Tuesday, 12 June 2018

The Northern Traverse

Yes, I know the race was a month ago but we have only just returned home.
Nervous in St Bees

 It has given me time to reflect and this blog will be an experiment with something different rather than beginning at the start and going through to the finish.

I should perhaps explain that the NT follows the route of Wainwrights Coast to Coast from St Bees in the Lake District

through 3 National Parks to Robin Hoods Bay on the North Sea. It is about 190 miles so with errors I probably ran about 192 in total.
It's a long drive in a car!
I always like to set myself targets for the long ultras and usually have a gold, silver and bronze target.

I tried to base these on my experience from the Hardmoors 200 but forgot that I had not receed the Lakes section as I know the area quite well. This first section was harder than anticipated just in terms of running the trail.
Beside Ennerdale

The rocks and tree roots along Ennerdale and then the wet, mud etc from Kidsty Pike and along Haweswater were all hard work and less runnable than the lovely grassy paths in the Wolds last year.
Warm near Ennerdale
The hot weather and gnarly paths almost gave my feet more of a bashing than I had anticipated and this told later on.  I had targeted bronze to finish, silver to be sub 60 and gold to beat my Hardmoors time. How naive! I did also have a secret hope to be first lady but kept this quiet and was well aware that I cannot control how others run.
I also do plan, a bit. Nothing like the detail of John Knyaston but I had a spreadsheet of distances and possible splits printed on waterproof paper and easily accessible to me during the race. It is nice to tick off the miles and good to have a bit of focus. I also knew after last year that my plan would be flexible. I was particularly concerned in terms of sleep as my spreadsheet showed I was not likely to be at any of the main aid stations with sleeping tents at a time when I would want to use them.
and we're off and the nerves can stop
Despite telling myself to set off slowly I soon found myself in the top 6 or so and close to Matt Neale. I was bothered when I was close to Greg as I know he is faster and was almost relieved when he pulled ahead and out of sight.
5th Oops, a steady start?
Matt and I ran a fair chunk together but also had some huge chunks when we were nowhere near each other. It was good to stay with runners until Ennerdale Bridge as I had not run this section. Later I was more than happy to be alone even through the nights.
I should thank those that I ran with on the first chunk and Matt for suggesting an ice cream at Ennerdale Bridge. Darren and I ran from Kidsty Pike to Shap and beyond before he sadly had to pull out. I was alone for the section after Kirby Stephen and suffered a bit in the heat past Keld. After the A19 road crossing I met up with Matt again and we spent almost all of day 3 together. It was good to have company and we pulled each other along. He also suggested a food stop at Lord Stones. We had to wait for it to open but the poached eggs on toast were superb.
The trail was varied. For me the worst section was the track up after Rosthwaite - a stony track where I just couldn't get into my stride. The most runnable was perhaps the short grass on much of the Shap to Kirby Stephen section.
There were lows and there were highs, mentally as well as in altitude. Not too many lows but the rain on the first night meant stumbling along Haweswater in the dark was tough, the second night seemed very chilly. The damp and slightly frosted tall vegetation soaked my legs that night and after a short sit on a stile I woke as my face hit the wet grass. This night at 3am was the worst and I doubted my ability to run the SW100 in June and almost phoned Bob  to say how bad I felt. Fortunately I told myself not to be so pathetic and to get on with it. I don't usually mind the heat but somewhere around Keld I found I was running out of steam. I needed more food and water but there wasn't really anywhere suitable. There were more highs. The 3 poached egg breakfast was amazing. The lie in the sun at the Lion Inn with my feet up on a chair to help the swelling and being served by the CP staff there revived me. The sunset over Angle Tarn was beautiful and I really wished I had my camera then. Matt and I finding a litre of Buxton spring water when our supplies were very low had us both ridiculously happy. Getting lost on the final moor but then sorting out  and staying cool under pressure made me so happy I blasted from there to the end. Finally Bob coming out to meet me when one torch had died and the other was getting dim really lifted my spirits on the section along the coastal Cleveland Way.
The end
 Sitting on the slipway in Robin Hoods Bay at gone midnight was special.

