in front of me, maybe up to about 40 seconds ahead, so I kept my focus on him. For now it was just a fast run, but no issues as we crossed the moorland, and I could almost pretend I was just out for a nice run.

In and out of the cloughs and across the weir - dib the timing chip and down towards the Bridleway. This was the turning point... a long, almost flat bit of hardpack down to a dam. The heat was pretty intense and it was all I could do to not stop and just walk... I kept the pace as high as I dared, considering the next section of the race was back up onto the moorland again. 2nd place. Ridiculous. How did I get into this position? I've barely run for the past 3 weeks.

Hard, hard effort down to the dam, plunge down the steps, a pause as I work out where the heck the steps to go up are, and I can see Bens vest bobbing its way up the side of the dam... walking. Right. I set out to run as much of the steps as possible and was astonished when I was still running at the top, and gaining. Up and round the side of the golf course and the pace stayed fairly steady. I wasn't challenging for the lead - I just wasn't close enough yet, but was very cogniscent of the guy behind me. I couldn't hear him, there was no way I was going to look behind, but any reduction in pace would mean he was going to catch me.

Over a stile into a wood and 20 seconds of dithering looking for the path. There were a load of forestry markers that looked the same colour as the race flags... oh no! um... ah - over there... I ran over to the right, up down, over trees and through branches and found the path again, Ben had gained time on me, so there was nothing to do but try and make it back. Run every step up the hill and the banking, up to the road, down the steep groughy thing and back onto the moorland.

You could see forever.

If I could see Ben, the guy behind could see me. Only chance is to keep as high a pace as possible to make him think that catching me is either impossible, or too much like hard work. On and on and on. I was waiting for the final downhill - where we had come up at the beginning... at that point I was safe, home free... kind of. So I ran as hard as I dared over to the reservoir, and hit that final track - which was a bit longer than I anticipated. My final hard effort should have been maybe 600m... but I must have started it somewhere around 1.2km out, so was really really blowing by the time I came back in, a mere 20 seconds after Ben.
Hard run. 1:10:56. 2nd overall and 1st team. Great race - and loads of cake afterwards.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Teenager With Altitude 2018

Odd name. Great Race. When I first heard of this race, my initial thought was... that's a silly name. I can't see myself ever doing that one. Eventually I saw the route map. And the fact there were only 75 entries per year... it is now a firm favourite of mine, so it is a shame that this was the last edition of the race.
GDH lot at the start
Sadly one half of the organising couple - Steve Cliff - passed away from MND earlier this year. His Wife Wynn conceded that a final race- along with Anniversary Waltz, was indeed fitting, and raised a stupendous amount of cash for charity in the process. However, in its current form it is now being wound down.

The route starts from Stair, where you aren't given any warm up before the climb to Causey Pike, which pretty much sets the scene for the rest of the race. As has been the case for the past 3 years that I have done this race, the weather was beautiful and clear, the sun was shining and sunlotion and a hat were the definite order of the day. (I used p20 lotion- doesn't seem to wash off with sweat, and despite wearing a vest for the first time this year, I came back with no sunburn... it really is good stuff).

Chris behind me for a short time...
The last couple of weeks I've been struggling a bit with a flu/cold thing which has left me exhausted. I've done nowhere near enough miles in training, my feet are soft, and I'm generally a bit weaker than I was for previous versions of Teenager. Going into it I figured that a 3:20 would be amazingly good going, considering the 3:11 and 3:12 of yesteryear. A nice day out in the hills then, I was thinking.
Unfortunately when the starter whistle goes and everyone heaves off into the distance, you don't think that, and I went off like a bull in a china shop, knowing that without the training the whole thing was going to hurt... so I might as well get in some hard going before things really ended up going pearshaped.

Up Causey Pike we went, and it was great to see that Simon Harding from Macc Harriers was out on the hill again after a bit of a break, so we had a quick chat on the way up... although I was a little faster than him at this stage, I was certain that I'd see him again at some point on the course.
 Chris Webb was a little ahead of me on the climb, but down t'other side he stuck to the path and I careered through the rough stuff and gained the time back, gradually catching him, so that eventually we ran together, with Scoffer over to Grasmoor. The sun was high, and the work was hard, but I was pretty happy with where I was in the field, especially as I was catching Adam Perry up (and not through speed...more through different route choice).

