Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The Montane Spine Challenger - Part 2 – Britain’s Most Brutal Pub Crawl

The Epic Report continues if you haven’t seen part one

Please have a look at that here  to hear tales of Nerves, Snow and Spam Sandwiches

 After an Hour and a half’s sort of sleep at Checkpoint One I feel rested and get suited & booted. I have Breakfast and I am ready to go at 4:15 am.  I’m asked about my feet by a medic which are fine my sock combo has worked perfectly, and why I haven’t got my waterproof trousers on its too warm! I joked about being the first Spine racer to DNF with heat exhaustion. No one mentioned I didn’t have my head torch on which I discover as I walk out to find its dark! Surprise! I really shouldn’t be allowed out at times.

Gosh its warm. I splash up the horrid climb back to the Slack Road trying desperately not to melt.  Once at the top it’s on with the waterproof trousers, and I am off in to the night. Back up the Slack Road I swap congratulations with incoming Spiners and get straight back in to the groove legs feel good, now lets go! Out on to Hepenstall Moor its raining and with the strong head wind its rather refreshing, what was I saying about being hot? The path has been striped of any snow and is now very wet and Icy so there is a fair amount of mincing around before the decent to Grople cottage which is an absolute river. This trend continues all the way up to Top Withins. There is no sign of Cathy or Heathcliff not surprising I suppose as the sign say this isn’t what Emily Bronte of thinking about when she wrote Wuthering Heights. I don’t hang about and over take a small group of racers and then fall flat on my arse as I allow my concentration to drop and stand on some Ice and then repeat the trick 100 meters further on. No damage done but I think this got in to my head a little. I had been going well but having a little bit of a negative niggle just in the back of my mind since I started to feel the chill on Hepenstall moor wondering if I have made the right kit choices at CP1 and I now realise I hadn’t eaten either for about 4 hours as I had my waterproof mitts on and it was hosing it down …….. oh dear in the words of captain Mannering “Stupid Boy”.  But all was Just about OK for now……….

When Spine Races Go Bad! Well a bit wobbly,

On arriving at Pondon there are some support crews and I am suddenly acutely aware of feeling very alone. This was about 4 and Half hours after leaving Hebdon and I hadn’t really seen anyone for any length of time, the few racers I had passed I was quicker than so we don’t really interact beyond the usual greetings. Looking back perhaps I was feeling abandoned a little bit after yesterday, where there was a friendly face every few miles offering coffee and kind works. Today there had been no one. I start to feel very emotional and can hear my voice crack when asked if I need anything by one of the support crew parked up. All of a sudden I am feeling very negative and have a few tears rounding Pondon Reservoir. Some where here I start to consider pulling out at Lothersdale. As I climb up toward Crag Bottom I have a brief chat with a French competitor amusingly confusing his English in my head. (Still streets ahead of my French I have to admit) He was trying to say this is Tough but I manage to through most T words including actually suggesting toast? (See hadn’t been eating) with out that one, he changes tack and declares “This is ‘ard” oh Tough I am with you! Feeling like Basil Faulty I continue on. There are couple of people outside the cottages at Crag Bottom wishing us well which starts the bottom lip again shortly after on the climb to the moor proper I pass Giles I am a bit confused to see him I has assumed he’d be well up on me as we passed at the Checkpoint not knowing he was supported so he was only just a head of me about 40 mins by his reckoning, we compare woes. He’s having a rough time too but promises to try and catch me up and cheer me up.

 This section was going to be one of the mental crux’s of the route for me, the path is indistinct in places and will be boggy. When an area in central Yorkshire is marked on the map as “The Sea” it dose not bode well.  But I cross Ickornshaw moor with out issues, my peak district bog hopping skills  keeping me in good stead as many people have describe going up to their knees or worse here. Descending in to Cowling there is finally some support in the shape of a mountain rescue post. I take my bag off and burst in to tears when someone asks how I am. I’m whisked in to the tent given a cup of tea and told to eat.  The Spine Safety Team (SST) guy gets me to eat the Dehydrated meal I have been carrying. I alternatively hug it as a Hot Water Bottle and sniffle in to it. When I have pulled myself together abit he tells me that he was in this state here last year and he went on to go much, much further and instructs me to get a Pint of Guinness and a Hot Pot down me at Lowthersdale. I didn’t catch your name, but I definitely owe you a pint of Guinness or 4! Giles has arrived after being given his own boost having a surprise visit from a running buddy, and sticks his head in to the tent and tells me I am going with him. I was keen to latch on to any friendly face at this point and he doesn’t have to tell me twice. The wise words of John Vernon ringing in my ears “Never Give up at a checkpoint always leave” I have a image at these times similar to that of Patches O’Houlihan in Dodgeball giving advice from a little cloud.  We team up for the next leg.

Britain’s Most Brutal Pub Crawl

Giles said in his blog he didn’t remember much of the leg to Lothersdale apart for field after field of mud. Well there is a reason for that! That’s all there was and it set the tone for the next 20 miles. We arrive at Lothersdale and meet up with Giles support crew John.

In to the Hare & Hounds a bit of a Spine must do! The landlord sheets down half the pub for Spine Racers, and offers the “Spine Special” in my case Lancashire Hot Pot in a giant Yorkshire pudding and a Brew. It was also an opportunity to check the race phone which had been beeping away steadily with messages letting me know that people where looking at the dots back home. As we eat, the French racer ( I now know to be Yann L’Hostis) from earlier arrives and appears completely flummoxed by a combination of sleep deprivation, unfamiliar food and strong Yorkshire accents but finally ends up with food. Hare & Hounds is an interesting place I cant workout weather the landlord sees this as an enormous inconvenience but a good business opportunity or has Spine Fever like the rest of us but is determined not to show it, as he stands at the bar tracking people in on his iPad complaining about the cost of plastic covering. Which ever it is I am very grateful for his efforts. I didn’t realise this but my race has just been saved. After a good rest and with no real decision to carry on we saddle up and head off.

Over this next stage I am keen to keep Giles going as long as possible I was in a strange place mentally at this point. I knew I wasn’t going to finish this but I didn’t want to pull out and was enjoying the company. We hatch a plan to maintain maximum dignity from our impending failure.  We’ll crack on till night fall and then bin it 2 days and a night that’s respectable right? John meets us just over Pinshaw Beacon and takes a photo of us me looking like a serial killer on a particular bad day. Giles jumps in to the van for a quick sort out. We’re both still a bit down. John tells us were doing well and moving at a good pace still hitting 3 miles an hour. Yes we are still moving at a good pace. Now, hold that thought. Waterproofs finally come off which helps my mood and the day starts to brighten literally and possibly mentally to, and over the next section the sun comes out and we don’t die on the duck boards we just slip, slide & splash through the mud.

People tell you about the Wind, People tell you about the Snow, people tell you about the horizontal rain and the ice, they never mention them mud. I Recced this 6 weeks ago you would think I might have remembered! Spinenisa they call it.

By the time we reach the Leeds Liverpool canal I am starting to feel more positive, Giles has a route card with short hop distances and this is probably breaking the route up in a way I had been failing to. The sun also out and the Co Op in Gargrave with its pies beckons. I voice my thoughts that this could be our best change to finish this race. Giles having just dropped his rucksack in dog poo I think is yet to be convinced.

John has got the kettle on when we arrive in Gargrave and I gratefully accept a brew, before I nip off to The Co-Op. This is a place of Spine Legend or more to the point its hot pie stand is, I indulge in a chicken slice and return with sandwiches which, duly devoured will power us on to Malham. We sort out some personal admin, John reminds Giles that he will finish and that he has been since he got out the van this morning. Giles running Buddy from earlier has also arrived and gives him a bit of a peep talk as we leave and were we are still moving well.  

The light starts to fade as we crack on up the road out of Gargarve and as we hit more sludgy fields head torches go on for the second time. Its dark and we’re still in the race. This section is a bit of a maze and I am glad of my recce to find the twists and turns through the fields to a hideous little road climb and finally Malham, I think I may have suggested going to the Pub. We see Johns Van but no John who right on queue appears as we make ourselves look as respectable as two blokes who have just dragged them selves through 30 miles of mud can before entering the pub.

New plans are now a foot there is talk of checkpoint 1.5 and fountains fell and beyond as we Perouse the menu Bangers and Mash? Don’t mind if I do.

