Saturday, 26 March 2016

Time to stop and smell the roses

We have plans to travel for some more of this year later so I persuaded Bob to enter Haworth Hobble, Calderdale Hike and the Fellsman. He would then only have to find one more race in the Runfurther series. He took a fair bit of persuading on the Fellsman but I pointed out that although tough and long it did have the merits of long cut offs for walkers and lots of food on the way round. Then of course was the issue "I need to know the way". We agreed that the first bit is straight forward and there will be plenty of people around so no need to worry until almost Dent.
Our first attempt to check out sections of the route was in early March. Yep that's right immediately after the snow. You get a false idea of the weather and snow on the hills living in Preston! We parked in Langstrothdale, one of my favourite valleys.

 The plan was to use the lanes to reach Fleet Moss and then test the route to Cray before heading back to the van on the Dales Way. It was quiet in the valley as even the day before the road over to Hawes had still been blocked by snow. All was well until the Oughtershaw Road where the road was not quite clear and a car was stuck. We stopped to help. A new fence at the top coupled with lots of snow caused some confusion but then we found the line and were off.
Some sections were fine
It was tough going and even on the sections where I stayed on the surface Bob kept falling through. It also hid the features and made him think it was pretty pointless as a reccee unless we had a metre of snow the night before the race.
Buried paths by the walls
Well, it could happen. Below Jeffrey Pot I fell down a deep hole and got a very wet foot and leg. Even dry socks don't work in knee deep water. I was sort of enjoying it but by Deepdale Haw and the blue cup Bob announced he had had enough.
Sudden deep bits
He headed for the valley and the van while I carried on to Cray wit the agreement we would meet in Buckden. I couldn't find the wet land-rover track under the snow but found Middle Tongue CP area OK. After that the peat and tussock area was impossible so I dropped down to grassier terrain and cut the corner back to Buckden where Bob collected me.
Great day to be on the tops
We spent a cosy evening in the van and tried to plan a route for the next day. It was cold over-night although we only noticed when we got up and found a tiny layer of ice on the inside of the front windows. This was a blessing in disguise as the snow now had a much better crust. We parked in Kettlewell and set off up Cam Gill beck for Hag Dyke farm. I had never been this way before and had no idea the farm was a Scout outdoor centre. It was beautiful in the valley but by the farm the wind was fierce.
Firm snow at last
Climbing up from the farm the spindrift was like needles and I worried for Bob's eye as he had undergone a cataract operation very recently. We had also forgotten out kathoolas. We reached the cairn on Great Whernside without mishap and sheltered between the stones.

Then we could not believe our luck. As we moved away from the western edge and over to the fence line the wind all  but disappeared. The fence was buried and the wind had carved some amazing sculptures.

We saw nobody else and had a great time all along the ridge heading south.There was one short tricky steep section and then easy running to below the snow and down to Capplestone Gate and Bycliffe Road.

I pointed out where the Fellsman route then heads off towards Yarnbury. I run faster than Bob so he now headed back and I ran on to just before Yarnbury. The plan was we would meet if I caught him up somewhere on the Dales Way before Kettlewell.

After the snow on the tops the path through the pastures was easy although I did have one anxious field of very big cows that were guarding a gate.

Not sure that Bob gained much in terms of Fellsman route but we had a good time.
Fast forward three weeks and the snow has mostly gone.
We spent late Monday afternoon exploring Dent and had a very leisurely walk up Flinters Gill and a look at the route off Great Coum.

 It's amazing what you can see when you have the time; the Wishing Tree, Dancing Flags, an 'Open Barn', a Lime Kiln and a topo-view thingy.

We kept dry feet by stopping before the bogs below Great Coum but Bob now knows the way down and over the increasingly wonky bridge to the nice grassy lane before the less pleasant stone track to the village.

A peaceful night in Dentdale (what would we do without the van) and a leisurely start to the next reccee. A wooden footbridge led from our lay-by over the river and onto the lanes. We jogged west and warmed up before joining the Fellsman route near the Methodist chapel near Whernside Manor.