The views from Grasmoor were amazing, though we didn't really get much of a chance to enjoy them, as we clattered off down and around to Whiteless Pike.
Whiteless Pike

My big toes were beginning to hurt by this stage as the shoes I was wearing were NOT holding my feet still... yes, it seems that Inov8 have changed their sole units and uppers AGAIN, but more of that at a later date. Suffice to say the design (whether they say it has changed or not) doesn't hold my foot in place any more, so I was smashing my toes against the front of the shoe on all the descents. Cue Whiteless Pike, the biggest, gnarliest descent of the race. My quads were already a bit trashed, my toes were sore and my heels were developing hotspots. Not massively conducive to going downhill at speed. Looking at comparisons, I was more than a minute slower than my previous races just on that section. Strength is certainly down, and my descending ability has taken a turn for the worse. It isn't the head that is the problem, it is lack of strength... so I know where to start training again.


Through the stream at the bottom and up the pass, and the string between me, Chris, Scoffer and Adam had snapped, and off they went up High Snockrigg at a pace while I lagged behind. Classically the worst point of my race, I felt like I was going ok, even though I wasn't keeping pace with them, though times don't lie, and that was my slowest ascent of that hill ever, (which may have been why I felt so good!).

I hit the high point of the hill with Konrad on my tail. We ran together for all of 2 minutes before parting ways for differing ascents of Robinson. I took the Righthand line, he took the Left. Aha! Finally we'll workout which of the lines is faster. I ran as far as possible up the incline before starting to walk, and put my head down and got stuck in... up and up (it's a blinking big hill... especially compared to the stuff we have in Derbyshire). Up towards the top and a Bottle of water Toting Rhys F-R. So... which was the fastest line? Neither. We both reached Rhys within about 5 seconds of each other, absolutely nothing in it.

Joining the Anniversary Waltz-ers is always fun because you're not sure if you're running at your pace, at their pace, or faster or slower than normal... Halfway down Robinson, with my feet sliding all over the place I HAD to stop and try to tighten my shoes. Konrad zoomed off into the distance as I sat there pulling on shoe laces, getting slightly more tightness around my feet.
I caught back up with the waltzers that were passing me, but Konrad was gone into the distance.
Up onto Hindscarth, eating more shotblokz than perhaps is healthy, then the descent and ascent to Dalehead and the most amazing view of the Lake District... where you can see the entire ridge that you're about to run down.
Best view in the Lakes?

I was seriously slowing down by this point, as was my headspace... I took a rubbish line off Dale Head, going far too far to the right and losing a load of time which really didn't do me much good. (I must look at that line one day!) As we hit the climb to HighSpy who should appear, but Simon Harding. Aha! I knew he would catch me up at some point, I was quite glad that it was this far into the race though... Simon Ripon on the Waltz was also there, and we were fairly well matched for the entire ridge to the end. To be fair it was mainly me going "Im exhausted" and him going "come on Tim - dyou want some food?".
Joss was up on top of High Spy, so it was good to see him out on the hills cheering us on. The rest of the ridge to Catbells was pretty much me following a trail of loads of runners, trying not to fall over and desperately trying to get the end without heat exhaustion. A gel went down, along with the rest of the shotblokz. My feet hurt, my legs felt battered, hamstrings were trying to cramp at every other step... so this was really a bit of crisis management for about 6k or so. All good practice for Jura I suppose.
It was my slowest descent to the finish ever, and I crossed the line in 3:19. Just about where I hoped I would be given the best scenario for my current fitness. 14th overall, which I was a little surprised at.


I haven't felt that bad at the end of a race for quite some time. A combination of lack of fitness, the heat and getting over a cold probably all contributed to the fact I was walking around like a zombie and just wanted to sit/lie down for a very long time. Still, with a few decent weeks of work I might be a little more up to speed for the Old County Tops, and then Jura. We shall see.