For me food and eating can make or break a long ultra and I think I have learnt a great deal since my first long race of the UTMB 5 years ago. The food at our CPs was superb and the staff there were so willing to find exactly what you felt like.
Can see why Stuart thought I arrived grumpy now!
Nice to put my feet up but hard to eat, drink and get organised from there
Arrival, feet up and about to leave- what a difference the CP made
Big thanks to those that made me fried egg sandwich at KS and Richmond. The soup at Rosthwaite was great although I should have eaten more there. Shap was very welcome after the wet night and I had more soup, cups of tea, bread, custard etc. By the Lion Inn I was onto crisps, soup but should perhaps have eaten more. I did have chocolate milk in my drop bags and I know this always goes down so well. I carried baby bel cheese, nuts, chocolate bars (yes, bad melting), a big sausage, lots of Mountain Fuel to drink which I found very good- some energy, salts and easy to drink as a mild taste. I also had a few mocha caffeine gels which seemed to do the trick when I was flagging. I had made flapjack but ate little of this. My only mistake was a Costa Coffee at the A19 and the Snickers bar that I had with it. Trying to catch Matt through Ingleby Cross I threw up.It is hard to know what I will fancy and this was something that made the unsupported nature of the race harder than the H200 where Bob kept appearing in the van and asking what I would like.

Looking after each other (we look about 90)
The weather could not really have been better in my opinion. It was warm but not crazy hot on the Saturday. Wet over the first night but not torrential rain and a bit chilly on the second night. Perhaps a bit too hot on the Sunday and Monday but I would rather that than being cold and wet as I hate running with my hood up. There was no clag to spoil the views or to make the nav hard.
The navigation was fairly straight forward but not as well signed as the Wolds Way and Cleveland Way. Fortunately I was with others to Ennerdale Bridge and then either knew the area or had receed the rest of the route. I made few errors and most were very small. Matt and I missed one turning early on but soon put it right. I made a slight error after Orton in the dark on an area I thought I knew well, again it was soon corrected. My most annoying mistake was at Crackpot Hall. I convinced myself that after the hall I had to turn off the main path and only realised this was wrong once I had dropped all the way to the main river. I missed the turn for Wray House farm on the second night but realised this when I met the level crossing and had to turn back. Getting lost on the last moor was comical in retrospect. I had passed a wooden post with C to C on it. When I dropped into a gorge I knew it was wrong but my solution was to try to re-find the wooden post- in the dark and with a failing head torch. In the end I recognised this a daft and concentrated on just getting to the gate and track off the moor. I was so proud that I had stayed cool and sorted it out that It really buoyed me up for the last section to the finish.
I kept my pebbles
It was tricky to know what gear to take and run in. I opted for long tights so I didn't have to faff and change at night if I got cold. They were a bit too warm at times but I was able to pull them up over my knees. I changed tops once it was too damp but was very happy with an incredible thin merino Patagonia long sleeve and a very old craft top that has a collar and so stops the rucksack straps rubbing. I know Injinji socks work for me, especially with Crane dry socks as an added layer. I had taped my two big toes as both had lost the toe nails in the previous fortnight and this worked well. I got no blisters until I popped a small one at the Lion Inn, just very hot and smashed feet. I found the tabbard a pain (sorry James) but loved my Patagonia knickers. I had charger blocks in my drop bags and these recharged my main torch well the first time but not the second. I suspect I had not connected it properly. A smaller sack would have been nice but I had everything being rammed in tight and fear it will stop me getting things when I should. I used my old KIMM sack with side pockets where I can reach water, big hip pockets for food and modified it a bit to reduce the volume. It is always comfy for me. I stayed in the same shoes the whole way Inov8 Trail Ultras, typically now discontinued!