 Many many years ago we had cycled up this track and back over to Horton but Bob claimed no memory of it. We plodded uphill and I did my puppy dog thing of running on and then running back. Once it levelled out and became grassy it was a lovely run eastwards with views of the viaducts.

Having identified the point to leave the track we followed the wet and faint trod to the fence and then tackled the bog. It was drier than usual but I doubt the bottom near Little Dale beck ever really dries out. The false summits of Blea Moor were soon passed and we stopped to admire the view from the trig.

 Turning north I was surprised to see how much forest had been felled but we headed for the air shaft and picked up the paths no problem. Near Dale Head farm we met the owner struggling with a dog determined to pull him over. At the farm the turkey is no more but there are some impressive hens and a cockerel.

The path to the Stonehouse Lane was almost dry and we were soon running down the lane admiring the river rocks. The bridge had been decorated with 17 moles- I guess the mole catcher wanted to be sure of being paid for a job well done. A quick pointer to Artengill Beck and the location of the CP field and we were off along the Dales Way and back to the van. Not bad and it was only lunch time!
We moved the van to Redshaw and ran down to Swineley House farm. The mud here was deep! but improved once we reached the track to Cross Pits. I had expected it to be a well maintained and cobbled way like the route up from Artengill but this side was rutted, eroded and rarely used. After showing Bob the stile and beacon position we decided the day was too nice to hurry so we included the out and back to Great Knoutberry. It's all miles in the legs and climbing practice. Crossing the moss was wet as usual but  we were back at the Redshaw CP in quick time. I had not realised what a busy road this was and am sure that when I cross it on race day I rarely see any traffic? We stopped to chat to some cyclists and again having the time to spare I spotted previously unnoticed landmarks like the old milestone and boundary marker. A short run down the grass verge brought us back to the van.

Next stop Fleet Moss CP ready for the next day. We parked no problem but the van heater started to play up and kept cutting out. In the morning we headed back to the Snaizeholme CP but decided there was no need to trek across the bogs to the road. The line back to Cam High road was easy and very runnable. I know I cut across the rough terrain last year. It did look shorter on the map but the big path seemed faster.
Then came Dodd Fell. I have done this section at least two different ways and now know which one I prefer. Leaving the summit trig point proved more of an issue than I expected. Last year Oz took me 'his way' so today I tried to revert to the hole in the wall route. I think the holes have gone.We decided round the end of the wall would be easiest. After that it is easy and we were back at the van for lunch. Nice to have a hot drink. We ran back to Dodd Fell that afternoon and confirmed that the only hole in the wall was too far west to be very useful. There was still plenty of daylight so we set off across the Fleet Moss to Blue cup bit. Without the deep snow it made much more sense to Bob and he had remembered some of it anyway. The weather was changing and it was cold, windy and getting damp. Section sorted and for me a quick scamper back to the van to get warm. The heater was still cutting out but never mind, it was cozy compared to outside. The forecast was not great for the next day but we have known them be wrong before and I love being away in the van. We dropped down to Yockenthwaite to camp but as we turned into our layby the power steering went. Time to head home whilst there was still some steering. At speed and revs it was sort of OK but at slow speed Bob was only just able to turn the wheel. My puny arms would have been useless, At least we made it home and the forecast was correct- Thursday was wet.
The van is booked into the garage but we went back for a day trip in the car as Friday was so glorious.

The valley was deserted as we arrived early and were parked at Cray before the car parks had any visitors at all. First job was up the hill to the Hell Gap CP.

The sky was an amazing blue at it was warm in the sunshine. Our aim was back to the blue cup but I also wanted to experiment and try some different lines. It has confirmed for me that the northern side of the old walls above High Pasture is the only sensible route and I think after two goes I now have my preferred route from the Middle Tongue CP to that wall.

Some new fences and gates could confuse some people on the day perhaps. I showed Bob the wet quad bike track back to the blue cup and collected up the remains of a very broken tent on route.

We sheltered behind the wall to eat and then two runners appeared. I ran back with Stu and his mate to the Middle Tongue CP and then waited for Bob.

In the meantime they had climbed way above Cray Moss tarn. Oops, not the best way. Back at Hell Gap we met Darrell and Debbie and stopped for a quick chat.

