Sunday, 25 October 2015

Jedburgh 3 Peaks Ultra

It was the last in the 2015 Runfurther series, which for David and I meant we just had to complete this one last run to make our Grand Slam. How hard can that be? Well harder than I imagined. In fairness my competitive spirit did not help matters. A fast run round Ramsbottom on hilly tarmac to get some points on the board for street O left my legs more tired than I had hoped and left one hamstring a bit sore. Added to the on-going achilles issue was the worry that whatever is wrong at the front of my right foot is now not a mortons neuroma? The consultant was positive it was but the ultrasound scan guy on Friday was sure it is not. I don't care what it is but I would like them to decide and sort it out for me.

We drove up to the borders on Friday and arrived in beautiful sunshine with time on our hands. We parked in Bowden and went for a walk up through the woods and onto the lowest and closest of the Eildon hills.

The views were great, the autumn colours in the woods were wonderful and the ground was firm and dry.

We had the added bonus of the local children setting up a mini race diversion over their playground swinging bridge. They were delighted when Bob followed their arrows and went over it. We found the rugby club easily and parked up for the weekend. Andy and I met with ROs Naoni and Angela to hand over Clif bars and put up the display boards. We camped next to the sculpture in honour of Hutton the father of geology. Bob and I settled down for an early night but the local youth had other ideas and entertained us with fireworks and handbrake turns across the car park. By midnight all was quiet.

Saturday morning saw us up bright and early putting up flags and banners before a hasty breakfast, registration and a quick chat with friends.

 It was chilly but not really cold and so far the worrying forecast of rain, heavy at times, had not come true.

 It was getting very hot in the rugby club and almost a relief to be herded out and across the road to the grassy mound. The ROs are potty - my proof was a loud warm up to YMCA complete with a huge dancing squirrel.

 By 8.05 we were on our way and running north through the streets of Jedburgh. I tried not to go off too fast but as I was with Carmine I had clearly failed again. After a mile we turned off onto paths and lanes before a quick section of parkland, a suspension footbridge and the first woods. The whole course was marked with pink dayglo signs and easy to follow.

After the bouncy bridge we turned on to Dere Street which was much better than it appeared on the map. It was in places also much more muddy than the woods we explored the day before. Shortly after the sign commemorating the battle of Ancrum Moor the rain arrived and within minutes was heavy enough for me to stop and put my cag back on. Sadly I also buried my camera safely away and so missed the chance of some photos. 10 miles brought us to Maxton and the first CP. I needed neither food or water yet and so ran straight through and onto the river section. From here to beyond St Boswells we followed the river on a variety of paths. There was mud on the river bank, wooden walkways over boggy bits, steps up and steps down.

Some idiot had stolen one sign and a whole gang of us climbed masses of steps only to realise it was the wrong way after all. Carmine had by now vanished into the distance but Andy was still only just ahead. Crossing the A68 took a bit of time and by Rhymers Stone I was hungry. Walking and eating slowed me further but I knew I would need the energy.

I caught Andy again on the final climb onto the volcanoes but not for long. David joined us as we topped the last of the three and then they shot off on the descent into the woods.

 I joined Andy again for the run through Bowden. The same children were insisting we all went over their play bridge and I think every runner humoured them.

 I grabbed a couple of jelly babies and more water before remembering Bobs joke about Pant Well from the the day before (yes we were - Panting well).

As we hit the lane at Whitelee Andy pulled away again and it the last I saw of him. I did meet some great local runners though and Craig from Dumfries chatted away as we ran back along the river banks. I tried hard to use his encouragement and keep up but too much was hurting and I slowed to a walk along a flat section at the golf course. It was odd doing this section as an out and back but I struggled to remember what we had done that morning with any accuracy. Except the steps. Did I mention the steps? I think this are has as many wooden steps as Hardmoors 60!

 I kept trying to run and used the relay runners that kept appearing as an extra incentive. A mix of walk and run brought me back to Maxton. I stopped and ate my rice pudding, plus I scrounged some orange pieces and refilled my water. It was then even harder work getting going again. The lane out of Maxton can only be about 2km but it was all uphill and I just could not move.

