Sunday, 22 December 2013

No 62 Tour de Helvellyn

This was to be the grand finale and loads of friends would be there. I was really looking forward to the event and even a rather grim weather forecast didn't quite dampen my enthusiasm. The school term finished and we said bye to departing staff and then it was home, check gear, swift coffee and a drive up to the Lakes. I am glad we set off early as the motorway was busy and the weather was foul with strong winds and rain. Askham though is a beautiful little village, even in the rain. Once we were safely parked at the community centre the weather just got worse and worse. By the time we had finished tea the van was rocking as if we were adrift in a very stormy ocean. I escaped to the hall to register and found Joe F sweeping away flood water from the covered walkway outside. Nick was registering too and I had a long chat with the guys from Uclan who were undertaking a sports science study of ultra runners. We promised they could prick our fingers for blood and ask some simple questions.

At least the van was cosy as we read listening to the weather outside and the weather did not stop me having a good nights sleep. I had planned on a bit of a lie in but excitement and the need for the toilet had me up around 6.30. Bob had the luxury of coffee and ipad in bed as he kept out of my way. I kissed him goodbye, wished him a good walk and set off for the hall.

The blood samples and questionnaire took seconds so I had time to chat with Tony, Josie and their friends and then with Jon, Mark and Dave. We all planned to start around the same time and made our way to the kit check queue. Sadly Dave got held up by his lack of map and when I emerged onto the lane I spotted Tony et al and set off out of the village with them. We barely needed head torches (in fact I had decided to leave mine in my sack) and were soon on the open moor. Already the wind was strong and the sky looked stormy.Tony led us to a good path that saved a climb and then his group plus Chris BH disappeared into the distance. I had set off too fast and my whole right thigh was agony. I should have backed off the pace sooner but kept trying to catch them again. After the cockpit the path drops and this gave me some respite and a chance to claw back some of the distance.

The road at Howton was flooded as Ullswater had burst its banks and the hillside were pouring water. The road to Bouthwaite had puddles but the water was still flowing under the bridge. I tried to up the pace along the lanes and paid for it dearly.

 I had to walk most of the way to Boredale Hause and knew I was losing lots of time on a section I had hoped to run well. Just before the col I saw Andy and Sarah, this lifted me and we chatted before being blown around. The drop down to Side Farm went quickly and there was Charmian and others with the dib box. A quick diversion indoors for the Uclan team also meant I had the chance to grab some food and a kind lady poured a cup of tea into my water bottle.

 Then it was out into the paddy fields of Patterdale. By the time I hit the road at the primary school I was soaked from the thighs down and just so glad it wasn't all that cold.

 Then the rain came, and with a vengeance. I put it off but by Greenside knew I ought to stop and put over trousers on before I went up to Sticks Pass.  The farmer whose garage I sheltered by was bemused and announced he wouldn't go up there today if you paid him. Oh well, all in the name of fun and challenge. Typically the rain stopped after 10 minutes but the rest seemed to have revived me and my legs were feeling better. I kept them on as I didn't want to lose anymore time and it was still blowing a hooly. I caught up with Tony and Josie which further boosted my spirits and enjoyed the path through the mine workings and up to the pass.

 Here I passed Nick who was surprised to be in front. The grassy run off down to the CP on the finger post was good fun and I was glad I had work my Fellraisers for their grip when the guy in front took a huge slide. The path along the valley side to Swirls car park was boggy and rocky but I was starting to feel happy now my legs were working and set about picking people off. This was easier than usual as some people had started 40 minutes ahead of me and were going slower. The winning men had come flying past as we came off Sticks pass.

  By Swirls car park I was happy and on a mission. I met Gaynor on CP duty but had no real time for a chat. As I set off along the forest track I ate my first tuna wrap, delicious. Just a shame I was stuffing my face when the cameraman clicked me!

Even here we were still running into the wind although the trees did give us some shelter. At Beside Gill I almost forgot to dib as I avoided some tourists and was lucky when another runner shouted me back.  The next section to Grisedale Gill saw me knee deep in a bog and with gritty mud in my shoes. I hoped this was not going to rub. I needn't have worried. I missed the next bridge and by the time I had found a safe place to cross the beck all grit had been washed out and I was soaked to the top of my legs.