The weather seemed to be changing. It was now windy and much cooler.

A quick bite to eat in the car and we decided we had time for me to show Bob the best route up Buckden Pike before the journey home.

Walkers coming down seemed surprised how little we were wearing but it was fine so long as we kept moving. A quick photo call at the top and we turned round.

The way along the top is easy. Running down we met Darrell and Debbie again and it confirmed my route is the more runnable.

We escaped the valley before the Easter holiday traffic became an issue. All the pubs and cafes were crowded until we got beyond Skipton where we stopped for a cup of tea and cake.Hopefully Bob is now happy that he can find his way.

 All he now needs to do is keep making forward progress and complete the 61 miles. Easy ;)

Thursday, 24 March 2016

A local run for fun

How often do we tell ourselves "It's just a run for fun, not a race"? In fact this time it was a LDWA challenge event and although they do produce results at this one it is not really considered to be a race by many. Two Crosses starts from Tottington near Bury but moves west across the Pennine Moors to areas I know quite well. I wanted time on my feet and some hills. Plus I was determined to introduce a friend to the joys of LDWA challenge events. We had not pre-entered and so arrived early to make sure we could enter on the day. We were very early, the first to arrive and they were only just set up for business.
The first entrants on the day
We duly filled in forms; 25 mile or long for me and 17 mile or short for John. A cup of tea and some toast settled his nerves and he checked the master map. Then friendly faces started to appear and we got chatting.
Josie, the Sunters and Mark S
By 8am we were herded outside and feeling the chill as we waited for the off. I knew the first few miles would be a struggle and they were. I had raced last weekend, hard at Street O on Wednesday and then again at my first orienteering race for months only yesterday. Before the first road crossing Josie and others pulled ahead and Geoff disappeared for ever. By the end of the first housing estate I was forced to walk a couple of times but I fell in with Steve and we chatted about heavy legs etc. I did seriously consider turning back in the first 2-3 miles as I just could not make my legs work. Fortunately it was a dry sunny day and I wanted to be out on the hills. Affetside and the first cross came and went just as I was starting to think maybe my legs would work if I kept demanding it. The drop down to Jumbles reservoir helped and suddenly we were at Turton Tower.

 The next bit should be easy fast running and I was embarrassingly slow as Lyndsey and Simon jogged past chatting. It was around here that Suzanne caught me up and what a blessing that was. It made me take notice and gave me something to aim for.
It is just a railway bridge!
We chatted and as the miles went by settled into a silent agreement to help each other get round in a reasonable time. Turton Heights were drier than they often are and it felt odd to be going in the opposite direction to normal as we moved onto Anglezarke Amble ground. It was a little swampy getting to the Witton Weavers way and Suzanne joked that she could be home in minutes from there. This was the first place we called back Lyndsey and Simon to stop them going awol. Gradually my legs gave in and made an effort. It was not a fast pace but I was satisfied that I could now enjoy the day and get round before the walkers swallowed me up.
Spot the swamp
I had remembered more food than was available and so quickly downed a gel as we climbed onto Darwen Moor. AS we left the main path and turned right over the tiny stile we were surprised not to be able to see other runners. A few minutes later we saw why. They had missed the turn and we shouted them up to our path.
No more photos after Belmont as I stopped making excuses and started running
We crossed the A666 together but they were moving faster. In the woods at Cadshaw I suddenly got the feeling we had gone wrong. Idiot. We were on the climbers track to the quarry. I dropped through the trees and Suzanne followed. The other two were too far ahead to shout this time and we never saw them again.The flat path around Turton Reservoir should surely be easy but you can see the dam wall for ages and it always seems harder than it should. We both knew there would be a good spread of food in the tent at the next CP. I managed a sandwich, cup of tea and a bowl of trifle. The next bit has some tricky turns but I knew they way. I took it steady for the sake of the trifle until Orrell Close CP and the start of the moor. Reaching the softer ground of the moor seemed to revive me or perhaps it was just the need to escape past the maggot farm asap. Today the route across Bull Hill was well flagged and the visibility was good anyway.We passed the old vehicle stuck in the mire and turned towards Naughty Corner. Twenty miles done but no time for a rewarding whisky today. Off to the Pilgrims Cross taking some friendly dogs with us (they were oblivious to their owners cries to stop). Just as I had been thinking that my foot was coping well thanks to the soft ground it started to hurt. Not badly but enough for me to be worried and to slow me down on the rocky descent after Peel Tower. Peel Tower was heaving with families and walkers enjoying the sunshine and we were catching many people on the shorter race route now. I was now showing Suzanne the way and another guy who came with us so I forced myself to ignore the hurt and keep going. It was possible that we could still finish inside 4 hours 30. It wasn't far now and the fields and path back to Greenmount were soft. The road after the golf course was busy but we made it onto the disused rail track in one piece. This section stretches away into the distance and I could not remember how far. I spotted a mill chimney and prayed it was in the terraced area near the school but sadly no. A quick glance at my watch showed I could equal last years time if I tried.The cycle track was crowded with walkers, cyclists and dogs. I encouraged the other two to run on but they said they couldn't. A friendly runner told us 200m to go so we put on a sprint. Perhaps I could even beat last years' time?Ha, ha more like 400m so we entered the hall in a state of collapse but in 4 hours 16. I was pleased and amazed to be two minutes faster than last year after such a dreadful start. It just goes to show that you should never give up.
Soup, bread and Manchester tart! LDWA rocks!
More importantly John (who had worried about keeping me waiting) was already back, fed and changed. He was 10th and had beaten some friends. and enjoyed running with a friend of mine for some of they way. It was great to see him with a big smile having enjoyed his morning out and now believing that he would enjoy it and could do well.