 I did revive a little when we left the tarmac for the woods and Dere Street but the mud was slippery and slowed my progress a bit. The food started to work, I gained a couple of places (perhaps I should have eaten more and earlier) and I enjoyed the last section of wood before the suspension bridge.

Climbing over the kerb barrier on the A698 made me feel like an ancient granny but only 5km remained now. True there was yet more tarmac uphill but the end was in sight. In retrospect I wish I had shouted at myself more and made my body run all of the last 5km. To walk even flat bits seems to have failed badly and if I had run perhaps I would have scarped under the 7 hours. In fact if I had run more of the last 10 miles I would have been with either David or Andy and I am sure they would have shamed me into a run! What a relief it was to reach the grassy knoll again. Noanie and Angela were still bouncing up and down and another girl had the mike and was shouting and cheering every runner in. This race gets the prize for the most bonkers RO team. I looked for David to celebrate our Grand Slam but think he must have shot off to get changed. A few minutes later I started to chill badly and did the same. The hobble to the rugby showers was well worth the effort and a cup of soup started to revive me. Andy and I slowly hobbled back to the knoll for the prize-giving.

 Well done to Ian, Ken and Kevin on 2nd, 3rd and 5th places. Big well done to Andy for 1st V60 and to Martin for 1st V50.

It was too cold to linger so we retired for more soup and were still sat there when Bob appeared. second race in a row to be sponsored by a brewery! I must be in a bad way because this time the beer is still in the bottle more than 24 hours later. Eventually we had all the flags and banners down and agreed to meet up in town. The pub was struggling with the crowds so we settled for fish and chips before going back for one quick drink. We were shattered and not long out of our beds. The year is complete. The Runfurther series is over. David and I both managed our Grand Slams and now our bodies can rest and repair.

Monday, 5 October 2015

A mini holiday and an adventure into the unknown

After much debate over flights, ferry ports etc I booked the Heysham- Douglas ferry and set the dates to allow a mini holiday. Taking the van is not the cheapest way but it allowed me accommodation and for us to move the Runfurther flags, banners, display-boards, prizes and the all important Clif bars. Andy was coming with me and neither of us had been before.
Big lumps for such a small island
Despite leaving Preston in what we thought was plenty of time the Lancaster traffic made the last few miles a little fraught. Even more so for Mike and Barney who were luckily on a motorbike and so able to weave through the congestion.
It wasn't long before the runners converged on seating in the cafe area and introduced themselves. The crossing was flat calm and we made the most of the sunshine admiring the off-shore wind farm and then eventually the Manx fells and Douglas harbour.

We met one of the ROs, Mark Murphy, to hand over some Clif bars and to find out exactly where in Port Erin the finish would be. As we parked on the prom I recognised Charmain and Steve (well, their van) and it was good to have some help putting up all the Runfurther and sponsors flags. We checked out the coach departure point and headed off to what we hoped was a quiet night with a sea view.

After a quick meal our bags were sorted and we were ready.  Then the phones started ringing. The coach was full and we had been found lifts in a car. Great a lie in! Ah but what about the Clif bars? Steve and Charmain thought we had over-slept at 5.45 but I opened the door to a bemused Steve, handed him a huge box and said see you in a couple of hours. Following a leisurely breakfast we checked on the flags and went to wait for our lift (thanks Eleanor and Jackie).

 By 8am we were registering in Ramsay and meeting up with Chris who had flown plus David who had only just got off the ferry.

There was just time for a mad scramble for toilets before it was 8.30 and we were off. The numbers at this race are not great and there had been an earlier start for the slower runners but even so I was taken aback by the pace at the start. As we left the outskirts of town I realised there were only three runners behind me. Heck, I hope I make the cut-offs and hope I can keep some runners in sight to help show me the way. (I did, but it meant running faster than I wanted and Andy left alone did all his own nav for miles).
Hill 1 North Barrule
As we left town and crossed the dam of a small reservoir the ascents started. The race is only 50km long but has 2500m of climb. It is also a superb route of almost all fell race terrain with very little track and virtually no tarmac. My feet thought they were in heaven even after bogs and river crossings.

With the first hill looming I made an effort to catch others and to keep Eleanor (a Manx runner) in sight. Fortunately the yellow vests were easy to spot as was David's white shirt. The run along the crest of this hill was superb and although the distant views were misty/hazy I could see enough to appreciate the hills the island had to offer.