Monday, 26 March 2018

4 inns "walk" 2018

A few months ago Julien had the great idea of doing the 4 Inns walk. A little bit of history - it has been going for 61 years. 60 years ago 3 scouts died in the Alport valley due to exposure and this was part of the reason why the Peak District Mountain Rescue Organisation came to form, and was also instrumental in the formation of Glossop Mountain Rescue as a team as well.
It is perhaps because of this tragic event that the kit list required is (in my opinion) ridiculously long and complex, despite the fact that times have moved on, but that is a bone to pick for another day.

The event is organised and run by Derbyshire scouts, and as such, food is a big part of the event with Breakfasts and dinners being put on by a superb catering team. If you're going to do this, do it for the food. Don't do it if you don't like getting up early, or if you don't like running/walking with other people.
Our team of 3 consisted of me, Jules and Chris Webb (who I partnered in the OCT last year). In the weeks leading up to the 4 inns I realised that I was woefully unprepared, not really having done huge amounts of miles, and really not having been on the hill much in the past few months. Truth be told I was a little worried, despite having done a bit of a recce of some of the route over Bleaklow and Kinder with Julien. That being said, in the last few days up to the race I simply sat down and accepted the fact that no, I might not be as fit as I wanted to be, but could still get out there and suffer. So that is what I prepared to do. Running at your own pace - easy. Running at a pace set by others... well.... that's another thing.

The definition of "shorts"
Our start time was 636. Which meant that our kit check time was 536. Which meant getting to Holmbridge for 5. Which meant getting up at just before 4. Eugh. Especially when the evening prior was spent helping out with an event in the local Brewery. Liquid carbs can be good race prep, or so I convinced myself, but still managed to get to bed before 10. The community hall was heaving with teams and kit checkers. Chris eventually wandered through the door about 20 mins after Jules and I - who were standing there comparing how badly sore our throats were, and who had the worst pre-flu symptoms -  and we were duly kit checked. Yes a Sol bag counts for an individual survival blanket, yes a Blizzard bag is tog 8 and counts as a sleeping bag, yes, a BMC Dark and White Peak map counts even though it doesnt have the first 3km of the route on it - so someone else has to carry a full Dark Peak map as well. No, a polythene bag doesn't count as a survival bag, despite the fact you used it for the Ronde del Sims....

Luckily for our team, just as we were standing around a sign was put up informing us all that Shorts were indeed allowed for the day. Quite what we would have done if they weren't allowed, I don't know. Put on trousers and started cutting off the legs at various lengths until we had a level that was acceptable to the organisers?
Wooop.

Anyhow, eventually our turn came to start, we got counted down and out, and off we went, taking a wrong turn within 100m. (to be fair, it isn't a turning that is even on the Dark Peak map), it probably would have been handy to recce that bit. Oh well. So looking like total amateurs we took off up the lane. Road solid underfoot, we overtook a couple of teams, walking the ups and generally trying to keep an intelligent pace on the flatter sections. On the way up to Wessenden we passed a goodly number of teams, generally exchanging pleasantries, or being ignored by a minority. Not a whole lot of exciting stuff happened, apart from trying to keep our feet dry for as long as possible, but not really managing to, blatting through mud in shoes while others in waterproof boots tottered around it on bits of stone.

Up to nearly the site of the Isle of Skye Inn - the first of the 4 inns, hand in a bit of paper telling them we had gone past, and straight onto the Trigger route down the flags to Black hill. "D'you run over here much mate?" was a question... "not really" was out response... "these flags are proper 'orrible".
"yup - that's why we don't run here much".
"this is why we don't run here much...."


Down the flags, overtaking teams, a bit of a walk up to Black hill, and the mist clung around and over the moor. Perfect. We took off down a decent line which with a bit of undulation would take us to Tooleyshaw moss, the next checkpoint. The ground was boggy and gnarly, just the kind of stuff we like running on, and we made good time, chatting away and enjoying the mist. Down and up, over to the trig point that isn't a trig point, drop off the route card thing and we're told we are the first team through. Fab. We must have passed a couple more teams in the mist and didn't even see them. From now on we wouldn't see another team all race. Less like a race and more like a long day in the hills. Nice.

