Monday, 30 April 2012

Fellsman 2012

61 miles, 4200m, 13h17m, 12th out of 500

Summary Report :
Very pleased, few downs but felt very good at the end. Extremely tough if you don't know what it's like! I did. 20 hypothermia cases lead to the event being stopped at 2am.

Full Report :
1. Believe the Hype
Even in ultra fell running circles, the Fellsman is regarded as one of the toughest races on the UK calendar. It's a race that you can't just plod through. It's too hard. You can't just wing it - some 30-50 mile races you can.

The 61 miles is misleading, as it is substantially harder than the Long Mynd Hike (50 miles) which I did around 5 years ago. I did that in 9hours, it took me 50% longer to do this which is only an extra 10 miles.

Often 50% of the entrants drop out. Some can't hack the 14,000ft of climbing mixed with the tussocky bog combined with running potentially into the night.

There's also the fact that it covers two of the Yorkshire 3 Peaks before the racing has even got going. Oh, and then it puts an even steeper one in straight after (Gregareth).

Starting Ingleton (left) then taking a big horsehoe round
to Threshfield (bottom right)
On a more positive note, it is a route which encompasses the high tops of much of Yorkshire grandest scenery - Upper Wharfedale and into Dentdale / Kingsdale. We saw the Lakes and the Howgills. It also boasts legendary checkpoint feed stops manned by local Scout groups.

2. The Race up to Dent (~20 miles)
If there was one thing in my head going into this race it was ... "gotta be very very fresh at Dent"

The Calderdale Hike gave me confidence going into this one and lets face it I needed it as I've not really trained over 15 miles in a week for many years !  4 years ago, I'd reccied all of the sections from Fleet Moss onwards with Saul and Graham (but never started then due to my tummy problems), so I knew the kind of terrain. With hindsight, that was invaluable as that section is hard, very hard.

On race day - amazingly after a week of non stop rain, we woke to blue skies.  Very strong winds, but blue skies.  Nice to sit next to Stuart Walker on the bus over - nice chap with a fair bit on his plate over the next few months !

After gathering on the sports field in Ingleton, it soon became apparent that the wind was from NE and it was bloody cold standing around. Still, the organisers promised us 100% that it would not rain, so that was fine then (!)

The pace up Ingleborough was fast, so I stuck with Chris Davies who I knew was a good climber. A group of 20-25 in front clearly fancied their chances with Jez Bragg and hence there was a big group around him. Near the top, I stopped to looked back - an awesome sight seeing 500 people (well, 475) lined up behind me snaking down the path with views all over Yorkshire under clear blue skies.

Ingleborough is steep and gets steeper. I knew that going over the summit would be 'bracing' as we were currently sheltered from the NE wind. Going onto the summit it was bad - very bad actually, eyes watering and struggling to see where I was treading on the rock strewn summit. No worse than any other race though, so down to the Hill Inn. Again, getting up the Whernside ridge into the wind was very hard work. I think I was in about 25th here and still running with Chris, although he was going faster than I'd have liked !
Yes, we had amazing views like this
ALL DAY !!! (and tussocks like this too sadly)

The next monster climb is Gregareth which is a beauty, getting steeper and steeper. 500m over to the trig control and off again into a 2.5 mile run uphill through bog into the wind - a feeling which I'd get to know very well by the end of the day. But what a run !!!! A lovely ridge run with views to the Lakes and Howgills. On another day a proper horsehoe ridge to explore, not today though. On the way up to Great Coum I knew that Chris was actually running faster than I was so I started to let him pull away.

Looming large in my mind was what I told myself on the start line "gotta be very very fresh at Dent". Dent wasn't now far away - just a 2 mile descent ending in a very rough stony track - Flinter Gill. Now, I felt alright - quite good infact, but was not bristling with energy. My worry was actually the amount of food I was carrying - or lack of it. I'd got

* 14 gels (2-3 per hour so 5-7 hours worth)
* 1 bag jelly babies (3 hours worth) so 8-10 hours worth in total.