As far as sleeping was concerned I knew to be flexible. By Shap I was ready for  quick lie down but it was bright and busy plus I was eager to get on. When I reached KS it was the start of the second day and I was reluctant to waste day light hours so just had a quick lie down for 10 minutes. Perhaps that's why Matt stormed past me near Keld. By Richmond I knew I had to sleep. It was too bright in the tent at first but I did get two 20 minute snoozes before heading off into the night. I rested longer at the Lion Inn than I had planned but the company was good, a rest with my feet up was needed and it gave me the chance to eat more. The sleep monsters were not a problem the first night but during the second night and then the start of the third as I ran into Robin Hoods Bay they became interesting. Marsh grass became the peaks of tents, bushes were dogs, a salt bin was a person crouched by the road side. I probably talked to myself but there was nobody to hear.
Above Glaisdale, day 3
What would I change? Not much. Perhaps more solid food earlier on and swap the flapjack for marmite sarnies. I could have spent less time at Lord Stones and the Lion Inn but maybe the rest was good. I would spend less time worrying about who was catching me (Jen Scotney) as I know I cannot control how others run.
All the women finished.
Am I happy? Yes.The target times were clearly too ambitious but I do not feel I failed. I was 4th overall, 1st lady by 15 hours. Not bad for an old lady.

I have met many people who have offered their congratulations. Some of these I was not sure I knew which is always embarrassing. There are 3 in particular who voiced their admiration and congratulations which meant a lot to me; I value their opinions and so their words did make me proud. Also my now adult children were clearly very proud of me and Bob is supportive as always. One of my birthday presents from him was a pair of Whitby jet ear rings. John Kynaston has done a chart of splits and these make happy reading too.

It was an active recovery. After falling into bed at about 2am on Tues I was up for breakfast and then sat around in the sun until lunch time. Bob then drove to Scotland as I slept in the van.

The next day we did a lovely walk up Beinn Ime and Beinn Narnian.
Spot the green NT sweatshirt
My legs felt OK except for enormous fat calfs but my feet were tender. The following day we did a classic Scottish rock climb.

 Fortunately I had anticipated swollen feet and borrowed my sons rock boots; there was no way mine would fit yet.

We then had a day and a half on Rum and managed the whole Cuillin ridge with a wild mid camp.

  The weather forecast was spot on- a dreary damp Sunday and a wet Monday. I was pleased to get a rest and to use cafes and a laundrette.

Then it was 10 days of non stop scrambling, walking

and climbing on Skye before the LAMM
Not often you get to sunbathe at mid camp
on Harris and then 3 more days of huge walks. The LAMM mid-camp was a superb location.

My birthday treat was on Skye- a day with a climb, an abseil,

 a scramble and a skinny dip in a river to wash and refresh. Perfect.
Bastier Tooth Skye
Marshalling and doing radio comms at the Keswick Mountain Festival came as a relief. We collected more Mountain Fuel and Romneys mint cake for Runfurther and managed to squeeze in 4 hours on Kendal climbing wall before arriving home with a very full and dirty van.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

The Fellsman

I love the Fellsman. The route is superb with wonderful hills, views and countryside (almost no road). The organisation is great and so friendly and it just seems a really good value weekend and chance to catch up with so many friends.  I felt rather under-prepared but decided to think of it as my last long run before the NT.