To Malham Tarn and Beyond

We now are feeling much more positive. We have survived the mud and the hills beckon and you only drop out after Malham if you’re injured.  
Our plan is from Malham to Checkpoint 1.5 Brew and then crack on over Fountains Fell. 2 hours kip at limekiln pasture and then Pen-y-Gent and breakfast in the PYG café leaving us 13 miles to Hawes for Tea and Medals. Simples.
Giles mentions the F word on the way out the pub, finishing that is. We are both back in the Game. My Rose tinted specs have descended firmly now and from this point on and while I remember being tiered and slightly sore footed everything seems relatively positive although I do recall being a bit melodramatic about the possibility of Biving at Checkpoint 1.5.
So stage one was the pull up to Malham Tarn. Even in the Dark you can feel the scale and grandeur of Malham cove as your torch beam fails to illuminate the vast space as we glance a cross during the climb up the steps. Arriving at the top I manage to pick an efficient line at the top getting across the leg swallowing limestone pavement, its been made greasy by the damp night and it’s a relief to be off it as quickly as possible to the section where it become merely a trip hazard.  Bizarrely on the way we found a towel laid out in a gap complete with resident teddy strange, Giles checks with me that this isn’t an hallucination. We head in to the valley behind the cove, were making steady progress again and negotiate the twists and turns  and are soon approaching the road and car park at Malham Tarn the lights of camper vans look close and could draw the unwary in to the direct line and in the morras rather than following the looping route round. the lights of the field centre are clear on the other side of the tarn I comment that we’ll be playing the “Why aren’t those lights getting any nearer” game but the trip round the tarn doesn’t seam to take too long I’ve been lucky in this race so far the bits I thought would be long drags have on the whole passed well.
Signs appear and then the buildings and the friendly light of Checkpoint 1.5. There are 3 other races and the Famous John Bamber owner of one of the spines most impressive beards who provides us with tea and tall tales. We have a rest and make use of the facilities. All too soon its time to crack on and we head in to the night as a group of 4 with Ashley Ward and Wijnand Jager. We then make the classic post checkpoint mistake of loosing focus and chatting past the turn off, we soon realise our mistake and are back on track after adding only a few 100 meters. Little known to us John Wroth who didn’t leave with us has shot out of the checkpoint to catch us up and missed us. Fountains fell beckons and we wind our way up though the fields and then on to the farm at the bottom of the climb proper on the open fell it’s a long drag. I am at the front of the train as we go up and up and up I am sure this is higher than it was last time. I had an Idea it was 2 miles from the farm to the summit but that passes and despite low visibility I can make out higher ground to the left, finally the sign warning of shake holes appears out of the mist and the trail flattens out and we begin the decent

Visibility continues to get worse. I really felt in a bubble at this point although there were 4 of us in the space of maybe 5 - 10 meters but I felt a million miles away until someone spoke and we all came back together in my head, only to disappear back in to the bubble again as the talking ended. Once off the rocky track and on to the grass section we are lost to the world. I picked my way onwards with some more human GPS Voodoo and with small bits of track or the odd stone slab over a beck as comfort that were continuing on the right track until we hit the wall, which seems to pop a layer of bubble I warn everyone the next bit is a shitty mess but then somehow manage to pick the best line I ever have though here to the road. Ah tarmac. POP! The bubble burst and we’re back as a 4 chatting down the road. The places your head goes at times is odd.  

Car lights approach “Well done Guys” shouts a police man in a large unmarked BMW as we approach Dale Head we pass a Land Rover Discovery which looks like it has people in side but as we’ve passed one unmarked police vehicle I think better of starring and carry on where we’re due to meet John. We reach the turn with no sign of them. After a few minutes faffing some one appears and asks what we’re doing, someone explains we’re doing a race. We all appear a little confused by this new person and the lack of vehicles, for my part I thought he was an angry farmer initially although it turns out to be John Worth wondering how we got behind him. John very handily clears up our vehicle issues, my unmarked police Land Rover is Ashley’s support and he heads off back and then explains we have discounted Johns Mazda Bongo as apparently the other Bongo that Giles was thinking about has left as it was his. Sleep Deprivation eh! Wijnand teams up with John and they continue.  It’s a little bit of conundrum accepting space in John and Giles Van, As an unsupported runner it’s a bit vague as to what help it is acceptable to accept from other runners before you become supported Some will say this makes me a supported runner, some will say I was lucky and some wont care a hoot, thoughts of points for style had long gone out the window. Next year we’re all in the same boat with no support.

Did he just say next year? He did, didn’t he?   

We quickly sort our selves out and climb in to the van which is delightfully warm and I fall asleep wedged against the back wall. 90 blissful minutes later I am a wake and have a sudden panic that we haven’t set an alarm. I have a quick shivering fit before trying to find my watch without waking everyone else up. Its OK we haven’t over laid and I lay awake waiting thinking I can feel my feet swelling and I am a little worried about getting my shoes back on. They were half a size up form my normal size at the start so hopeful they will still be ok. Soon an alarm does go off we quickly get sorted Giles tapes his feet and prepares his breakfast. And I needn’t have worried about my feet as fresh socks and shoes go on with out any issues.

Pen-y-Gent. I always think this sounds like it should be in Wales rather than Yorkshire. we set off at around 4:00am up the track to PyG visibility was down to the end of your nose but its an obvious path until the rock steps. As we approach the first turn to Horton where the 3 peaks route comes up we meet Yann again, he is clearly shattered, he was descending presumably having decided that discretion was the greater part of valour at the rock band.  On meeting us he asked if we knew the way on and could he join us.  I lead us up to the first band and manage to pick a good line through it and we pop out right on the steps. I am relieved as I don’t like steep ground especially in the dark and I am convincing myself that Yann is going to fall off in his befuddled state. But the benefit of this good line is that we hit the best line on the second band and so the line of flags to the summit. A quick photo call and we point Yann in the correct direction and then we dash down the hill with the promise of a full English drawing us onwards the decent is a long one from the initial steep plunge there is a long drag down to the village where we finally there and meet John and head for the Café.
The Pen-y-Gent Café is open 24 hours for the whole time it takes the race to go past as a Spine Safety team post. The owners having well and truly caught the spine bug. We arrive and are offered beef stew which is ready to go but fancying the Full English that has been dragging us on we opt to wait, and this with a pint of tea goes down very well. Following breakfast and some personnel admin I stock up on snacks for the final leg. We’re ready to set off as another group of racers arrive with Yann, they had picked him up after he had followed the directions of an hallucination that sent him the wrong way he’s seemed rather disorientated and the a quite word with the SST and they jump in to action to ensure that he’s OK. As we head off we get an up date that were being hunted down by Pavel & Eugeni at the Front of the full Spine Race they’re reportedly past Malham Tarn. Can they over haul our 24 hour head start before we get to Hawes?

Now for the slow climb form Horton to Cam End with a plan for John to meet us at the top. This was a section on my first ever long distance event the Oxfam Trail Trekker 3 year ago so I have fond memories of it but, it goes on and on. We discuss trying to not to get over taken, we discuss if we do how cool it would be to see these world class athletes in action.

(for my not ultra running readers as ultra trail running is such a niche sport you get every ability in pretty much each race and if it was an Olympic sport then these guys with be there. This is probably the equivalent of running Mo Farah at a 10k race having been given a 25 minute head start) 

We settle on trying to stay ahead of the Czech and Spanish machines snapping at our heels. As we approach the turn to Old Ing we speculate about the gate etiquette of the lead spine racers and joke about cable tying a few gates to slow people down as I open the next rather solid looking at least wooden gate and It comes to bits in my hands…………… opps we spend a few moments trying to fix it but this isn’t going to happen we squeeze round and carry on. It didn’t occure to me at the time but it can’t have missed my foot by much and if it hadn’t missed that I’d be now writing about a DNF at 90 odd miles with my foot in plaster. Fine margins!

We pass Old Ing and Ling Gill Bridge and with views out to the spectacular Ribblehead viaduct up and up we go, joining the Dales Way up and up, keep looking back for signs of other races up and up, John appears out of the gloom and jumps about us taking photos up and up, the rough track ends in the most incongruous pristine looking tarmac and up and up we go, the summit is at 570 meters but I cant help feeling after this long drag they left a 0 off. We reach the top and the turn off 4 miles to go! 

Giles has a quick faff in the van and were away. I remember this being a really long drag from my recce that never seems to descend! But the first level part of the path passes, Giles suggests we have a shuffle on the down hill bits I reluctantly agree but start to embrace this with more enthusiasm as we go it think this must have sparked some competitive spirit in me. There is a group a mile ahead of us that we now have in our sights. The turn off the main track arrives and we continue shuffling on the down and moving strongly on the flats and up we round Ten End and we can see Hawes below us, and now the decent begins we trot down the hill off the fells and in to the fields we catch and pass the group in front of us we exchange pleasantries and I am happy that they don’t respond in the racing sense as we move past, see its that competitive thing again and we stretch away putting my recce to good use and avoiding the worst of the muddy ground we hit the road. Giles decides to take his waterproof off and my first reaction is to check the group behind, they are still negotiating the worst part of the fields. Am I really racing the last 4 miles? The race is long and in the end its only with yourself! We trot down the road and then through the last fields and houses totter along the flags through the ally way and on to the high street and run in to the finish! Done it! 52:29.

Handshakes all round and we go in to the hall to a slightly underwhelming reception our kit bags are brought and we slump in chairs in that satisfying kind of confusion that you get when you stop at the end of a long race as you process what’s happened and coming to terms with no longer need to put one foot in front of the other and tea and medals follow.
I am never doing that again!

