Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Muncaster Fell Race, 11 Mile 2,000ft, 7th/50

Last March I'd just bought my first Fuji - the XE-1 and what better way to test it out but with a trip to the Lakes in spring. Of course, you can't go to the Lakes without running or racing - so last year I entered the Middle Fell race from Wasdale and had beers with Graham before sleeping out next to the Lake.
The Muncaster Fell Race Route, 10.7mile 2,000ft
So, January turns to February and I'm itching to get a weekend in the diary which combines running and photography again - but the diary was pretty busy with Easter being in March this year. Thankfully, Teresa agreed to me heading off on our free weekend so a quick scan of the fell race calendar revealed quite a few options ;

  • Carrock Fell (NE lakes, a totally new race but only 5 miles)
  • Middle Fell (did it last year and wanted to expand my race repertoire!), 
  • Causey Pike (did it years ago - straight up and down so a classic lakes fell race but a little short considering this was going to be my only running all weekend, which left
  • Muncaster (called Muncaster Luck for some reason?).
Muncaster had all the right ingredients;
  • 11 miles so worth getting your walshes on for
  • Many small peaks I'd not run over before so new terrain
  • Running near to Devoke Water - I love it over there - very quiet and wild and anything from grassy to tussocky depending on where you are
  • It covered the circumference of lower eskdale so the route was 'logical' and included both sides of the valley so was a decent 'round' and certainly not contrived.
  • And finally - It had the all important river crossing - 2 of them ! The River Esk twice in this case with it being Eskdale.

Breakfast next to Buttermere. Absolutely glorious! #iPhone
Brimmed full of excitement after seeing a reasonable weather forecast I headed up Saturday morning and chose to go down Borrowdale for a few hours with my camera. The area at the bottom of Borrowdale around Grange fell looked good and it didn't disappoint. I did about a 3 mile photo ramble (without paths!) over Brown Dodd, Caffell Side, Ether Knott, Brund Fell and finally Kings Howe all without seeing a single person in what is one of the busiest valleys in the Lakes. This is what I really love - wild terrain, almost no paths, stunning views and no one around. I'll definitely be heading round those fells again.
I kipped in the car next to Buttermere - nice and quiet and handy for any early photo shoots and breakfast next to the lake. And what a breakfast it was ! 
The Buttermere Pines taken with my Fuji XT10
There was certainly no rush to leave this stunning lakeside spot. Again – no one about. In the end, I left a bit late and it was a mad dash to get to Muncaster Castle – I like to have a minimum of 45mins before the race starts for faffing and warming up. Registration was a nice informal affair – a table at the side of the car park being very understated. Lake District races are so low key, but yet Rob Jebb (just won the National opener last weekend) was milling around with his family and fell legend Jim Davies was competing.

It was only when I got to the start line with 1 min to spare that I noticed all other runners (about 50 of us) had bumbags on apart from 1 or 2. Oh god? I’d not brought mine - I think I’d assumed it would be like a peak district summer race where they are not required apart from some longer or higher ones. It was certainly summer and the race never went high, so at least I felt that I wasn’t taking any undue risks in setting off. I did however say to myself on the first climb that I would approach the organiser at the end to point out I’d forgotten my bumbag, just in case anybody did say anything.

I started slow (right at the back) and moved through the field as we got onto the open fells of Muncaster Fell. Stunning stuff – so stunning in fact that I couldn’t resist taking photo’s (about 6 in all – how non competitive am I !) plus I didn’t expect anyone else to be posting photo’s of this low key event on the web – blogs always look better with photos !
Great running early on Muncaster Fell
The running over Muncaster fell was sublime – never too tough, but the indistinct trods took us over numerous small tops (around 230m altitude) and managed to squeeze in bracken (plenty of), bogs (some) rocks (even less thankfully) and if you had time to admire them – views! The whole of Eskdale was laid out before us but sadly I didn’t have time to work out the individual peaks which I knew so well – it was just concentrate on not falling over and maintain the pace down to the River Esk before the second half of the race the other side of the valley.
Descending Muncaster Fell with Lower Eskdale ahead
The other side of the valley is an area I’d explored on a few occasions, most recently on my 50 mile MTB ride last August. That ride was made memorable for the bogs / tussocks and hike-a-bike around this part of Eskdale around Devoke Water. It was also a memorable area for me due to it’s wild,  grassy and tussocky nature – perfect running from my perspective.
Ascending the Other Side of the Valley - towards Devoke Water
Rocky Terrain on the 2nd Half
Racing through this area certainly didn’t disappoint – it was perfect fell running – never easy, plenty of ups and downs, very very remote and wild and not too many rocks! To make it even better I was starting to catch the runners in front of me although doubts were emerging in my head as I’d already had a tiny twinge of cramp and I knew I was only just over half way round.