Thanks to all our Runfurther sponsors
By Friday tea time all the flags and banners were up; a task made much easier this year thanks to the sturdy new school fence. More importantly the rain had stopped, the clouds had cleared and the sun had come out. The forecast was good- cold but dry, well maybe not dry from the shins downwards!
The display boards were up inside and I used that as an opportunity to sneak in and be first for kit check. It meant I was able to hand out mint cake and sign up a couple of new members. Suddenly it was gone 7.30pm and time to drive to Ingleton to eat, put up a couple more flags and banners before an early night. I didn't sleep well which was annoying but not all that unusual. Bob met up with Alison and Jo before heading off the man the Whernside CP.
I had plenty of time for multiple toilet visits and catching up with so many friends. It was nice to see Mark Hartell and let him know that Runfurther was still going strong - I even ran with him off and  on as far as Blea Moor. In the hall before the start Julian asked me to be part of an oldies team which was nice. I had contemplated running with others for a social time but the Hardmoors gang would be going more slowly than I wanted and the Lostockers had a neat team of four. I decided to play it by ear and just run the best I could and see who I ended up near.
The start in Ingleton and SUN
As usual the field split into at least 3 groups as we left the playing fields and by the Ingleborough track runners and walkers were well spread out. To take my mind off the climb I chatted to Mark. The top was cloud covered but not the white out from two years ago.
Chatting with Mark who set up Runfurther
A neighbour was clipping tallies and shouted support. I always lose quite a few places descending to the Hill Inn and although the rocks were a little drier this year was no different.
Always a pleasure to see David and Laura of Sportsunday
I must check out the more direct grassy descent at some time because Rachel went that way and caught me. Initially I was thinking "where did you come from? how did you overtake me?" but we ran the rest of the race always within sight of each other, grouped and in quite companionship which was lovely. I felt OK going up Whernside to get my tally clipped by Bob et al. Running up and back down this ridge is always interesting as you see who is ahead of you and who is not far behind. Three ladies, including Carol M, seemed to be going strong and I was pleased there were some younger and faster runners this year. Kingsdale appeared very quickly and I refilled my water. I was eating my own food as I find biscuits and the flapjack too dry when I am running. The route to the gate/stile was well marked and let to a good quad bike track. It was wet underfoot but the whole hillside is and the line was better than more direct ones I have taken in the past. I slowed going up Gragareth and told myself it was OK to conserve energy for later. For the first time in ages the cheerful joking ladies at the CP were able to stand outside their tent and enjoy the views. I found myself alone on the section to Great Coum. I could see runners ahead and behind but nobody very close. It was boggy by the wall and the worst stretches kept breaking my pattern and slowing me up. I went slightly too far right dropping off the hill but it allowed me a quiet toilet stop before blasting down to Flinters Gill and running with Mark again. The rocky track was as bad as I remembered- apparently there is a grassy path in the field so I must investigate.
and I need to check out this short cut (David Chetta going well)
The cheese and onion rolls were very welcome at Dent and the melon and oranges were superb. One third of the race now done.
Dent always amuses
Mark made better time than me along the lane and up onto the shoulder of Whernside although I could still see him. Rachel was not far behind me. I gradually reeled in Mark and two others and we ran together along the now well worn trod to Blea Moor.
Yep, painting the trig!
The valley bottom was wet as always. The marshalls here had been busy and the trig point was painted a bright white. So much felling in the next valley caused some initial confusion so my line was not perfect but I got back on line just below the air shaft and caught two who had gone much too fast east.
pic from Anthony Hall
I ran the lane reasonably well buoyed up by the thought of food and drink at Stonehouse. There is always plenty of support and people with cameras here. The pasta was a struggle to get down but I managed with two cups of tea and refilled my bottle with more Mountain Fuel. I would have liked to have headed up the lane still eating but decided to sit and concentrate on swallowing.
Cheers for the food and photo Fellsman team

I then spent the next section trying to catch up with Rachel again. She reached Great Knoutberry ahead of me but we were together across the bogs that would lead us down to Redshaw. We were over half way now and to my surprise my time was looking OK. Rachel wanted to try to get under 16 hours as she took 16.08 last time and I knew my times were often 15:30 or 15:45.