So that was my Spine Race an absolutely crazy experience. Not quite as I envisaged it but it was a fantastic experience and I am immensely proud to be one of less than 160 that have completed the Spine Challenger. Enormous thanks to the SST Chap at Cowling for putting me right and sending on my way. To Giles for teaming up with me at my lowest ebb and some how failing to give up at dark on Sunday, and to John for your positive thoughts and reminders that we were actually doing OK.

Post Script

We beat Pavel and Eugeni to Hawes by about and hour and hobbled out to see them come running past looking ridiculously fresh.

My final position was the 38th out of 94 starters and appropriately joint with Giles despite my quicker time and that he finished just in front of me J  

After checking in to my hotel and getting my self sorted and buying some bin bags to wrap my muddy shoes in, I went back to the Hall to collect them to find Yann had finished in 55:51 hours well done to him. I have to admit I thought he would be out at Horton. You can read his account here (In French but Google translate does a passable job on it).

Also Giles, account of the Race is here

And I am never doing that again! – Lasted approximately 12 hours, with a plan to go for the challenger in 2019. I think it was the complete stranger coming up to me in Leeds Station and asking if I was a spine race due to my Jacket that my well have tipped me in to it.  I have signed up for next years challenger this is an addictive thing!

Monday, 6 February 2017

The Montane Spine Challenger - Part 1 - All the way to Hebden Bridge

OK so the Spine wow……  The Montane Spine Challenger is the first 108 miles of the Pennine Way from Edale to Hawes it is a non stop ultra race, which you have 60 hours to complete and its tag line is Britain’s most brutal race. Which for a race that you can complete by going at less than 2 miles per hour that perhaps seams a little over hyped.
But now factor in there is little support on route only 1 checkpoint at 47 miles and 1 mini checkpoint where you many or may not be allowed in at 82 miles. It’s January there are 16 hours of darkness and the weather could do anything (I almost panic brought snow shoes. I kid you not). You have to lug an extensive amount of kit and food with you and, that the course record is closer to the cut off time of most other 100 milers than their winning times. Add to that a finish rate of less than 50% and at the start of the race this year less than 100 people have ever finished it over 5 editions of the event. You can see that this is one brutal event. Why am I doing this?

This is where my ultra running obsession started. It has fascinated me each January (Spinuary) for the last 4 years, watching the dots and reading racers blogs and seeing “them” at events with full packs standing out among the race vest clad. I’ve come along way to be here. It’s a bit of a shock meeting the people who were those dots and wrote those blogs. But, it wasn’t until the start of the Hardmoors Roseberry Marathon in December when a runner came up to me and asked me if I was doing the Spine race that it came home to me that I was now one of “Them” conspicuous with my full bag amongst the race vest clad.

Preparations had gone well and by the beginning of January the route has been recced in full. Kit brought more kit panic brought. Training is done. Do I feel prepared? No. I am Nervous about this event and I can feel the tendrils for self doubt creeping in to my head which is hindering my final preparations, I am putting things off. I haven’t felt anything like this since my first Lakeland 50 nearly 3 years ago. I have the Thursday before off work to pack and do the final prep and checks but this is cut down by a very long funeral. I am left packing later than I would like on the Thursday and left with things to do on the Friday and with a drop bag I need to sit on to close. I am not happy.

My pet bit of pre race paranoia is not being able to get to the start of a race and as I wake up to snow on Friday morning and with heavy snow that has been reported, of course Sally traffic cheerily announces the A57 Snake pass is closed! And the sub zero temperatures forecast I feel a little panicked if it’s like that here what the hell is it like in Edale? My Dad is driving me to Edale so I head to his and we travel up to the Peak. I am calmed slightly by the melting snow on the way and we actually arrive with out issue and it’s actually a lovely drive on a glorious sunny day.  

We park up and I head off to register. Joining the queue for registration behind the Spines very own Facebook celebrity Chris Worton we exchange a few nervous words, soon we’re moving forward and called to kit check I have 4 Items chosen at random for inspection by the one and only Tom Jones. I pass on to registration, then once armed with number, T-Shirt and race patch it is on to the Mug shot. It was quite entertaining to see Chris Worton whip off his waterproof jacket to reveal a bow tie and DJ. Few people realise the slightly sinister motive behind these shots thinking that there just for your tracker page but actually they are what will be give to the police when you go missing!

Next up is race briefing and I complete the first navigational challenge, finding the hall at the Peak Centre. I meet Ben Tyas and Gary Marlow who I met at Stu Westfields Training in December more nervous words exchanged. Stu then does the comforting thing of talking about all the things that could go wrong at once. Along with the look after the place, close gates, where support will be, and addresses some of the issues the overseas guys and girls will not be familiar with like which side of the road to run on.

Once briefed its back to Hathersage for a brew and to check in to the Scotsman’s Pack. Then a bit of last minute food shopping and a bit more kit shopping. I try to relax as I pack my kit making last minute changes to contents of pack and drop bag throwing out a lot of kit. Once sorted we have a nice meal then there is time for more kit repacking and its time for bed sleep doesn’t come easily but a few odd dreams make me think that I have had some sleep. 

The alarm goes off at 5. I get sorted and looking out the window seeing that there hasn’t been the hard frost that was forecast getting to the start won’t be a problem I relax a tiny bit I make some last minute changes to my drop bag and we leave.
Arriving at Edale, I collect my new Spine Jacket adding it to the drop bag before leaving it to be collected, visit the loo. Have my tracker fitted visit the loo, and then return to the car to nervously nibble on flap jacks and sip electrolytes, trying not to get emotional. I am generally outwardly very unemotional, very British you might say, stiff upper lip and all that. But with my nerves and with my Dad there I was beginning to get decidedly wobbly finally it was time for the start and we all pile round to the gantry for the off. Thank goodness  

We have the usual pre race stuff over a slightly in effective PA and were off. Now relax were off I wont say my nerves evaporate but now with something to focus on they are only at the back of my mind.

Oh it’s such a not so perfect, then perfect day.

We head off across the car park and up through the village to the start of the Pennine Way proper. I see Mark Roberts shoot past as I find my rhythm and start to focus on the task at hand, namely the 10 miles to Snake pass. We stretch out up the valley the promised freezing temps and blue sky aren’t going to arrive and it’s a damp gray morning.  It starts to rain after 40 minutes or so, waterproofs go on. At the same time 2 other runners are doing the same, one asks the other the name of his mascot. It doesn’t have a name yet he reply’s. Its Chris Worton so I mischievously suggest “Surely it has to be called Lindley?”  Chris had drawn the Ire of Lindley Chambers on the Facebook group but all seemed to have been smoothed over by the time of the race.

I plod up Jacobs Ladder determined not to get hot and by the top the Rain had stopped so its off with the waterproofs and back on with the windproof. As I do this a Camera woman comes over for an Interview “surely you’re not going to film me taking my trousers off?” I ask, she laughs as and I hum “the Entertainer” as I undo the zip, I am such a comedian……….  There’s a quick interview and I head off up the rest of the hill, as we get to Edale Rocks it starts to snow……….. Well this wasn’t in the plan……. But this is the spine race and these are classic spine conditions. There is a little navigational uncertainty as we make our way to Kinderlow in thickening snow but no drama and our train makes it way round to the downfall and out towards Sandy Hays. I “team up” with Harriet Shields a fellow Hardmoors runner who I met at Roseberry, we chat away as were going along in the train until they all decide to stop at a bend, this being my back yard I just carry on and Harriet comes with me checking that I know where I am going before committing. Droping the group as they stop to dig out GPS and maps, we then have the trail to our selves all the way over to Mill hill and across featherbed moss. This section was amazing the snow stops and were on a path about 18 inches wide of compacted snow right in the middle of the flag stones, its perfect and we’re treated to some spectacularly ethereal scenes with the sun coming through the fog as the clouds lift reviling races strung out behind and in front. Giving one of those moments when you really have to just have to stop and take it all in. I am now in the grove and this is fun.

As we cross the Snake, Glossop Mountain Rescue Team (MRT) are giving out coffee we have a quick brew and carry on again in to the cloud to Bleaklow. Devils dike passes easily enough but with the snow we loose the best line through Hern clough and my GPS decides to die. We quickly sort out where we are using Harriet’s GPS and my local knowledge, we are soon back on track picking up Emily on the way we have one more Minor detour again leaving us one grough out so soon correct that with local knowledge again. The Summit  stones are soon reached and we head off straight on to the path down to Torside clough earning my self the nick name of the human GPS J the decent passes with out incident despite the best efforts of someone’s spaniel to trip me up and we arrive to a camper van village as this is the first point for support team to get to their racers.  Harriet & husband Karl kindly donate me some water and she heads to the comfort of her van while I change my GPS batteries have a quick sort out say good bye and crack on.