I was actually gonna be out for 12-14 so why is it only now that I'd calculated I'd not got enough food on the run - looking back with hindsight it was due to the fact that my new shiny Haglofs rucsac (thanks Pete) could fit ;

* 14 gels
* 1 bag jelly babies

in the well sized waist pockets. I'd also started to notice that all the feed stops were stocking stuff which had wheat in them - something I can eat, but which does give me an upset do I get enough food on board...surely some would stock sweets ???

3. The race after Dent

The Dent checkpoint -
a bit busier than I saw it.
No checkpoints that I saw stocked sweets. Not good news, but some stocked sultanas so I topped up on them but it wasn't enough.

Heading up to Blea Moor with Kev Perry, running was only just about doable when it flattened out. I still pulled away from Kev so I knew he must have been suffering - I think Chris had pulled both of us along slightly too fast on the previous section into Dent.

One thing for it - knock a gel back even though I'd just troughed a load of food at Dent 20 mins ago. The climb to Blea Moor was bad - yes, this was a bonk coming on as I officially reached the first low of the race. Heading up to the summit I was almost seeing stars. Schoolboy stuff really.

Right - neck another gel ! Sadly my water bottle was also low and gels don't really work fully without water. The summit was a bit of a blur so I headed off with Kev 50-100m in front. He pulled away rapidly now, but I knew I had to let him go. Next problem - cramps as I climbed over a fence. I'd not had cramp for years ! Down through tussocks to the woods and finally I lose sight of Kev in front and no one behind so I actually stop to fill my water bottle up from a stream. Now that's exactly what I would have done if I'd been training and not racing. And with hindsight it was exactly the right thing to do - step aside from the race for 2 mins and gain much more time over the rest of the race.

I was pleased to see the Stonehouse checkpoint and I thought I'd try Digestive biscuits to see how they faired on the tummy. Half an hour later and no problems, so I necked two more.

Checkpoint at Dodd Fell, 30ish miles in
You can't see the very strong wind here
This was the turning point in the race for me - well, the top of the never ending Arten Gill was. Energy levels eventually got back to normal and even though Kev Perry had now got 500m on me by Gt Knoutberry, I felt under control. Tussocks and bog seemed easy again - long climbs didn't. I then ran with another guy - Dave until Snaizeholme where he seemed to be struggling, so I started to run with Mark who looked very strong, both of us just behind Simon (Deakin). Coming off Dodd fell Simon went one way and Mark the other - oh no ! I went with Simon, no idea why but it was a good move.

He'd done it a few times before so we followed his normal route. It was absolutely awesome (see track below). We ran 90% of the section from Fleet Moss to Middle Tongue - if not 95%. I was so impressed. Approaching Middle Tongue it was clear that Simon was feeling better than me so I let him go. It was at this point that we overtook Chris who must have been having a bad time as I thought he'd be 30 mins+ in front by now. By Hell Gap, Simon and me had passed about 5+ runners, with Middle Tongue to Hell Gap being 100% runnable - keeping low.

I knew all of the section ahead now and apart from 2 monster climbs, that was it - just energy levels to maintain. Again, I was doing the maths and calculating gels + jelly babies and working out if I had enough hours food left. I did and as soon as I knew that my confidence sky rocketed. God was I pleased ! Cray was a joy - bathed in evening sunshine and a bevvy of smiley faces. Sorry about eating the fruit cocktail out of the saucepan guys - I was pretty focused as I knew it was effectively sugar in syrup - dreamy!
Fleet Moss Summary - we made up at least 5-10 places
with this route - thanks Simon !

I ran with Mark now from here to Park Rash where we got grouped with Simon, Kev and another guy who was doing it for the first time like me. We were so lucky with the grouping as we had no weak members in our 5some. The cold at Park Rash was very bad and the sun hadn't even gone down yet. It was good to get moving up through Gt Whernside and through the snow.

The final section was dispatched comfortably with those beacons being so welcome through the final fields. Nice to see we all held something back for the final sprint (yes, another sprint finish!) to the school - well done to Simon and Mark - cracking pace guys !

4. The Apres Race
It turns out that the race had to be pulled at 2am with 20odd cases of Hyperthermia. The decision was seemingly made at Fleet Moss. Reading around now, lots of people were suffering at all control points with the marshalls making a veyr good decision. We were cold and we were moving pretty fast at dusk. Hats go off to those finishing after us.