Crossing the dam at Torside
We jogged down to the old YHA at Crowden- a remarkably short distance to the next checkpoint, where we picked up a couple of sandwiches (with Chris showing a real weakness for Corned Beef) and headed off down towards the Woodhead on the track that eventually becomes the Pennine Way. Over Torside dam, up through the next checkpoint and onto Bleaklow.

We know this bit relatively well, living in Glossop so we pretty much stomped across from Torside to Dowstone to the wreck and the Pennine way in short order. Great stuff underfoot, generally feeling good about the day though wishing for a bit more mist - the cloud had lifted by this point and we were hoping for some serious clag. Ah well, you can't have everything. By this time Jules was feeling a little more ropey and my sore throat was coming on a bit while Chris was merrily yomping away across the moor with nary a care in the world.
Jules in his natural environment.
We congratulated ourselves on getting such a nailed-on line across Bleaklow that we totally screwed up the next bit down towards Drs Gate by dint of micro nav-ving looking for a specific trod in TOTALLY the wrong place and ending up running pretty much direct to Nether North Grain, having to detour a fair amount to actually get to the correct clough for the Checkpoint. Perhaps 5 mins extra of peat bashing, but not really too much of an issue. We dropped into Drs Gate Culvert from a new and exciting line which the CP team had never seen before (to be fair, you wouldn't unless you had got slightly misdirected on the moor). More food, sandwiches, and a sausage roll for Chris and off we went down the worst, most tedious and certainly the most dangerous part of the entire route, 2km straight down Snake road. Nice.
Food stop at Drs Gate culvert
Woodhead road was shut on Saturday which meant there was a greater volume of traffic on the Snake. We were running and tried to get it over and done with as quickly as possible, but still managed to nearly get run over by about 5 cars who refused to budge over the central line. I know that no-one has ever died on the 4 inns on the road, but they have on the moor, hence the ridiculous kit list. However- running down an A road is not safe in any way shape or form. Considering the fact there is a path running down Lady Clough in a pretty much parallel fashion makes it even more ridiculous. The fact that "traditionally" the route went down Snake should not be reason for sending 70 teams of 3-4 people down the A57 on a Saturday morning afternoon. It is inherently unsafe and I really hope they change it before someone is killed, it would be a thorougly preventable tragedy. /rant

Jules was having a bit of difficulty getting food down, a combination of too big-a-mouthful, lack of water and a dry throat and had to drop back a bit to get his breath back as we negotiated the gauntlet that is the Snake. Getting off that damn road couldn't have come soon enough, and eventually we handed in out bits of paper at the Snake Inn - 2nd pub of 4 before diving into the woods, across the river, through the ford and onto Gateside clough up Kinder.
We still have no idea how to get onto the lovely path up onto the edge and bashed through some harder ground - but no matter, it wasn't a deal breaker. I did have a "bit of a time" getting up the steeps to the top, definitely being the weaker member of the team there. Goodness knows what OCT and Jura are going to be like. I need to get some strength back in my legs for them...

Around to the top of Blackshaw and then over 7 min crossing which was heavy in snow and mud right the way across, and then the descent to Edale which we took rather gently. Knees were beginning to feel it as my muscles weren't used to so much up and down recently... good to know that it isn't anything permanent - just muscle fatigue.
Descent to Edale.

Down into Edale and along past the Ramblers (the 3rd of 4 inns) and down the the checkpoint, which was the community centre. As I handed over my bit of paper the checkpoint guy looked at me blankly for a moment, thinking I was a random walker asking for change for the carpark, before realising we were a team and were there to get fed and watered before carrying on.
A quick sandwich and water stop and off we hobbled. Most of the races that any of us had done over this way finished at this community centre - our bodies were certainly saying we should be finished, but unfortunately there was still another Inn to get to, and that was a lot further away than we wanted it to be. Jules was really hanging, my right hip was hurting and we were both, in the privacy of our own thoughts were thinking about stopping there. Chris was joyfully ready to pootle along towards Chapel and we all dragged each other along.