Crossing the Dam at Torside Res I grab a couple of photos and cross the A628 meeting up with a couple of civilians who ask how far I have to go and are unsurprisingly a bit shocked when I say 82 miles. Having explained the race they wish me well and promise to follow the trackers. I hate the Path up to Black Hill, for the most part initially boggy and awkward then exposed over Laddow Rocks, I’m not a fan of exposed places and then its just chossy up until the flags up to Soldiers Lump. The snow improves things a bit and I start to pass other runners along this stretch starting with a chap who is obviously suffering with his feet already (he would arrive at CP1 as I was leaving which means I put 4 and half hours in to the poor lad over the next 30 miles) and finally a bloke with an fantastic hipster beard. Starting the last pull up Black Hill the skies are clearing and there is the most fantastic sun set building. I clear the top make my only check of the map and enjoy the Jog down. I am caught by Emily again and we chat about this and that as we descend to Wessenden Head. Oldham MRT are there with Water and a weather forecast, warning of impending rain or sleet as black clouds roll in from the west.

I am soon off and heading down through the Wessenden Reservoirs to the slippery decent and sharp climb out to the Swellands Reservoirs. 

Originally built to feed the Huddersfield Narrow Canal they are frozen over when we arrive in the fading light, there is a strange sight as there looks to be strongly illuminated mist over them its all looking very war of the worlds. After some time wondering what this is and going through various options from check point lights to aliens it turns out to be an optical allusion. There is a break in the clouds being lit buy the setting sun perfectly aligned with the horizon as I see it. We decent towards the road closing at Harrop dale Emily pulls away as head torches finally go on and I fall in with Andy and Peter. There is a brew in the Holme Valley MRT tent at the car park before setting off with another weather forecast promising a largely clear cold night with lighten winds but rain in the early morning.

We headed off on to Standedge in to a bit of a train which included Emily again I think a girl called Ann and Andy and Paul and possibly a few others. We made quick work of the next section where the MRT Challenger Leader caught and pasted us, arriving at the M62 crossing we find that the promised burger van is here! Moor Snacks are now highly recommended! A quick round of teas and a Spam Butty to fuel the leg over Blackstone edge. With the clearing skies the most amazing moon was rising to the east an enormous blood moon being reflected of the Reservoirs below was stunningly beautiful another moment to take in the views. Emily pulls away from us here not to be seen again by us but finishes as second lady! We arrive at the White House Pub where MRT are again providing coffee, biscuits and kind words before the last leg to check point one.

We skirt the reservoir system and head over towards Stoodley pike monument. It’s a beautiful night and every thing is feeling good. The paths to the monument are a bit of a jumble in the dark, we have a quick gps check before picking the route Passing the huge stone monument we head down in to the valley and towards Charlestown. As we pass the first farm where greeted by 2 shot gun blasts gulp. There are some fox prints in the snow. We hope/assume that must have been the target and not errant Spiners! We finally reach the canal via a treacherous icy track and here get over taken by the second MRT challenger. The route from here to the checkpoint is a bit of a nightmare and I am very glad of my recce its first very steep, complicated and then very muddy with and in and out of Hebdon Dale before we hit the Slack Road and then we have “the decent” a slippery chossy muddy mess down to the checkpoint I spot Giles Thurston coming the other way his distinctive orange spec’s giving him a way I have met Giles at a couple of races in the past having run most of the Cumbria way with is mate John. We exchange pleasantries before heading in our respective directions. Me thinking blimey he must have 4 hour on me!

Check Point one was busy but not too chaotic. the team there were very efficient Andy & Sarah Norman among others were marshalling racers about, Ryan Wood was bouncing round like a Puppy on speed he is a man with ridiculous amounts of energy and infectious enthusiasm. Once my shoes are off and labelled, because one pair of muddy Speedcross look very much like another and Kit bag located I’m off to get sorted. I have my plan in the words of Eccles I've got it written down 'ere on a piece of paper, Kit sorting, Drinking showering and sleeping follow with a few opportunities to catch up with people. I have a chat with Mark Roberts Who I have sat and eat pasta with at the end of the last 3 Lakeland 50’s joking that this is becoming a tradition as we sit and eat pasta. And get chance to catch up with Andy about his up coming Hardmoors 200! Time for a bit of kip

Part 2 to follow

Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Cumbria Way Ultra - Calm before the storm?

On Saturday I will be compeating in the Cumbria way ultra at 73 miles this is the longest ultra that I have entered and it’s kind of snuck upon me. I’m not sure how? Its been there just over the horizon but not here. But now it is here.
I haven’t had a panic about training. Having injured myself back in August I haven’t really done any, just a hotchpotch of 4 to 6 miles runs learning my new running style and the 17mile Totley Exterminator to prove I could run a distance. In lieu of piling on the Physical miles, I’ve piled in the mental ones applying Stuart Mills’s non physical training principles. Poring over the map and route notes, replaying the recce I did in May I have a Knack with remembering where I’ve been so combined with the map I have a very vivid mental picture. I have tweaked kit list and religiously checking the weather forecast watching it blossom from Sunshine & Showers code for we haven’t got a clue at this point, to an almost perfect light cloud and Sunny intervals. Plotting my timings and planning my food.  
In this week leading up to it, it has somehow felt surreal. I feel calm at the prospect, excited of course, well over excited as I always do but strangely calm and positive I know I can do it, there is a chance I won’t of course but that isn’t entering in to my mind.
Is the awe of my colleagues at running silly distances giving me a false sense of security? Or have Marc Laithwaite’s words at the L50 made me aware of my abilities or dangerously boosted my ego? I really don’t know.
Can my past experiences get me though this?  I ran the Lakeland 50 in 12:36 so I am fit. I did the Exterminator with out any pain or discomfort in a time I was happy with I appear to be fixed. I did the 65mile Oxfam Trail Trekker in 26 hour when 3 stone heavier with out running.
Although I am aware anything could happen I feel strangely confident. Do I have any right to? I’ll let you know Sunday. 

The Long Tour of Bradwell - Too Far Too Soon.....

In a fit of enthusiasm to get a running buddy, Ste on his first ultra I signed up to run The Long Tour of Bradwell with him. That would be just 2 weeks after completing the Lakeland 50 in 12:36 and off the back of cold which had only cleared properly a couple of days before the race. But having read Nick Ham’s blogs about completing this event after completing the Lakeland 100 and the more you do the more you can do type comments well Why not? I’d “Only done the 50” so I was suitably over confident. A slightly grumpy blog follows.  
Race day started early and I picked Ste up for the relatively short drive to Bradwell pointing out various bits of the long tour route on the way and realising that I have left my bottles at home bugger its hot too….. I do have 1 bottle with me fortunately. Parking up at Bradwell sports club registration was brief with a kit check consisting of signing to say you were big enough and sensible enough to look after yourself. Naturally this was followed by the usual kit faffing. As the start time approached were asked to head over to the park for the start and briefing and then a few word from the run further chap. Some how we’re inadvertently at the front as the 3, 2, 1 happens and were away Jogging up the field being over taken by the great and the good.  The first mile is relatively flat and takes you round the back of the Hope cement works to the first dibber before heading up Pin Dale, fortunately free of Motor crossers for once and then there is the steady drag round to the top of Cave Dale with the views opening up. As this is all new to Ste I’m playing tour Guide. The run down the top cave dale is always a joy before we hit the technical middle section which true to form is damp and Ste gets an introduction to wet limestone, we pick away down before were able to run the lower part. My Right ankle doesn’t feel quite right……
At the road there is a check point, bottle refilled, jelly baby? Don’t mind if I do. We head off thorough Castleton on to another steady drag up towards Hollins Cross. Ste is recognised by some runners from his local park run one of whom if the spitting image for Filch from Harry Potter and we chat with them for a while before leaving them behind on the step pull to the ridge, we head down in to Edale. While I have done this route before I hadn’t quite appreciated how little flat there was. Edale comes with bananas goes with the long climb up to Ringing Roger as we contour under the tor we catch up with Legolas to sticking with the film characters theme. This is starting to feel had work. We take a less than efficient line to the Druids stone but get there eventually and dib before meeting the Mansfield Park runners again more heather bashing back to the track and pick up the steep decent back to the valley. I’m still feeling good on the downs but rationing water on this leg is proving difficult fortunately as we tackle the climb up to Back tor we find an unofficial water stop. Which is amazing and I gulp down two pints which meant I was able to eat a flapjack, we continue up Ste despite this being his first hilly run is definitely stronger than me on the ups now. I am definitely feeling this. The top of Back tor arrives and we jog on to Losehill where the Sport Sunday Photographs are I put on a Sprint for the camera and then doubling up when just past getting a laugh from the summit crowd. I love the run off Losehill’s summit and fly down the steps and past the second photographer and down through the fields Just before the railway bridge we catch up with Sally Howarth who I’d last seen suffering by the side of Haweswater on the L50 it turns out unfortunaly she DNF’d on that one. We pick up a bit of a group as we arrive at the Hope Checkpoint to fill bottles and feast on Jelly babies and enjoying some shade. We start then stop, Ste decides to sort out some stones in his shoes and as he sits down suggests he perhaps should have done this at the check point. He’s learning. But I’m more than glad to delay the departure. The next leg though leafy lanes lead up round the bottom of Win Hill and though Aston. Ste again leaves me behind on the climb up to, as some one put it Win Hill's side parting. Here there is a bit of a surprise as the route goes off the main track and along a secret trod. I thought I knew Win Hill like the back of my hand but this is new ground. We cross Parkin Clough I am back on familiar territory again and we run down to Ladybower chasing Sally again. We drop down to the Touchstone trail and just about muster a jog but end up walking a bit too much. We are caught by the Mansfield park runners at the next check point and leave in a big group. We cross the fields to Bamford Mill its stifling hot My cap gets a dunk in the mill pond before showing the group the way through the back streets of Bamford and round past the waterworks before the odd section down in to an old Holloway which always makes me expect a Troll to be hiding round the next corner. Climbing out towards the road to Stanage my shin starts to feel sore. It is as my physio tells me as a result of my ankle not properly and therefore I am running “funny”. We press on up to long drag Mr Mansfield park run is being very negative and I try to be encouraging to him and not listen at the same time. I’m low on water again and the route drags up the road on to the causeway some encouragement from a passing cyclist just before Denis knoll elicits a jog which last for just a couple of 100 yards up the track. We press on finding that CP 11 is 15 foot up a bank, its feels like a cruel trick at this point but we make it and finally on to Stanage proper. Ste is still fairly chipper I was worried that the amount of walking would be putting him off. The long drag continues to the summit each step is now hurting quite a bit and finally we are past the trig and I manage a shuffle down to Burbage Bridge CP 12.
I resolve to take some pain killers have 5 mins and see how we go I drink plenty get some food in. Bottle filed. This is the first time I have ever sat down during an ultra!
We head off on the road to cross the Burbage bridges and  “Ooh this doesn’t feel good” I make it to the green lane and resolve to try 500 meters if this was a film then a little cloud would appear like in Dodgeball with Patches O’Houlihan but in this case with John Vernon saying “never retire at the checkpoint. Always try and leave” I remember his words. But this is not good after 500 yards I call it. Bugger! I hobble back to the Checkpoint Ste seams OK with binning not knowing a contour line from a trig point he’s linked to my fate due to not being able to read a map. At least he has enjoyed what we have got done. The two chaps running the checkpoint aren’t surprised to see us, I looked really bad on the way out apparently. It turns out that we are only 12th from last now so at least we wont have long to wait for a lift back. As it happens we get a lift sooner as a sweeper car is operating and were soon whisked back in the blood wagon. On the plus side were back for the presentations. And some very nice tomato soup.
So all in all a very though day out, and going perhaps too far too soon has left me with tendonitis in me right tibialis anterior and I’m doomed to a or two week of hobbling and a visit to the Physioterrorists.  
My name if Richard Martin and I am a slightly broken ultra runner