Looking back now, I'm very pleased. 13h20 with a headwind for most of it was good and stands me in good stead for sub 13 next year. Nice to have a beer with the 'big guys' at the end too - never thought I'd be in that elusive club !

Results here
Some great shots of the Fellsman here on Nick Ham's blog
Fellsman gpx here (I didn't start it until half way up Ingleborough!)

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Calderdale Hike : 37 mile, 2200m, 6h6m, 8th

Last Saturday saw the first of my Fell Races for the season kick off and yes, it was a long one ! Well, according to the RunFurther website, it's a medium one but their definitions are a bit skewy.

New route this year. They change it every 3 years.
This was my first fell race this year and to be honest my first fell race in years and years that hasn't been plagued with an upset tummy. Actually, it's also the first race in ages where I've felt very confident with how I'm running going into the race. Quite a nice feeling !

This race is the second one in the Run Further Ultra 2012 series. An increasingly popular series which has probably been going for 6 or so years now which pulls the top races into a league system with points attributed from your top 4 results from races which must cover a race in each of the distances,

Short (up to 35 miles)
Medium (35-45 mile)
Long (50+ mile)

Ultras are always an unusual one in that you can actually chat to the people around you (well, I do !) as you're probably gonna get to know em quite well over the next 6 or so hours so why not make it more enjoyable.
Start Line : Sowerby Cricket Club

I started off at the same pace as Helen Skelton - eventual winner of the ladies race and a good source of local info about this race ! Well, we tried to chat on the way to CP1, but to be honest the pace was a little too saucy for both of us !

Don't know what all the guys around me were doing come the first grassy descent, but needless to say I made a good few places up, only to lose them again on the next climb - I'd not got that bit of map in my back pocket as I'd assumed there'd be loads of people to follow. Oops !

We soon formed a group of about 5 of us approaching Stoodley Pike - emblem of the Calder Valley.
We maintained the group all the way up through the Golf Course and then on to Hoof Stones.  Mark (Liptrot) had reccied the tricky bits 2 days before so it was a group choice - he clearly wanted to run it on his own and I think he'd have preferred clag so he could have shaken some of us off ! But as it was great visibility and none of us knew the area, then we'd be stupid to go any other way ? We followed his direct line towards Gorple dam where we very quickly picked up a 4wd track leading us all the way there - amazing ! I told Mark that I owed him a beer for that descent. We ticked off the CP's now as just a threesome, Mark, myself and Chris Davies - a very experienced Ultra runner who we worked out that we'd both finished the Long Mynd Hike together about 4 years previous (my last Ultra). Small world.
Lots of bumpy bits. About 2,200 of them !

Chris set a very keen pace up to Withins and Mark was getting distanced soon to regain us. After Withins, Mark shot off again on a seemingly tiny trod - only to be seen 15 mins later about 400 metres ahead of Chris and me !!

Chris hammered it down the road descent out of Tom Stells seat and we'd caught Mark up just after the res. Conversation picked up (and pace therefore slowed !) all the way to Grain Water Bridge where Mark unveiled another of his epic reccie results - a flat route to the next CP ! Well, with hindsight this one lost us time as it was at this point that we were overtaken by Kev Holt who was clearly running very well anyway. I think we lost about 5 mins here which is what we were behind Kev at the end. Can't argue with Mark's choice though - I knew no better.

The climb out of Pecket Well was the first one where the legs knew I was climbing and for the first time my map came out (1:25000). I actually navigated us over Delf Stones Edge picking up the correct small trod - at last - I'd added something to the group !

Mark picked the pace up down through Luddenden - so much so that I think he was trying to make a break for it ! Down the canal and through a few ginnels put us onto the final climb to Sowerby Bridge. Thankfully Mark made a break at the church and Chris and me were happy to let him go - he deserved it for recceing it tbh.

8th place and a great day out ! Lovely views, nice food at the end, friendly marshalls all day and sunshine. What more can one ask !