 The climb to Grisedale was tough but we now had blue sky! It was a shock to see some runners appear over the horizon to my left but they had been to the last CP so I guess that's OK. It did make me determined to catch some of them and I ran fast past the tarn.

 The wind was now on our backs but pushing me faster than I really wanted on the rocky descent from the col. I played safe and took my time over the rocky bits but once we hit the good path and grass I gave it all and caught up with the runners in front. In fact I ran with Andy on and off from there to the end.The track to Side Farm was still under feet of water and a caravan was upside down in the field.

 I popped in to see the Uclan men and grab another bottle of tea. Heading up the fell I decided the metal seat looked too good to miss and stopped to admire the view and remove my over trousers. I ate my tuna wrap and used the extra energy to power up to the hause. Picking my way over the first rocks was slow but then the path improved and was good running. Tracey came flying past Andy and I which spurred me to run with a bit more effort even if we couldn't possibly keep at her pace. The bridge at Boredale was now under the water and it was pouring off the fell sides.  After the church I stuck to the road with just a couple of short cuts on the zig zags. The pier at Howton was no better and nor was the path back to Askham Common. It was good to have Andy running with me and we took turns to put in some effort and raise the pace. I'm sure it made us both faster. We got shot blasted with hail along this section but by the time we reached to open moor it had just about stopped. I could now smell the finish and was keen to get back before any worse weather or the dark made life harder. The gradient eased and I shot off. I was hoping I would spot the grassy/ boogy path we had come out on and so save the climb up to the trees. I spotted it, jumped the ditch and set off. Yep, there was the pond, then the two massive depressions. his has to be the right way. About 10 minutes later I had an anxiety attack and stopped, got my map out and checked. I could not face going wrong at this stage. I looked behind but there was no sign of Andy. I had expected him to be just behind me. Having confirmed I really was right I set off again telling myself that the big valley dropping away into the dark had to be heading to Askham. I soon had the confirmation of another runner next to me. It was enough to make me sprint to the finish, well it felt like that to me. We stormed into the hall and the finish having beaten the dark and the rain. I was chuffed to bits to find my time was 8 hours 11.

 When the Uclan guys had asked what I hoped for I thought 8 hours 30 would be good and 9 OK in bad weather. It meant I was 4th lady and first W vet 50, not bad at all after such a shaky start that morning. I grabbed soup  and bread, then tea and cake. After a quick chat with the winner and a final check in with Uclan I realised I was chilling fast and went out to the van. Bob had not been back long. Dry, warm and changed we went back to the hall to cheer others in. We cracked the bottle of bubbly to celebrate the end of my ultras. Tony and Josie joined us and it was good to be in the company of friends. Martin D came to say Hi and many others gave their congratulations. Nick finished and once he was fed and warm he came to join us. Mark and Dave appeared, but no Jon. Andy and Sarah arrived looking cold and wet but happy to be back.

 Jon had been in front of all four of these so where had he gone? We expressed our concern to Joe and waited. It was a big relief to see Jon come through the door but nothing to the relief he felt. He threw  his arms around me and for a moment I thought he would collapse and squash me on the floor.  He was wet, cold and grey. A team of us soon had him stripped, dry and changed. I force fed him soup and he slowly gained colour and warmth. It had been a shock for him and we left him with Mark and Dave to recover. It was getting late and we were hungry. We moved next door to the Queen's Head and bagged a table for six. I had a great evening with excellent food and brilliant company. I was pleased Bob had managed to get out for a decent walk and that he was with me to celebrate.

Nick returned from a bath in his B+B and then Mark, Dave, John and Jon arrived too. After much food, alcohol and banter we wandered back to the van and fell into bed. Great end to an amazing year. It rained again in the night!

No 61 Frostbite a week late

This was to be a sneaky little ultra just in case next weekend didn't work out ie. my way of making sure I did my 61 ultras. It also meant we got to sleep at home and have a lie in before we drove to Pateley Bridge.

After a quick tour up the valley we settled on the very reasonable pay and display on the edge of town. It was almost 9am when I jumped out the van and dashed across the road to the public toilets. Sorted for the day I set off up the valley. The first miles were easy along the river Nidd and up towards Wath. The path alongside Gouthwaite reservoir follows the dismantled railway and so was fairly flat although I did meet my first mud and puddles here.