Friday, 21 August 2015

Lakeland 50 - Just because you and all your friends are weird doesn’t make what you do normal.

So this is where it all began 12 months ago. Managing to complete this race in just over 15 hours (the typical cut of for a 50 miler) opened up the world of ultra running to me and has reduce my bank manager to tears on occasion. Back in march The Hardmoors 55 was a big step forwards for me but this is the first Ultra that I’ve been able to do with some “proper” Ultra training all be it that life and man flu got in the way for the last 6 or so weeks, its also the first time I’ve repeated a race so the first time I can have a direct comparison. Gulp and the first race that I have had a target time for double gulp. I had roughed out a plan for 12:30ish finished

I travelled up to the lakes on the Thursday for a couple of days R&R that’s Rest & Retail Therapy pre race, and enjoyed a day pottering round the various cafes and gear shops “Carb” loading yes there are carbs in Bacon! And looking for that last minute bargain.

Friday dawned overcast but warm and following further pottering around Coniston I decided that it was time to head over to the School to set up and get registered. Looking at the camping arrangement, I thought I had timed this to perfection to be quite close but not too close to the school building. Nope. Just squeeze on there said the marshal so I pitched last but one tent to the school oh well thank goodness for ear plugs and a Hotel room for that night! Tent up, it was time to register. There was a short queue but thanks to the very efficient team and I was soon emptying my kit for inspection. Using my cunning plan of having all the stuff on the list with me I was ticked off as passed. Next, ID yes that’s me and then Goody bag with the All important Buff, Map and all new super compact road book etc etc. And then weighed…… 90.7kgs that is lighter last year which was a bonus as I expected to be a touch heavier but at 400g lighter I was very happy. I am taking the David Brailesford view of marginal gains here, not the Peter Kay view of how I may have lost said 400g.  

So, I am weighed, tagged and ready to go. The rest of the afternoon is spent topping up the carbs with a Crown Inn Fish finger sandwich (yes carbs there are some in there somewhere) I think this maybe becoming a tradition, faffing with kit and generally chilling out and chatting with my new next door neighbour Rick, for who this is his first Hilly Ultra and first 50 miler.     

Come 5:50ish we see the 100 boys and girls starting to enter the pen for the start of the big race and head over to watch them start. I bump in to Andrew Lowe and have a quick chat before Opera Singer Alexander Wall belts out Nessen Dorma (the translation is Non Shall sleep and as some of the 100 runners will run through 2 nights it is fairly appropriate)It’s a fine piece of music but not that rousing. Nick Ham was asking for dispensation from listing to the “Dreadful Dirge” on Facebook but spotting him running past after the gun in his fetching Pink tutu this must have been denied. As always 300 runners heading off up the road through a funnel of supporters is quite a spectacle it almost matches Mr Fox’s Dance warm up for the start of the Lakeland 1.

Time of bed said Zebedee, Well at least back to the hotel for some final Carb loading, I consciously left my now meticulously packed race vest in the car to prevent further re-packing and wandered back to the hotel for Dinner and R&R. I noticing a few other guests have timing chips attached.

Next morning the Hotel put on early breakfast for the 10 or so other guests that were taking part in the Race and I chatted to another competitor while making the most of the Muesli and toast. The Day had dawned fine and clear and walking back to the School there was a stunning view down Coniston Water.

Final preparations were made to water bottles and the like and we were ready of the Race Briefing packing 600 runners in to the school hall is always going to be a challenge but finally everyone makes it. The race briefing was as entertaining as always. Terry or is it Jeremy Corbyn? (Cant be as it’s a clock wise course it mainly turns to the right) covers the important bits, behave, don’t trash the place, look after each other, stick to the route etc etc. before Marc “Mr Motivator” Laithwaite gives us some words of wisdom on living for the moment. Reminding us that we should enjoy the journey and pointing out that were are a bit special in our own way and that there is a tiny percentage of the population that could conceive of running 50 miles and a large proportion of them are probably in this room. And because we ultra runners hang out with other ultra runners we get blasé about distances, how many of us have said we’re “Just doing the 50”?  We need to remember what an achievement that this is and enjoy the experience.  

“Just because you and all your friends are weird doesn’t make what you do normal!”

With the Briefing done we make our way to the buses for the trip north. There are none of the nerves of last year and the journey passes chatting to Rick who is as you might expect getting a little bit nervous. We arrive at Dalemain to wait. This is possibly the worst part of the whole event! We all just want to go but we pass the time clapping through the 100 runners (the leaders of which would be somewhere near Ambleside at this point but there is still a steady stream passing through.  Finally its time for us to enter the start pen we dib in and soon there is the count down and were off.

Dalemain to Howtown, 11.2 miles total, time 2:00:15

I take a steady approach to the “Dalemain Park Run” consciously avoiding running the ups despite continually being over taken by 2 people running a more consistent pace I keep to plan, and I’m round much faster than last year and enjoy the encouragement this time as I run back past the checkpoint marquee heading on to the course “proper” as we head down to the A529 Crossing, It had been bugging me that this section on John Kynaston's Video and the map didn’t match my memory from last year the answer? It is different from the map and “off piste” from the right of way.  Still going steadily I lead a train of runners along the river to Pooley. Though the village there is the odd clap and cheer as I try not to run in to the tourists who are studiously avoiding acknowledging that there are people, not just us runners coming the other way and not getting run over as we’re forced in to the road. The climb out of Pooley is one of my favourite bits of the route and once through the gate at Roe Farm then views open up and we enter Lakeland proper. First thing we see though is 2 kids carrying a giant false leg down the track. Hallucinations? Before Check point one? Really? I’d been caught up by Rick at this point and we exchange glances, I joke that there will be an irate giant round the corner hopping down the track, but a man with one leg in an all terrain wheel chair appears instead. We reach cockpit stone circle and a greeted by a group of kids signing out every ones name. The decent down to Howtown is a joy and the checkpoint is reached Manned by the Cowboys and Indians from Chia Charge.

I just about remember to dib 2:00:30. I’m up 15 minutes up on plan, very happy with that I felt steady and in control and so to celebrate by have a good solid faff in filling up with water coke and Chia Charge bars in as inefficient manner as possible. Rick catches me again.

My Checkpoint drills are really shabby I spent about an hour and 10 stood still according to Strava which apart from 2 stone removal stops and 2 water bottle fillings was all at checkpoints. Must do better!     