Another summit at the SW end and then a quick road crossing before the direct ascent of Snaefell. The Civil Guard and a policeman made sure no TT wanabees ran us down and we were soon crossing the rails of the mountain train. A local runner showed me the grassy way down and it was a fast drop to Bungalow. Here I relaxed for the first time when I found I was an hour inside the cut-offs. There was water on offer but I had plenty and had not yet taken my thermal off. Next stop the top of Beinn-y-Phott. Each summit had a self-clip needle punch and a flourescent flag.
Some very small trods and deep heather
A drop to a col and we were on our way up again; this time to Carraghan. This time at the summit I suddenly found myself alone. Even as I ran off down the main ridge I could see nobody. Ah. stop and think. I could see a reservoir and had no memory of that being on route. Then I spotted forest off to the right. I might not have found the best line but at least I stopped before it was too late. A boggy descent and a river crossing soon brought be to Injebreck. The plod from there up to Colden was a tough section with almost no path and deep vegetation. I ate and concentrated on keeping in touch with Eleanor and David. The next part would be seriously tricky in mist but today it was easy to spot them up ahead thank goodness. The day was warming up now as we dropped down through a gorse covered hillside and met the TT road near St Johns. Another policeman saw us safely across and I began to catch runners who had started an hour before us. After a quick chat with Roger who I had met at the RAB David and I set off on the old rail line to St Johns. This section should have been easy running but my legs were tired from the hills. Crossing the car park we saw runners waiting for the shorter race start and lots of local support. The path up through the woods was nicely graded and I ate as I plodded on. The views back to Peel and the coast were superb. Another hill, Slieau Whallian, was gained and the terrain changed to lower land and forestry. The next 4 km were my low point and I should have stopped to eat more. The paths became stony tracks and my feet objected. The front runners of the short race came storming by and I congratulated them. I recognised Lloyd and Jackie Taggart but no others. It was a tough section for me but soon the next road crossing at Round Table appeared and I started to run again.

Normally I am not keen on out and back sections but as we did this on South Barrule it was great to see the faster runners storming down and also it gave me a boost as I realised some of the competition was not as far ahead as I had feared. Yes, I know I was meant to be taking it easy and caring for my achilles etc but it is a race after all!

Running back downhill I regained my positive thoughts and headed off towards the coast. The hills were not over but the scenery changed yet again and there were more runners around me again now. Cronk seemed bigger than 400 odd metres but I knew we were getting closer to the end now and the next few kilometres along the hills by the cliffs were beautiful.

There was a cruel descent to Fleshwich Bay and then a steep pull up Bradda Hill. Some blackberries gave me a pick up and I was up. No more climbs.

A quick glance at my watch confirmed that if I made an effort I could keep all those I had just passed behind me and make it back inside 7hrs30 which had seemed a distant dream earlier in the day. I loved the last few km and soaked in the monument on the headland and the bay at Port Erin.

The last section was well flagged and on lovely grassy paths with just a tiny section of tarmac on the edge of town. What a joy to reach the finish in the little section of park on the cliff top. Charmain and others cheered me in. 7 hours 24. Not too bad at all. Stuart was only seconds ahead of me and Isaline only about 10 minutes ahead.

I was happy as I found my finish, dug out a warm layer and sat chatting. David managed a superb run in 6.59 and so for both of us the Grand Slam is still on. I sat with others on a bench and drank my beer- great to have a race sponsored by a brewery.

 Andy appeared from an odd direction but was happy to finish without knee pain. Chris Davies and his wife smuggled us into the hotel for a shower and a drink and then revived we all went to take down the flags. Again the extra help was really welcome. We all met up at the Cherry orchard for a meal, drinks and the prize-giving. What a great event.

Another quiet night down on the harbour and then Andy and I had a day of sight seeing.

A huge pod of dolphins leaping around near Peel castle,

 a drive round some of the TT course in the van, a visit to the Laxey wheel and port, an afternoon of reading in the sunshine and then a long slow walk in Douglas.

So thanks to Andy for his company and to Mike and Barney for their company on the ferry and to the weather gods for such great sunshine and a flat crossing.