Running Towards Raven Crag
I think this section of the race from Raven Crag to The Pepperpot (marked Twr 169m on OS maps) surprised all runners. The fact that this was all now flagged certainly didn’t make it easy. With hindsight I think the organiser felt so guilty about the terrain that he put the flags up so that he wasn’t attacked when we got to the finish! The bogs got worse, the tussocks got bigger until we actually ran through the field that was so ingrained in my memory from last August – the boggiest tussocks I’d ever seen. So much so that myself and Tim Ripper who I was running with were thigh deep on almost every step at one point. We just couldn’t even walk. Other runners took a higher line and made time up on us (they took a non flagged line).

Even after the pepperpot where we could see Muncaster Castle not far below us, the route took us back inland on a big detour that I didn’t have prepped in my head adding further to our woes! Yet more tussocks and bogs followed but we’d passed the critical point now and they were just “bad”. Nothing worse than that. Good running all the way to the finish was punctuated by my first ever running through salt marshes and across what appeared to be an estuary complete with what I feared was runner-eating mud across the River Esk!! Thankfully, it was a lot easier than I’d feared and it was just the cruel climb up to the castle itself to cross the finish line. 
Andy Schofield on the Cruel Climb to the Finish Line
A well paced race saw me overtake both Tim and fell legend Scoffer (Andy Schofield) on the final few fields and climb. I felt great – as good as I’d ever felt and sprinted the last climb to overtake Andy and finish about 7th.

Sadly, carrying no kit counted me out of the formal results but that didn’t detract from what was yet another of my favourite lakes fell races along with Black Combe, Buttermere Horseshoe, Long Duddon and The Mountain Trial.

This is what running is all about. Low key but yet thoroughly liberating. Roll on next March !!!

Friday, 11 March 2016

Snowdonia Winter 8h Epic - Glyders and Moel Siabod

We'd been planning this day out for a few months. I think Chris n me started talking about it, I can't quite remember, but Saul / Chris / Matt were orignally coming too but unfortunately for them they had excuses!
The route with 3 Climbs : Moel Siabod, The Glyders, and Cwm Tryfan
The rough plan was to be out for 6-8hours and run through some of the best of what Snowdonia has to offer. Marcus knew the area a bit, but Karl not at all. What we hadn't quite banked on was the amount of snow. Belper was completely clear when we left and even as we approached Bethesda there was only a little to be seen. As we rounded the corner though at Ogwen, we could see snow on the roadside which gave us a very sombre hint of the conditions up top !
This is the first descent off Moel Siabod. It's very long and very runnable. It's ace. Above this there were drifts where you could lose a car (or 3 fell runners!)
After a very memorable stop for loo and coffee at a Little Chef (memorable for all the wrong reasons) we hopped out of Marcus's Chelsea tractor round the back of Joe Brown's at Capel Curig. A free car park - how refreshing after being in the Lake District so often where everywhere is now solar powered charging ! Our plans for the day had already changed about 3 times - mainly as we didn't know how icy the tops would be. My plan was to tackle the lowest and easiest peak first (Moel Siabod). If that went bad, we would adjust accordingly. If it went well, then we'd do the full route.
Approaching the best weather of the day - near the end above Cwm Tryfan looking to Snowdon.
Moel Siabod was full of excitement - we were soon in snow and we loved every second. What lay ahead ? Had we bitten off more than we could chew? And more importantly would we be back in time for the cafe ??!?!? As it happened the summit was snowy with a little ice, but we just had to be careful and thankfully it wasn't crampon type running. The descent was enormous fun - huge drifts on the lee slope followed by the photo near the top of this write up - a lovely long runnable ridge with a big area of wilderness off to our left. We all got a big buzz out of this one!

We descended through very very cold water (slush) to the Pen y Grwyd Hotel (where the name "Pyg Track" came from). Civilisation again and people - we'd not seen anyone all morning. Very refreshing. About 930 now. The climb ahead of us was straight up to the summit of the Glyders. The Glyders are very spiky rocky peaks - they're also over 100m higher than our first peak so could be icier than Moel Siabod. Nevertheless, we pressed on - determined not to give up until we were forced back by the conditions. The conditions on the this climb were the high point (or low point!) of the day. We were in deep snow not on a path but through rough heather and boulders the size of fridges. One minute you'd be ankle deep, the next you would fall through the snow and your leg would have slid through the middle of two boulders. Very tiring and dicey!