 Howtown to Sparta sorry Mardale, 9.4 miles, 20.6 miles total, time 4:31:31

Ah Fusedale, lovely Fusedale I actually mean that I like it. I move well on steep ground maybe its something to do with the amount of Cycling I do, is it similar to pushing down a peddle? Poles come out and so do the cameras as we pass the Sport Sunday team snapping away I rattle along picking groups off all the way up and out on to the top where I end up about 5 meters behind a runner called Emma (we all have our names on our numbers) who remains just ahead all the way down to Low Cop, I follow behind like some sort of ultra stalker not able to catch up without undue effort until she pulls away on the decent.  With one graceful pirouette I make it to the bridge and pick my way down through the rocks to the lake side path, and for the next few miles I become Mr Clumsy. I kick a least 3 rocks, 2 roots, snag my laces with my pole and finally head butted that branch, you know the one near the wall before you descend to Riggindale beck, some thing else that is becoming a tradition! I head butted this last year.  This was a bit of a low patch and I don’t run as much as I would want and those bits I do don’t feel as good as I hoped. I walk and faff a bit taking photos too and I am caught by Rick again shortly after head butting the tree which while I’m glad he’s moving well this annoys my competitive self but we jog in to Sparta! But despite that little low I am here in 2:31:01 form Howtown which includes faffing which is bang on target so a little lift. Bottles Recharged, Ham Sandwiches eaten and some stowed for later sounds simple took me ages. I catch Andy Lowe here and we exchange pleasantries be for heading off.   

Mardale Head to Kentmere, 6.5 miles, 27.1 miles total, time 6:16:02

A liberal application of ham sandwiches lifted my mood as I climb well up Gatesgarth pass. Was my low down to not eating enough? Could well be. I fell in with a 100 runner for a bit and had a chat before pressing on and attacking the zigzags at the top and the top of the pass this is another climb that I really enjoy but most seam to hate. Right time for the 2 miles of downhill to Sadgill I was descending well and passed Mark Roberts who I’d run the last 20 miles with last year we exchanged greetings and had a 30 second catch up and I headed down.  I’m getting good at descending and enjoyed blasting down the slightly technical track until the big sets at the bottom which were a little hard going on tiring feet. My feet seam to get a second wind on long days they ached and felt sore here but later on felt fine. There is some stunning scenery on this leg in a rarely visited corner of the lakes. I start just to struggle a little on the flatter section at the bottom in the heat, as I cross the bridge to sadgill farm we are cheered by a group sat by the river. A dip in the gill and one of their ciders would be very welcome at this point.  Once over the bump to Kentmere my focus has returned and I was away.

 Kentmere checkpoint arrived with some rockers supporting I was dibbed in by a guy in giant Slash style top hat. More faffing, pasta, coke, faff. A Quick chat with a marshal about hyperthermia as I looked to be shivering, I assured him I was fine. Arriving in 1:44 confirms my Dawdling and is 7 minute off schedule.  Mark arrives just as I’m leaving.

Kentmere to Ambleside, 7.3 miles, 34.4 miles total, time 8:10:20

The climb up Gartburn pass this is yet another climb I really enjoy maybe because it’s the last biggy or perhaps because you can see the Old Man of Coniston from the top or maybe I am weirder than average and just enjoy climbing. I chatting with a another 100 runner as we summit that pass and work out the skyline before congratulating each other on our now assured finish purely because we’ve seen the end! The Troutbeck side of Gartburn is a great rolling decent and I feel great, having a euphoric phase running down with stunning views down to Windermere pausing only as I pass Marcus Scotney I ask how he got on DNF is his reply. Which given were about 7 hours in was a daft question. Still he ran 30 odd miles and can still take his dog for a walk up a big hill now that is quite some going.  I continue down to the road, some supporters are doing unofficial marshalling duties shepherding us across the road and in to Troutbeck. I catch another 100 runner Marianne she’s going well but obviously sleepy and a Scott called David who I bump in to a few times over the next 15 miles. I stop to take a few photos down Windermere as it’s turning in to a glorious evening without a cloud in the sky last year it was getting too dark to take photos here. Jenkins Crag comes and goes as we start one of the best bits of the race. Ambleside, I thought this was good last year at 9:30pm in the rain but this time its about 7:30 and sunny there are loads of people around and lots clapping and cheering and shouts of “well done” all the way up the main street and down to the church. It’s a great feeling being cheered in and the positive energy does wonders for your pace and is quite emotional too. 01:54:18 is only 4 mins behind schedule my dam checkpoint faffing! Which, I continue here bumping in to Mark again “there was a bloke who looked just like you in Kentmere”. It’s boiling in the cp and it is a circus quite literally with clowns and a Man in a bear onesie serving drinks I think he deserves a medal! Coke, Sandwiches, bottles done time to be on my way.  

Ambleside to Chapel Stile, 5.6 miles, total 40 miles, time 9:37:56

The light is just starting to fade as I head across the Park to make my way up Loughrigg as the tarmac runs out I was caught by Scottish David, and we walked over the top passing a 100 runner who was in a bit of state and appeared to be being paced/helped along by a supporter….. David was suffering on the downs so I pull away as we descend towards Loughrigg Tarn and down to Skelth Bridge pointing a 100 runner the right way and getting a well done from the few supporters at Chester’s. Making my way through the slate works there is a sign telling us “Run Forrest Run and you to fat girl!” which was err nice of them. Following the river Bathay up to Elterwater in the late evening light is super it looks stunning, and I am feeling ok I’m still going quite well and just about manage to run this not really flat but flat section. I make my way through Elterwater past the quarry having a quick chat with another 100 runner and then past Wainwrights inn with a runner just in front of me that I can’t quite catch again. Passing the campsite the smell of BBQ is quite nice as is the encouragement from the campers. As Chapel Stile comes in to view I realise that I didn’t check my timings on the way out of Ambleside, which was a bit unfortunate as I’d done the leg in 1:27 pulling back 7 mins but didn’t realise. I got my bottles filled for me and Soup and bread was served by the super helpful Marshalls as the race goes on I really do appreciate their efforts more and more I should have eaten more here! But I get prepared for the night changing to a long sleeve top, donning my head torch I was quizzed as to how warm I was again. I must look worse than I feel although I do sometimes feel a little dazed at checkpoints maybe that’s it. Mark arrived as I was heading off.”Are you following me?”

 Chapel Stile to Tilberthwaite, 6.5miles, 46.5 total miles, time 11:31:58

The section along Langdale went well to start with, a superb sun set over the pikes pulling us on and a bellowing bull encouraging us to be quick through the first open field. I had a quick chat with a guy called Chris for who this was his first ultra but pulled away on the decent to Side farm. The climb up Side Pike pass was a little bit of a shock as my legs felt very heavy like I used to feel on most climbs before I lost weight and once at the summit normal service was resumed again like before I lost weight but the slow climb meant I was caught by a group including Chris which, while we ran will round Blea tarn fragmented some ahead some behind. I resist switching my head torch on until into the woods…. Oh that’s not very bright….. Humm always put new batteries in before a race there is enough light just about but running though the technical section around the moss I get the flash of doom! I persevere with full beam until I reach the unmanned dibber hopefully medium power will see me to Tilberthwaite I make good pace down the road but the legs protest once more on the bump over to Tilberthwaite I think my 12:30 target is well down the pan and I am expecting Chris to come jogging past at any time as I take it steady on the flat with a lack of light slowing me over the top. The decent is really technical in the dark so I take it steady with a dimming torch. Idiot. I jog in to the check point and dib in 1:57 I’m in no great hurry. Had I realised I was only 4 mins down on what I predicted I would have been in a bit more of a rush thinking I have stuffed it I take my time soaking up the last of the CP’s. I have been thinking about having a nice cup of Tea since before Ambleside and not having got round to it yet have a leisurely cuppa and sandwich while changing my batteries and chat with the helpful marshal providing me light and generally being a top chap.

Tilberthwaite to Coniston, 3.5 miles, 50miles total, time 12:36:51

Once I’m sorted and the windproof is on, he gently leavers me out of the check point and on my way. Shouting back my thanks, I head for the stairway to heaven. It’s not the amazing running of last year but a steady lead legged plod. I’m over taken by a couple of runners and point a further overtaking runner on the right track at the 3 way fork having had an “it’s the right hand one, no that right, the other right” moment. They climb away as I reach level ground again the legs come back in time for a bit more ultra stalking, I follow Sarah not able to quite catch up until the Ramp which is a struggle but I manage to over take her and I notice some tiny fury animal scurrying across the track and out of my way. The summit finally arrives and the view opens up. I love that view over Morecambe bay at night. I start the decent within 3 paces the legs start to fire again and with fresh batteries both literally and metaphorically I can see what I’m doing I’m moving well I catch and over take a big group on the technical section. On hitting the track I really give it the beans. Coming past the Ruskin Museum I pass two runners, I think 1 was a hundred runner the other is the guy I gave directions to he decides he doesn’t like being over taken and after 50 miles we have a race to the finish. I’m just about in the lead past the Bull but over the bridge I take the footbridge, It’s a poor line choice he goes for the road and I don’t have the legs on this little up hill past the garage, but keep up the vain chase running full speed (well 9 min mile pace) down the lake road but I cant catch up. In to the school gates. Dib. Done. What a race. 12:36:51. 2:33 faster than last year and only 4 mins off my schedule finishing just past Midnight.