As we started climbing over Chapel Stile it became hotter and more humid. It felt like we had slowed to a crawl, blisters on the feet started to make themselves known and we generally started to suffer. From now on it was pretty much going to be road or track with no proper fell or boggy terrain to give us a break. This was not going to be entirely pleasant. Up through the clay clag of Chapel Stile, across the road and down the bridleway on the other side.
Just as we were going to drop down to pick up the road into Chapel we came across a bloke with a car that was stuck in the mud... "can you give us a push out, gents?" "uh... we're in the middle of a race. But, ok".
So we three got behind the car as the bloke slowly set down his shovel and clambered into his car in the most leisurely fashion before starting it up. We pushed as he rammed it into 1st gear and covered us in mud. Nice. Cramping calfs and hamstrings and a person who doesn't ever appear to have needed to de-stick a car. "stick it in 2nd! Slow revs!" shouts Julien. And sure enough, the car crawls out of the hole and back onto dry land.

Quick, run down the road and see if we can get the feeling back in the legs... and we toddle back off down to the main road. Thankfully, this one has some semblance of a pavement down the side, so we aren't actually on the road as cars rush past us at 60mph.

Jules and I were feeling especially rubbish by this point and Chris managed to magic us up some Paracetemol which sustained us into Chapel Checkpoint where more corned beef sandwiches were consumed. Off we went through the most navigationally challenging parts of the whole run... through Chapel en le Frith housing area. Some of us wanted to walk. One of us suggested we "get a shuffle on" or words to that effect, and once more, we dragged our feet forward, squelched blisters into toes again and cast out minds ahead. There was never a sense of humour failure, just a lack of talking and a resigned silence of "well, in order to get this done with, we'd best crack on as fast as possible".
The forsaken climb

Some fairly innocuous terrain followed, bringing us over to Combs, and then up Lesser Lane, a road I have climbed on a bike in the past, and really struggled on. Today was different only in the fact I didn't have a bike. From here, though, everything was pretty close in terms of check off points. From Chapel it isn't far to Whitehall, where more food was consumed, and sugar really started to be a necessity. From Whitehall it really is not far to the reservoirs at the bottom of Shining tor. Our running styles had changed somewhat from the beginning, but pretty much nothing else had. We hadn't taken off our rucksacks once. I had a pair of gloves that got put on and taken off about 100 times, and we had taken sips from our water bottles, but nothing beyond that.

Along the reservoirs we chanced upon Alice from Adventure Pedlars and stopped for a quick chat (ie. a break from putting one foot in front of the other) until the inevitable pull of the hill led us inexorably up Walker Clough. A horrible little climb that goes on at a (at this point of the day) just about un-runnable incline. Looking at the watch I was now counting down the kilometres, which I did with gusto, until I realised that I was counting down to 60km, rather than 65.... ah. So when I say its 10km to go, I really mean it is 15... aha. ha. ha. Funny, eh?
No, apparently not.
Us. Being amused that there is another 5k more than maybe I thought....

So from the top of the Clough we yomped over to the Cat and Fiddle, final Inn of the day, a quick refuel and then a thrash... well, not quite a thrash, more of a yelping hobble down another blinking road, to the only point where we were nearly navigationally embarrassed, but pulled it out of the bag at the last moment by remembering a minor detail about the route.
Cat and Fiddle checkpoint. Sugar. Water. Go.

A final dig over a hill and run down a horribly rutted and crappy bridleway that appears to have been used by 4x4s to create the worst terrain possible for anything, man or beast.
Down a road, across another one and a final run in to the end.
7:41.

Not a bad time, really, and definitely time for a cup of tea and some food.
Thanks so much to Andrea for transporting us to the start and from the end, to the organising committee of the race and all the checkpoint volunteers, and of course to the catering staff. A great day out.
The best thing about long distance running is NOT long distance running when it is over.

And thanks to Chris for being a "backseat driver" in terms of Nav, but very much a front seat driver in terms of motivation and speed.
I am NOT looking forward to the speed you *think* we're going to be running at on the OCT, but I am looking forward to the challenge. 
Shiny shiny.