It was quiet and by now warm enough that I had removed my cag. The gloves were to come and off all day. Just before Bouthwaite I met my first people to say hello to, two old guys who had bagged a dozen rabbits between them. At the village I turned up hill and onto the moor.

Although it was steep for a while it levelled out as I branched off onto the Six Dales Way and climbed towards Jenny Twigg and her daughter (two enormous rocks on the horizon). The next junction brought a downhill section and the surprise of a wonderful little shooting house nestled into the rocks.

 Sadly this also seemed the end of the decent path. The map showed a public footpath so I headed off through the heather in what seemed to be the correct direction. There was a path of sorts and I did find a cane, presumably left from the race the week before. I was slow climbing up to the farm and then onto the track across the moor and I was getting worried about how long I was going to be out. Luckily the next sections seemed to pass quickly and I made up plenty of time.

The drop down Bracken Ridge was a joy and then the track contoured high above the Nidd with great views further west above Angham. There was a sneaky detour up around a stream and then it was downhill to Scar House Reservoir.

By now my feet were soaked so I ran happily through the muddy puddles and boggy moorland to the head of the top reservoir. The track and then tarmac water company road meant I was soon back at the lower dam, where apparently I missed a treat. Bob found some 'viewing' platform that let you peer over the dam wall.

 It was a short steep climb onto In Moor and past the trig point at Rain Stang but then a long long descent down the rocky muddy lane all the way to Middlesmoor. The descent continued across some fields and over the beck by How Stean Gorge. I was going to explore but it is all privately owned and set up for paid tours.

The bridleway/ Nidd Valley Way took some detours but led me into Ramsgill and I realised we could easily have parked here. I hoped Bob would forgive me as parking in Pateley Bridge extended his route by some miles. At Ramsgill I followed the road back to Bouthwaite and retraced my steps frrom the morning's run. I wsa safely back in Pateley Bridge by 2.20pm.  I changed and got warm and made a cip of tea in the van. I went for a walk to suss out the best coffee shop to give Bob a treat when he returned. Unfortunately that never happened. I made another brew, crawled into bed, read, fell asleep and dozed until 4.30 when he arrived and opened the van door. Just as well we had taken head torches. No time for a cafe but at least it wasn't too long a drive home and the rain held off until we were warm and dry in the van. 61 completed - but kept quiet for a week and sort of held in reserve. The forecast for next weekend is not looking good and not getting round the Tour of Helvellyn is always a possibility.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

No 60 Brecon 40

Originally my plan was the Frostbite 30 as it was closer but then after the Wye One Way I realised that I was in with a chance of a series prize so long as I ran at Brecon. The nice organisers at Might Contain Nuts found me a place and so it was another long drive into the depths of Wales. Bob had a walk on the tops planned and we stayed in the van. It seemed late when we arrived in Talybont but it was only mid evening. I registered and we settled into the cattle market car park before an early night.

The morning dawned dry and mild. I always know when it has been mild overnight as I get too hot in the van. Sadly the guy next to us must have been cold and his engine running got us up earlier than we had planned. By 7.15 we were congregated in the car park and listening to the last minute instructions.
It was still to dark to spot people easily in the crowds as both the ultra and marathon runners were assembled. We marched quietly to the back of the pub and waited on the canal bridge. Setting off up the Taff Trail I knew it was going to be a long hard day. The cold I had suffered all week was still with me although my voice had made a bit of a comeback overnight.
On the first incline I stopped to remove my cag and get a breather. Many passed me but I also overtook lots as we headed down across the fields and onto the canal. I had not done this route before It does not go over the high peaks but has almost as much climb in total.
Around CP 2 we got great views into the high tops and the cloud looked to be clearing so I hoped Bob was having a good days walk.I felt I was struggling until CP 3 but tried to keep the group in front in sight.
Most of the paths and fell were surprisingly dry although the bog on Warn Wen was still as wet as expected. Somewhere around here I felt I got second wind and when others stopped at CP 3 I ran on through and kept going.