I double up over my poles to get my breath and I’m immediately surrounded by marshals checking I’m OK.  I am fine just sprinted down here that’s all. The care and attention that they lavish on us really is second to none.  I always feel a little spaced out at the end of ultras I think it must be the obvious fatigue and change of focus from my own bubble which I have been in for the last 12 hours to the sudden bright lights and attention but I am fine and in control. My dibber is snipped off always a bitter sweet moment I’ve finished but it means the fun is over for now. I’m led in to the hall to the usual rapturous welcome “A 50 FINISHER” Shouts my marshal and I revel in the applause and cheering grinning ear to ear. My medal is places over my head, my times and finishers T-shirt are handed over. I head to a corner of the hall to sort out my self out. I spot the guy I raced in and congratulate him suggesting I should have sent him the wrong way at Tilberthwaite. Mark Roberts finishes 10 mins behind me and we head off of food pasta bake and Ice cream and chat to our fellow competitors and spot the well known faces. Andrew Lowe comes in 20 mins behind and joins us with his good lady who finished well in front of all of us. We sit and cheer in the finishers, talk all things running and bemoan our lack of planning that we haven’t a beer to celebrate with. Before finally deciding its time for a shower and some sleep. As usual I don’t sleep well but there were 2 strikes of the clock I don’t remember hearing. I drag my self out of the tent at 7:30 to fetch a cuppa no breakfast butties till 9 though! I Find Rick on my return packing away we exchange experiences. He finished in just over 15 and half hours which is a cracking effort for a first attempt. I start packing up while chatting to those around who are surfacing and I slide away to Ambleside for a huge breakfast with extra toast in Bilbo’s. Before retracing the journey back to Pooley bridge to meet up with some friends driving past Dalemain there is the same sense of realisation I had on the drive last year and a Finishers Medal I did it again, I did it quickly again I really do love this race.

When I arrive at Pooley people are surprised how normally I can walk this year! My mate Gary is heading out for a Run but I turn down the chance to join him choosing to spend the afternoon Rehydrating in the Sun Inn. And so ends another fabulous event weekend, my thanks as always to the marshals and organisers you were superb as always. And apologies to those I spoke to and couldn’t remember your names. 

My Name is Richard Martin and I am an Ultra Runner livin

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Hardmoors 55 - This is the sightly delay report.

So it was almost a year to the day that I was sat at my computer and entered the Lakeland 50. That was the beginning of a pretty incredible journey. The Hardmoors 55 being the latest chapter 1 year on. On the 1st March 2014 I was 16 stone and could just about plod 10 minute miles for about 6 or 7 miles and would be left needing a kip. I had 3 goes at training to do the most daunting of distances a Half Marathon yep a whole 13 miles and failed. Twice injured and once due to a girlfriend unsympathetic to the cause. So why I am I entering an Ultra Marathon for God sake? Well having completed a 65 mile walk in 2013 I know I could walk it and that is what I intended to do. But this would turn out to be one of two life changing moment of 2014. The second occurred walking up towards Slightside one cold soggy April day during a failed attempt at backpacking the Charnley Way over 3 days hanging off my poles bemoaning my fitness or lack thereof and being fat. I was told I should perhaps do something other than whine about it. I did, after 4 months of dieting an LDWA event and a chance meeting with a certain Mr. Vernon who bestowed all sorts of valuable knowledge and advice on me in the last 5 miles of the first ring of Shap.  I casually knocked off the Lakeland 50 in 15 hour running the downs and marching the rest a new and significantly smaller man…… 15 hours….. All those running only ultras have 15 hour cut offs where could this go? Fortunately the bank manager intervened and it kept to a sensible number of events. 3 ultras, 4 trail marathons and a road half marathon have passed. The road half? Entered it on whim Cocky? Me? Never. But certainly a far cry from those early meticulously planned efforts

Feb 28th 2015 a local 26 mile challenge run.  My A#&e is served to me on a plate as the mud of the Duke of Rutland’s Southern Pad gives me a timely kicking as if to say “hay fat lad don’t get cocky. There is still work to be done”. February was a big month I had done the Grisedale Trail 26 and Night Runner in a weekend, run a 1:49 half marathon and after bullishly suggesting I would give it the beans on the Belvoir Challenge it all caught up with me and I found that the I wasn’t quite as good as I thought. Plus it highlighted a gap. I had done a lot of runs up to 10 miles specifically 6 to 10 miles and I had done a few 26 mile events but precious little in between.

I should explain that I was/am a long distance walker and I could happily churn out the miles walking and that is where my base fitness came from but a runner? No, not really so Training up had been a slow process from jogging the down hills on the L50 I had progressed. But my training plan for the Hardmoors 55 was still “Just” a Marathon one as I knew there was no point putting together a plan for 50 odd miles there wasn’t enough time.  I had been blagging trail marathons “Ultra Style” and that was still the plan for the 55.

The concept of the A race.

I now have an appreciation of the concept of the A race that I didn’t before. I had a lovely plan but there were some key flaws. Namely The Grisedale Trail 26 and the Belvoir Challenge and a twisted ankle which occurred just as I was starting to put in a long run above 12 miles. This meant that rather than filling February with those crucial longer runs I spent it Hobbling Round either from Injury or recovering form blagging another long race ……. One race at a time! So where does this little cock up leave me? Well not in a bad place as it happens, this is an Ultra and I have a long time to do it and being fitter than I was last time I did a 50 I will complete god willing. Will it be as fast as it could have been? No. Will I enjoy it and have a great day out? Well I better do otherwise why am I here?

Being the weekend after my Birthday I treated myself to a nice B&B within staggering distance of the finish and head up to Helmsley the day before the race. Having a pleasant afternoon in the sun, pottering round testing out the various tea shops it’s all part of the carb loading strategy honest. Before booking in to the B&B and spending several hours sorting out my kit….. Again. Once all is good and the morning to do list sorted it’s time for tea. Fish and Chips seems like the order of the day and the Chippy off the market offers Standard or Whale sized. Well it would have been rude not to. Once devoured I roll back to the B&B for some more kit faffing and an early night.

Why do these races always have such early starts? At 5 am the alarm goes off. I get kitted up and sorted out. Collect the Jam Sandwiches that the B&B Had kindly left out and head off to catch the bus. There are quite a few people out and milling around mostly with some telltale sign that they are in the race, pair of speedcross  here, a race vest there. I make my way up to the Football club and visit the coffee stop for a brew and 2 Cheese and bacon muffins (these are awesome) which will be breakfast on the bus. A very smart looking bus arrives and we all pile on board. I am sat with a Lady who has entered this as a qualifying race for the Thames path race, making the journey up for Essex as this was the only race left for her to qualify. I think she made it. There are quite a few regulars on the bus and various bits of the route are pointed out after we cross clay bank. The coaches finally arrive at Guisborough sea cadets and we all pile in for registration, the place is rammed. Kit check and registration passes without a hitch and I just manage to find a space bent under the stairs to fix my number to my bag and re pack my kit after having the cunning plan of not squeezing my kit in to my race vest only to have to unpack it all for kit check to repack it all again. Kit check is a though affair, not surprising given its March and cold and windy. Kit sorted I join the queue for the loo and it a big one it takes nearly 40minutes to get in! Finally in I am also able to change shorts that I had rather optimistically put on for tights having a Superman moment in the shower. Now Dressed for action I go out to hand over my finish bag and can’t get back in to hear the race briefing there is just not space for all 250+ of us to squeeze in. People start to pile out so it must be over. Last minute faffing is the bag done up, is Strava ready on the phone. And I just about hear a 3 2 1 ½ ¼ Go! The crowd lurches forward and stops as were funneled up on to the disused railway line. As we thin out I start a steady jog someone behind me says it’s 10 min mile pace I really must get a GPS watch. Mr Vernon is pointing us up hill and in to the first up of the day the steady climb leads us up to Highcliff Nab. Settling in to small groups another runner asks about my gaiters which I suggest are good but look a bit daft of course the bright green shoes, tights and running vest don’t do that at all. I follow the Crowd as people swap places and we all manage to avoid the old chap who is waving a running pole in the air like a lance. Having avoided being skewered but not avoiding Mr. Sport Sunday who is hunkered down at the side of the track I give it a bit of acceleration and cheese for the camera. It’s not long before Rosebury topping comes in the view looking like a Real Mountain in Miniature and as this is an out an back we passing the quicker runners coming the other way. I joint the crocodile of people on the way up give my number to the Marshall stationed on the summit and continue on to tap the trig point well I have come this far. There are a couple of options for down I choose left and skip down the steep fell side back to the wider path. And complete the back, passing Mrs. Sport Sunday snapping away it’s then a steady jog downhill to Checkpoint 1 to top up water Paul Nichols appears asking if he’s first. I congratulate him on is 2nd place as I’m here I must be first? I lose a H5 Tablet and faff with my bottles and its away up and over Captain Cooks Monument and then the long and steady decent down to Kill dale and my Drop Bag. I feel a little uneasy running through Kildale as the check point is nowhere to be seen but no one around me looks worried and plodding out of the village it comes in to view but no Drop Bags! Da Da Dah!