As we approached the summit the icy wind really hit us - head on too! Quite soon we were at the first Glyder summit and Marcus and me had one of the really horrible moments - where we both knew which way we thought we should go (and we agreed on it) but the compass told us we were 180 degrees wrong - SCARY!!! This always knocks me for 6 when this happens. The internal map in my head now had to be completely ripped up and thrown out. Within a few minutes my GPS (well, Viewranger on my phone) confirmed we were moving in the correct direction. It was a good job. Conditions were now absolutely treacherous. All boulders were plastered in snow, Visibility was 10m and there were icy winds. Not a place to hang around certainly !

We moved on with trepidation. Every step was dangerous - you could easily break right through the snow and lose your leg down between two boulders at any point. The traverse to the next Glyder was very dodgy. We were at points in a complete whiteout - we didn't know if the ground in front of us was going up, going down or not even there. I love situations like that !!!

By the time we'd reached the next summit we'd passed another group of guys coming in the opposite direction - all with axes and crampons on (not necessary - running trainers were clearly adequate!). This meant that we could follow their snow steps - saving a lot of energy too. Karl had now gone very quiet - anyone who runs with Karl will know this is a very very rare situation. I didn't know whether to savour the moment or not ? My conscientious side got the better of me and I asked him how he was feeling. "Cold" was the reply. "Cold hands" to be more specific. He was clearly ok, but we needed to just keep moving through the whiteout and boulders.
Above Cwn Tryfan on the way to Y Foel Goch (805m). I'm not sure if Karl was covering his ears from the snow spindrift or whether he was adjusting his hat ! Very windy and cold.
After a few more dicey moments we approached the small tarns at the top of the Devils Kitchen. Time for a quick snack stop before pressing on down into Cwm Idwal, past Idwal slabs and back into civilisation and more people! Very strange seeing people after not seeing anyone for hours - again, a sensation that only long days in the hills can give you.  Lyn Idwal was littered with people - families, climbers roped up, photographers with tripods out. As we got lower it got warmer so this was our first proper stop for about 3-4 hours. And relax!!!

In front of us along the Ogwen valley - we could see glimpses of sun through the dark brooding clouds - thankfully the sun and conditions just improved then for the rest of the (2h) run. We were very lucky to finish the run in absolutely stunning conditions - sunlight through cloud. The mountains looked fantastic and we were lapping it up! Whats more, we now realised there was every chance the cafe might still be open and perhaps even Joe Browns shop to have a look at gear for Karl!

8 hours after we started we plopped back into the car park we'd started earlier that day with trepidation and excitement. We finished exhilarated and thankful for one of the best hill days we'd had perhaps ever !
My favourite view - Perfect sunlight from Mt Snowdon direction right near the end of the run. The descent had been such great fun through snow drifts!!

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Hope Winter Fell Race 40/221

This is the first year that this race has been run in Winter, and I loved the summer race which had great memories from 2015 due to it being held on the hottest day of the year. The winter race was basically the exact reverse of the summer race - what a great idea !!! In the run up to this race I'd had a week in the Lakes (2*4.5h runs plus 2*90min runs) plus some short hard MTB local efforts trying to get a local KOM - and failing miserably! This would normally be a reasonable prep for me - plenty of running with a taper in the run up to it. For some reason, the race didn't quite pan out as well as I'd hoped !

Andy, Nick, Rob, Ed, Helen and me - whilst Ruth was warming up in her car!!
On the day, I shared a lift up with Ruth and Andy and got there with enough time to warm up checking out the first hill. Legs felt good, so all systems go!

Once the race started I settled into a comfortable pace - well, what I thought was a comfortable pace anyway - when the first hill began in earnest I just maxed out sadly and it was a good 20 mins or so before I got any sort of power back. Annoying! With hindsight, it looks like I didn't warm up enough - I only did half effort up one hill. I'd normally do about 3 efforts. Never mind!

As it happened tho - the race was absolutely brilliant ! The weather was perfect - cold when standing still but warm when running. The path through the forest at the back of WIn Hill was a nightmare for me - I'd still not regained power by this point so I found all of that hard. But once we'd plopped out onto Win Hill for the second time - the long fast semi technical descent was just a fantastic blast - I even caught the 3 guys in front of me - that never happens (maybe I was further back in the field thinking about it!).

A good turnout for Belper with Nick, Andy and Rob all doing their first fell race and loving it by all accounts! Nice to have a coffee stop and debrief on the way home too.

Results here 40th out of 221, so only top 18% - worst performance for a while seemingly.
Strava here