I chased a guy in blue all the way to the A470. I had decided to experiment with some real food after getting very sick of gels on the Wye race. The tuna mayo wraps seemed to do the trick as despite feeling a bit glum at the sight of the gravel forest track stretching off into the distance I caught up with some other runners. The Story Arms seemed to take a long time to appear but the girls on marshall duty were fantastically cheerful and filled my water bottle. The weather was benign compared to late October when the OMM started from the lay by.
Climbing towards Corn Du we met our first tourists of the day and the summits looked positively crowded. I ate my other wrap and stomped my way to the top gaining another few places. The run down to CP6 took so long that I was worried I had missed a sign, especially as it first goes NW, but every time I got worried I spotted another MCN sign. For me this descent was the highlight of the route. CP6 was a landmark with only 10 miles or so to go.

 It was marshalled by the guy who had been on duty outside registration on Friday night and he asked how my voice was going. Here I got cocky and ran on ahead round lanes, tracks and bridleways. After a couple of miles we joined the summer route and I was sort of pleased, but sort of sad, that we were not climbing back up Cribyn.
No tops today
I say sort of sad because I much prefer the muddy paths than tarmac lanes or rocky valley paths,  A sign had been lost here and I made a serious nav error. I had in my head the little note on the map about adding some climb for UTMB points and so ignored my instincts to turn left to the river. The signage had been so good and I could see another runner up ahead.  After more than a kilometre I knew it was wrong. Fortunately a quick check on the map showed I was at the end of the in-bye fields. There was nothing for it but a quick descent through the bracken, across the stream and head back north on a little path. I arrived at the correct point just as a big group climbed up from the river. All that wasted effort. Still I now had company to help me push the pace a bit. Somehow I had convinced myself that after CP7 it was done and dusted and pretty much downhill. How wrong I was. We climbed and descended and climbed again crossing every possible valley as we headed east. Even when Penceli was in sight we went up rather than down onto the canal. Over the last fields and then the tow path my new found friends slowly pulled away. I passed Bob on the tow path and knew it was only a km or so to the finish. I had hoped to break 8 hours but not today! The marshalls were clanging the bell and cheering us in and at last there was the finish. Despite being warm all day when I was running I soon chilled off so I shot off to the van to wash and change. I met up with Bob and we strolled down the Old Station for the prize giving. I had missed Emma finishing but saw a number of the guys I had run with. Despite my error I was also pleased to have stayed ahead of the next lady. The winners did awesome times with the first 3 all under 7 hours and the best in 6 hours 18. I was pleased to manage first vet lady on the day and also in the series. I think I was third lady on the day if you ignore age categories.

 Losing 20 minutes up the valley and struggling with a cold meant I took 8 hours 30. I later found out in the pub that a garmin showed nearly 43 miles and that was without my little detour. Perhaps JonS is not the only RO who underestimates the distance ;)
With the prize giving over we wandered up to the pub and settled in for a relaxing evening. We ate early and as we started our second beer it began to fill up with more runners.

It was interesting to chat with a guy from Iceland who was telling us how cheap things are there now due to their poor exchange rate. We also chatted to some men who had completed their first off road marathon and a couple of others for whom it was their longest race so far and the start of preparation for the MDS. It was good to stroll back to the van and fall into bed, leaving the drive home for Sunday. There were at this stage still people finishing.. that is a long time on your feet and going slowly in the dark.

Monday, 2 December 2013

No 59 The Howgills

I got a shock checking my list of ultras during the week. I had not done one on the Howgills! How on earth had that happened? I love the Howgills; I think the shapes are beautiful and you can run all day without seeing hardly anyone. A quick search on gofar reminded me of a challenge there- The Hravey Howgill Tops. I knew I did not have day light to do the whole thing as it took Tony Wimbush 12 hours but I could see  a way to doing 2/3 or 3/4 of it. Night O meant we were already near Kendal on Saturday evening so it was not a long drive to Sedburgh. We found a very quiet layby and then moved to the Cross Keys early on Sunday morning.
Mild, dry and even the tops look clear.
We were  out of the van and fueled by porridge and coffee by 8.20. I had thought about starting with Yarlside but it seemed a big climb to drop straight down again. Instead I ran up the easy path to Cautley Spout.
Steep but good path up the right hand side.
The mist was down on the tops but it wasn't really raining. At the top I got carried away and forgot to branch off north. Suddenly there was a sheepfold that I did not expect to see. Hmm. Map and compass out and error was sorted and I headed up to the Calf just to make sure. (embarrassing for an orienteer but interesting to find Bob made exactly the same mistake when he came up and was surprised to see a trig point). The trig point was there and I set off again. I knew I had to leave the big path and head north on a ridge but I misjudged the distance in the clag and turned too soon.