Still great weather at Redshaw
Redshaw  was the CP I was on last year and this year it was manned by friends Adrienne, Nick, their girls and Jane. Tom refilled my water as I grabbed a sausage, banana and set off again. Snaizholme soon came and went. Being with Rachel made me keep running whenever I felt I could and we agreed on the best line up Dodd Fell.
Bright but chilly Dodd Fell
Our line off the summit was OK on good trods and we found a good route to the bridleway that leads across the the Fleet Moss CP.  Rachel was back off out faster than me here but I stayed and ate etc. Usually by now I am starting to think about who I will be grouped with. Rachel was up ahead but still in sight as were the two guys we left Redshaw with. I was with another three runners. It seemed any of them would be fine although I was slightly worried that perhaps I would be the weak link in any group. The new fence is a wonderful handrail and there is a reasonable trod now making nav on this section much easier. The blue cup has gone but we arrived safely at the stile and were soon on the very wet quad bike track that contours around to the 'new' Middle Tongue CP. The guys there had kindly hung a high viz vest on a pole just to make it even easier. Four of us whizzed our fell track watches (yes on wrists this year rather than the back of tallies) and had our tallies clipped. We were not grouped and all had our own ideas of the best line but were never really far apart. We went through Hells Gap together and then had a joint moan at the pain from the stone track down to Cray. I was ready for food, drink and a brief rest here. It was also cold even in the tent so I added another layer.
at least we didn't suffer this disruption
It was here that all my plans went to pot. I was feeling a little nauseous and was a bit distracted. Chris Davies was pulling out with foot pain. We shared a hug and I hoped he wouldn't have to wait too much longer for transport. Alwyn was waiting to be grouped and moaning at the wait. He was cold and keen to get going but we all knew we needed to stop and refuel. There were 8 of us and we all greed this was too much for one group. I had been feeling a little sick and so worried I might slow people up- in fact I never was sick and should not have worried. In the end Rachel, Alwyn, David and I made one group of 4. We wasted some time as the poor CP guy had to keep rewriting the grouping card  but the two groups set off close together and climbed Buckden Pike together. It was chilly up there but the views were amazing and it was almost a full moon that was starting to show.
Here we parted. The 'second' group shot off at a steady jog and pulled ahead never to be close to again. Alwyn was not just feeling sick but really struggling to move and retching constantly. We jogged a little along the newish flagstones and to the Polish war memorial. David lives in Grassington and so led the group. Rachel and I also felt we knew the way and so we checked the nav was OK. We were soon at Top Mere even after some stumbling along the wet tussocky area before the good grassy path. David and I were setting the best pace we could and Rachel was doing a great job of making sure we didn't drop Alwyn. He wouldn't eat and was getting slower. Park Rash was wonderful- the tent all done up, with a floor and gas heaters. Not moving as fast as we wanted really chilled me so now I added my primaloft. It meant I had on all 3 base layers, the primaloft, my cag and hat and gloves. Alwyn was getting worse and making sure we did not run off needed constant checking. Rachel agreed to keep shouting stop or slow whenever needed. Not being able to run after the initial steep climb was very frustrating. David and I were getting cold and Rachel knew her hope of sub 16 hours was gone.We found the CP hunkered down between the boulders and headed across the the ridge line fence. The next section is never easy as it is so boggy. Rachel and I both knew the trod off right but neither of us were confident in the dark and clag so we agreed to play safe and stay with the fences. This section although a bog fest is down hill and I really wanted to run, if only to stay warm. It was not to be. Safely at Capplestone Gate we could see some other lights ahead and soon caught another group that had a struggling runner.
Great to see the young lads Mike and Barn- they were finished long before me
Mark H was taking it all very calmly but must have been very frustrated. We slowly pulled ahead and after Rachel insisting Alwyn ate something we jogged and walked with slightly fewer interuptions. At Yarnbury we degrouped. Overtaking the other group had put Rachel and I in third place as one of the other ladies had pulled out. I told her to blast the last bit and claim 3rd as compensation for missing sub16. She and David shot off down the lane to Grassington and beyond. I check Alwyn was following and jogged off too.It felt odd to run this section as sometimes my quads are so shot it is a real effort. I even ran most of the way up to the school from the bridge. 16hrs 38 was a PW by almost an hour but hey ho. Poor Alwyn couldn't help being ill and it is the first time in 6 years that the lottery of Fellsman grouping has caused me any issues.
After stripping off muddy shoes. I chatted to Josie who was waiting for Albert, Tony and Mike plus Mandy and Ros who had pulled out at Stonehouse but found there was such a long wait for transport that they had only just got back. Then I wandered to the kitchen where Bob and others were keeping runners fed and watered. After two cups of tea I managed a chilli baked potato before sloping off to the van to fall into bed and sleep. By 8am I was back in the hall and swapping tales. Nick had pulled out at Dent just lacking energy and so had Phil. John V was back and so pleased to complete another event 50 years after his first.
Dick being spoon fed at Stonhouse - another great completion
Dick was still out there but was making steady progress. The prize giving had a bonus for me- Julian's oldies team had won and I was the first counter.

So a trophy and prize voucher to go with the Fellsman necktube despite it all. All that remained was to take down all the Runfurther gear and take Dick back to his car in the quarry.