Monday, 14 March 2016

The start of the 2016 Ultra season (aka pain, sweat and tears)

A pre-season favourite is the Anglezarke Amble but at almost 25 miles it does not count as an ultra despite the hills and mud. I knew this event would be hard after 3 months of walking and very little running. I started slowly and it paid off. I finished feeling better than usual and was only two minutes slower than two years ago. The weather was kind and the ground less boggy than I anticipated- just normal Pennine Moor swamp. It was a good confidence booster that perhaps the year would be OK despite the lack of winter training and despite waiting for the results of an MRI scan on what might be a neuroma on my foot.

Our pilgrimage to Haworth has been an annual event since 2009 and starts the ultra season proper. I love the race for so many reasons.
Yep. I started outside the Fleece.
I see friends that I have missed over the winter, the scenery is beautiful, the RO and team and great and there is an interesting mix of fast elite runners and real plodders. This year we were blessed with mild weather and some sunshine plus the ground so badly flooded a few months ago was now just 'normally' wet in the expected places.
Runfurther's new sponsor Pete Bland
After a night in the van we were up early to erect flags and banners before being among the first to register. Even so the time quickly evaporated and we were off the the cobbles in front of the Fleece Inn.

I deliberately chose a position far back but was surprised to have to walk in the crush. No worries as there are plenty of miles to run and the crowds had thinned by the time we left the historic core of the town. Not warming up properly meant I was forced to walk the odd stretch even before the first stile but I tried not to panic. I was trying my new Hokas and they coped favourably with the mud and wet stones. By Withins ruin I was enjoying it more and the descent on the big flagged path is now super fast.
Thanks Sportsunday
As we hit the goyt path I caught Nick and after the reservoir I passed Phil who had started fast but has done more cycling than running recently. I ran straight through the CP at Widdop reservoir as dry biscuits are not my thing when I am running.
Bob on the goyt a bit later
I could see Rachel up ahead making a come back from a serious injury and wondered if I could catch her (not yet). I used the steep bit to eat a piece of chia flapjack and plodded on up. I got my second wind at the top and was pleased to run quite strongly towards Long causeway. A chat with Nigel Aston who had not raced since September took my mind off the track and then I spotted the distinctive style of Andy up ahead. I told myself to not let him get away. The road section should be an easy run but I ate a bit more and had a drink plus a chat with Albert and Tony who were running on tired legs from Transgrancanaria. Everyone ignored the footpath and used the big track down to the farm which was a huge relief. It was as muddy as usual here and at the next farm. I chatted with Rachel about jobs and work life balance and we were soon breezing through the CP with the hot dogs. We stayed together pretty much all the way to the main road below Lumbutts and collected Noel Hogan on the way. My 'long cut' at the main road proved quicker yet again but they soon caught me on the uphill towards Mankinholes. I know this route so well now that it was quite a shock to have to shout people instructions a couple of times, but good to know new runners are finding the event. Around here my foot started its thing and I knew it was the way it would be now til the end. The top fields were very wet but mercifully short. I passed on the offer of whiskey at the YHA but did take a doughnut and also a pain killer from Noel. He is my guardian angel having offered me cold pizza on the UTMB when I could keep nothing else down and now pain relief today.