 It meant I had a drop to the East Grain and a climb up to the correct ridge. After two mistakes I was expecting Bob to catch me up. About now I realised I was pretty wet, even though it wasn't really raining . It was mild though so no real problem. I was now on a wet but fairly decent quad bike track and more importantly I was back on the gofar route. After Hazelgill Knott this was predominantly downhill and I could not resist just going down into the clear weather. I then found a sheep trod and ran back up to Langdale Knott.

I was just starting to think that a run on the big valley paths might be best given the weather when it started to clear. I crossed Langdale Beck and got up to the trig on Middleton surprisingly fast and the views were improving all the time. My earlier errors made me cautious and I ran with map and compass in hand but safely crossed Simon's Seat and around the valley top to Docker Knott and the unnamed 500m top. Then it was a down and up to Uldale Head.
The path from here to Rispa Pike was probably the worst a boggiest of the day and in fairness Harveys do show peat hags on the map. I found the pond on Archer Hill and headed off to the drier ground of Hare Shaw and Blease Fell.
Improving views back into the middle fells
I recognised bits now from the Tebay fell race. Working back to Uldale Head was hard work but I knew that once there it would be a good path over the top of Black Force and then a contour round to Lingshaw. The views were now great in all directions and there was blue sky.
Deep deep valley above Black Force
The wide grassy track was lovely running and when it took  a descent I left it and headed to Brown Moor. This seemed a long detour and I lost some height.This was probably about half way and I stopped for a brief rest and food. The flog back up to Fell Head was a beast and made worse because I followed a trod that led me into deep heather and very steep unstable scree.
Fantastic views into the Lakes
The relief when I arrived at the top and could see a good path all the way back to Calders was amazing.  Somewhere around Busk Howe I passed my first person of the day and as I left the Calf I met another fell runner.
It was good to know I had been on them all
I was conscious that time was getting on and the weather was now so clear that I had stowed my map. It meant that leaving Calders I forgot to deviate out to Great Dummocks. It would only have been a return trip of about a flat kilometer but it was annoying to realise too late. The run to Arant Haw was wonderful and very fast. Perhaps I would have time to complete the rest of my route after all. The drop to The Nab was easy but coming back I tried to contour and save a climb. My feet were moaning that every contour seemed to be the same anticlockwise. My left ankle had a rub and the ball of my right foot felt like it might be hot or even a blister.

 By 3ish I was on Winder and enjoying the last of the afternoon sun. The heat was going out of the day but the tops I had left were relatively low now. As I set off for Crook I saw another runner in the distance but I had turned off the main path before we met.

Crook was an interesting little peak with two very pointy summits. Very different to many of the flattish grassy tops of the day. A tiny trod took me up the stream to below Sickers Fell and I stopped for food and water. It seemed quite light still and then I looked behind me, oh dear.
The light was fading fast
The summit was marked by a small pile of stones but I could not find a path towards Knott at first and then the one I did find was guarded by horses. I was wary because on the OMM the horses at one CP were quite aggressive.
Do they stand on their tails? What if their fringe ices up?
There did not seem to be any paths off Knott, except down to farmland and these had no access points to the fell. I guess at this time of year and in the fading light I could have risked it but I was goo and followed the wall along the edge of the access land. The overprinting on my OMM map made me think there was a wall all the way and a big track next to it. In fact it becomes a fence and a small but OK path hidden from above my a line of thick gorse. I squeezed my way down to it as the light was fading fast. After about a kilometer I got a shock as two mountain bikes shot towards me. They too were running out of light and they had no lights, nor any idea of how far it was to Sedburgh. With just a short section to go I decided I really did need my head torch. Plus if Bob was worried and looked out he might see the light and realise I was on my way. I had run fairly hard for the last few hours, anxious at racing the dark, and got to the van shattered.  What a day out.

The Howgills have lovely rounded tops and some amazing running but the valleys are deep and steep. The big tracks are great but where there are none it is hard work. I had covered about 31 miles and been out about 8 and a half hours. It has whetted my appetite and I really fancy the whole circuit in the summer.