Fingers crossed now for the Fellsman in two weeks

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Bob Graham Round Reccie, Legs 1 & 2

BGR Leg 1 and 2 Route. Starting Keswick then crossing the
A66 and over all the Helvellyn Range. Simples !
26 miles, 3600m

Well, seeing as we were in Grasmere anyway I thought it would be rude not to.  Especially as Teresa gave me a full day pass out on the understanding that she has 2 short MTB rides over the weekend - DEAL !

Original intention was to hook up with a couple of guys from the FRA Forum, but illness ruled that out so I headed off from Keswick at 8am on mi tod to find out what it was all about.

I've not really done a lot of long running this year, but have felt great every time that I have, for instance the last one was 33 mile Long Tour of Bradwell route a month ago in 6h 10mins.  I was understandably anxious but confident that these two legs would be in the bag no sooner than saying "where's my compeed".

The morning was stunning. Cool, clearish skies, with some wispy cloud clinging to the tops which looked like it would burn off. Sadly, I was travelling light, so no phone or camera !

First climb up Skiddaw was a pleasure and made the summit easily with me losing 5-10 mins attempting a shortcut trod, which turned out to be a long detour! Light mist shrouded the descent down to the round sheepfold, but it soon became clear - phew. Didn't see a soul now for an hour or so, until I summited on Blencathra. Again, another 5 mins lost on suboptimal route choice but nothing major.

The Halls Fells Descent was a pure pleasure ! What a great scramble - I'd only ever done Sharp Edge, but I think this is probably better than that - even if not ideal for running over. Still got down to Threlkeld in around 30 mins I think. Water top up.

I think it's fair to say I was keeping an eye on the watch, but was not rushing to a schedule. I'd got 2 numbers in my head.

* 3h50 at Threlkeld (end of Leg 1)
* 8h to Dunmail Raise (end of Leg 2 just above Grasmere)

When I put more thought into it, I realised that I had no idea what overall schedule these times were taken from, but thought they were 23hour schedule. I'd got to Threlkeld in 3h50 so was bang on schedule but I would be the first to admit I wasn't going slow so was a little surprised to only be 'on schedule'. Hmmm, something to mull over for the next 4 hours then !!!

The climb up Clough Head was the first tough one to be frank. It's virtually hands on knees at the top, so I was glad to pop out on the summit next to some handgliders. Pleasantries exchanged.

I knew it was easy running from then on all the way to Fairfield so just relaxed into it. Well, as much as I could as my toes were getting increasingly angry with me for putting fell shoes on which were too big and only 1 thin pair of socks ! Not good.

5 minute chat to some folk on one of the tops and at last a time to simply admire the stunning views. It was amazing tbh. Tops then just ticked off with very easy running interspersed with the odd steep shuffle-cum-walk. Helvellyn was littered with people and a tent so no stopping there then, quickly off to find Dollywagon to be reminded just how steep the descent was to Grizedale Tarn.

BGR Route Profile Legs 1 and 2. Note Clough Head
around 14 miles and the descent to Grizedale Tarn
around 24 miles.
With my feet in a very poor way now, the descent looked awful, but no time to stop and dither - it went quickly and after a quick waterstop, the climb up the screes to Cofa Pike was equally quick much to my surprise - it looked almost vertical about 10 minutes earlier !

The descent off Fairfield to Seat Sandal was again very hard on the feet, now getting to the point where it was all I could think about. Looking at the watch with more scrutiny then now as I knew the finish was around 20-30 mins away and I was 7h35 in heading up Seat Sandal. The final descent was dreadfully slow and painful (no painkillers today) to finish in around 8 hours which was the original intention of the day.

I've since found out that I was on 22hour schedule there and not 23hour schedule which explains why I found it harder to hit the timescales than I'd expected.

Conclusions of the Reccie ?
* Legs need more descending (not climbing). They're not used to it and have felt very sore in the days afterwards !
* I need to pay attention to footwear on the day.
* 22hour schedule is achievable with good feet.
* Accurate nav is essential as there's just no room for error in the schedule.
* There's only a little opportunity for water top ups on Leg 2. Seemingly even less on Legs 3 4 and 5 !
* Pacers will therefore be pretty important to ferry water more than anything.
* Do it when good weather but cool - the views are too good to miss !