I fill up with Coke and Water and more H5 and leave with my hopes of a podium finish in tatters* I will have to wait for Clay Bank some 10 miles hence for my Rice Pudding and extra bits and bobs.

*that’s not strictly true.

I leave the Check Point and head up the climb towards the open moors I team up with Paul Nichols and we chip away at the distance to Bloworth crossing, were moving well and catch up with another group all is going well until the topic of discussion turns to Food. 2, yes 2 of the group will eat pickled eggs and 1 of them has some with them! That is I am off! This is just wrong on all levels. I arrive at Bloworth to find all sorts of acrobatics to facilitate the somewhat high self-clip. And here I break form my egg bound companions and trot off across the moor and the decent to clay bank where rice pud and fruit Yoyo’s wait. As we descend Paul over takes me whooping to his MP3 player. There is a bit of faff here as there is a lack of water. I had dealt with the drop bag first and then the bottles finally some water is found by a marshal (Dennis?). Many thanks to him. I am off again on the climb up Wainstones and over Cringle Moor we are clocked in Just on the way Up Hastly Bank before dropping for the Pull up Wainstones here I go in to 4 wheel drive with the poles coming out to play. My He-man pole set up works well and exclaiming by the power of Gray Skull! I am on my way to see Hardmoors very own Skeletor John Vernon dutifully ticking us off out of his tent I only seem to see John at inhospitable places he says it’s because Jon likes him, The climb and tricky decent over cringle moor follow and the views from here are pretty spectacular you can see right back along the route to Roseberry topping and out to sea. And it looks a flipping log way. Dropping down to lord stones Car park the cheerful marshals fill water bottles and we discuss the pros and cons of Coke mixed with water that’s the brown soft drink for the record.

I leave knowing that the next checkpoint is the Self-clip at the TV station above Osmotherly and I can see a giant antenna in the distance to my left which is the TV Station above Osmotherly surely? Only we go right…. Continuing on I join back up with Paul the field is spreading out so actually navigating is becoming more necessary. We drop down towards Huthwaite and I have my first need to pull out the map cut short as a shout from behind says go right there is some more checking as we enter the woods. I catch up with Ady Benn easy to spot from his bare feet, it’s one thing to run 55 miles its quite another to do it in sandals Ady also ran a 10 mile race on the Sunday WFT! I have another Map moment cut short this time by Ady and turn on to the long drag to the TV Station where I have a bit of a low, and I am over taken by a few people as I walk and decide that munching cocktail sausages is the way forward after a couple the hands full of these I hit the TV station sat tucked In to the hill side with little squat towers the Mahoosive tower from earlier is still way over to the left there is a good steady drop down to Osmotherly where I over take the Footwear Odd Couple She wears Hokas He wears Vibram 5 fingers and you don’t get much further apart than that. Then passing a group of walkers, and finally down the main street in to Osmotherly. The Village Hall is located and Drop Bag 2.

There has been much discussion on Face book about drop bag contents a time to talk of many things of Pot noodles, Socks and Sandwiches. I sorted out my kit changed my base layer and decided that what was going on in boots could stay in boots and stashed my spare socks along with more fruit Yoyo’s cocktails sausages and pork pies. Apply some more body glide and lose my buff. Bugger. Sink a couple of cups of tea I feel I faffed to much here the odd footwear couple catch me up and I finally head off but off to where? I Faff again with the route description but this is cut short by the exit of some other runner who I shamelessly tag on to as we make our way out of Osmotherly though basically someone’s house. An entry leads to some ones back garden and away on to the long steady climb to square corner and over Black Hambleton. The group talked rubbish and got updates on the 6 nations as we climbed toward Oak Dale reservoirs and fragmented on the flatter section my running efforts were starting to get a little harder to maintain so I mostly marched from here on and stopped at square corner to layer up temporarily losing my hat and wondering how to explain that away if I got kit checked before finding in at my feet. Hat on I was a way marching the track over Black Hambleton it was here I join up with the Runners I originally named the footwear Odd Couple who turned out to Be John (Vibram Five Fingers) and Marie (Hokas) and we made our was to High Paradise farm accompanied but a stunning sunset and now being passed by some other groups including my “friend” from earlier using his pole as a lance jousting his way to the finish. I was feeling comfortable at this point and those competitive pangs started to twitch at this point as people started to pass us. Should I push on? Or should I stay with the group? As it happened we stayed together. Along this stretch it was officially declared dark and head torches we broken out shortly before the checkpoint. Tim “the Chia Man” Taylor and team are filling bottles and handing out flapjacks and other assorted goodies I was a bit flapjacked out at this point so declined the mini chia bars on offer.

Our team headed off on the next section and was being towed along at this point by John who put in a superb shift keeping the pace up and navigating the route backwards form memory from his 110 attempt last year meaning there we’re only a few stops to dig out the map and one for pork pie from a marshal at low paradise farm. We were making a solid walking progress. This continued all the way to Sutton Bank after the road crossing we then started to mix up the walking with a little shuffling to mix up for the hurting muscles I was still feeling OK and began to realize that both John and Marie were far more accomplished runners than me but suffering a bit more hence why we were fairly evenly paced.  Along the edge towards White Horse we shuffled at a decent pace to the turn down to Checkpoint and what can I say it was Mr. Steele at his sadistic best. Steep narrow and slippery. Though the enchanted forest with its green snap lights I was quite glad I wasn’t on my own at this point this place could be quite spooky. John was starting to flag from his efforts and I was pulling away a little bit but we all regrouped at the checkpoint refilled bottles and snacks and we were away up the stairs. I now understand why we were sent on the little detour and it maybe because Mr. Steele was, whisper it being nice the steps as incredibly steep descending them would not be fun at all. I tripped over a step about half way up and shout a warning. Marie acknowledges me then falls over the same step and the process is repeated by John. Is the step out to get us or are we getting a bit tiered? Probably both. Back on the flat we have another shuffle to give some different muscles a workout again for a bit and I nearly miss the turning thinking we we’re going back to Sutton Bank. We cross the main road and join a large group we and head past the shut Hambleton Inn and proceed to get lost round Hambleton House but seeing some lights on the correct route and find our way back on to the straight and narrow I mentally slap myself on the wrist and start to take a bit more notice of my navigation. Cold Kirby comes and goes with some more shuffling and we attempt to start a sweep stake on the colour of the T-Shirts at the finish John went Blue then Yellow I went Green I don’t remember what Marie said.  We steadily make out way down towards Rievaulx Abby there is another spooky section through the woods and on to the road we are passed by several cars and another big group and then pass a support group which turns out to be for Mr Frostbite 30 Rob Jarman. Looking at this on the map it doesn’t look very far but it felt like a long way I had still been feeling quite strong after White horse but leaving the road at Abbot Hagg the next section took its toll on my legs as they stiffened up. There was a particularly painful dip in and out of a gully before the steady pull to the top of the last rise and we finally saw the lights of Helmsley signaling a final shuffle down in to civilization and a “sprint” well slightly faster shuffle finish to finish at the town hall all together in 14:04. Epic.

The final twist in the tale is that you then have to go upstairs for your finisher’s medal, food and kit bag. Ouch that hurt! I collect said medal and Yellow T-Shirt (well guessed John) enjoy the 15 seconds of fame and acknowledge the applause and enter my usual post-race daze and wander round aimlessly for a few minutes before having Photos with Marie and John. I spot Paul who I ran with earlier and congratulate each other and then finally tuck in to some bean chili and crumpets washed down with some tea. Suitable revived I find my kit pull on my warm clothes and decide to head off to the B&B but first I have to negotiate the stairs! Oh god this hurts I am completely seized and I contemplate descending on my backside but no I make it only to discover the true crux of the day. My shoes…… It’s a strict shoes off policy so now to get them back on god this hurt but finally there on and hobble off and shiver uncontrollably all the way to the B&B Creeping back in for a hot shower and bed. The day is done.

What a great day out I chose Cake not death after Osmotherly and was maybe a bit slower than I could have been but it was great fun which is far more in important.  The winner completed the course in some silly time like 7:39:08 which is just incomprehensible top, top effort to them. The weekend was rounded off with a superb breakfast at the B&B which it turned out for hosting 3 other 55 runners and a wander round Helmsley castle to get the legs working again. The little radio guide tells me that this was the central residence and an estate of the Duke of Rutland in times past It would appear that his grace had gone far easier on me this time round.

My name is Richard Martin and I almost an ultra runner.