 Plodding along the 'London Road' I dropped further and further back and then the pain in my foot exploded. I sat down and cried. At first it was pain and then frustration. Strangers asking if I was OK was embarrassing enough but then I saw Andy climbing up. No chance I was going to let him see me sat and crying. Strong words to self " Quit or get on with it and man up". Mike Sellors had climbed Stoodley Pike to take pictures as his broken foot is not yet mended enough to race. It was wonderful to see a smiley face and he made me laugh even though my bottom lip was still a bit wobbly.Noel sadly dropped behind struggling with cramp as we shot off to Hebden.
Oh for a zip wire across to the church!
Perhaps the pain killer then kicked in but I ran hard down to Hebden with just a moment to admire the view across to Heptonstall. I passed Rachel having a toilet break and caught Andy in the town. The next bit was interesting and just goes to show what different strengths we have. Andy was determined to avoid a PW and announced he was going to run, slowly, all the way up to Heptonstall. For me this would have been certain death and I would have been knackered at the top. I stomped and he ran. He pulled away a little but we reached Horse Bridge together. I quickly refilled my water and we left together. Again once we hit the lane he said he would run to the top, and he did. I stomped and ran the odd bit but could not maintain it. We reached the Lane Head CP together. The pull up the next road seemed tough and suddenly the pain in my foot, which had been manageable, exploded again. I burst into tears and hung on to the bridge. Andy did the right thing and just ignored me. A few more strong words to myself and I got going again, albeit with a rather strange gait as I tried to  take the pressure off my foot. From the top of Walshaw Moor I know the race is just about done and today the Hokas gave me just that extra bit of cushioning to cope with the rocky lane. I worked hard keeping ahead and trying to catch others. Barney drove past and pomped his car horn to encourage me. Pennistone Hill is lovely but at this stage I just wanted to be able to stop. I couldn't hear any feet behind me but Andy must have been close. The lane down to the flagged path to the church could not come soon enough and then there was just the short stretch to the finish. It was a relief to stop but even then with a shoe off it took about half an hour for the pain to ease. In the meantime poor Bill J and Josie had to put up with my tears. The only shoes I have with a wider toe box would not have gripped enough today and the Hokas were good for overall cushioning. I just need to get my right foot sorted. It didn't spoil a lovely day out on the hills but I am getting fed up with it. 5 hours 37 ish so not a PW but not as good as the 5 hours 28 last year.
Lucy below Stoodley Pike
 Lucy Colquhoun was first lady in 5 hours 10 and Josie 2nd in 5.27.

I ended up with a bottle of wine as third lady but in reality I was beaten by a lady running with a partner and she was a vet50 too ( I did try to find her to give her the wine but she had gone). Ian S and Ken S ran as an awesome pair and won in 4 hrs 16.
Runfurther poster boy
Refuelled with veg and pasta and numerous cups of tea I sat chatting as we waited for the prize giving. Andy used this opportunity to present me with all my Runfurther prizes from the end of last year. (I missed the AGM and prize giving when we were in NZ).

Sadly I missed Bob finishing but did get Dick as he finished.
Bob on London Road
Bob missed his presentation as 1st V70 and 3rd V60 from last year but Andy did leave his prize and certificates with me.

So laden down with a trophy, UD vest, Grand Slam hoody, certificates and wine I struggled out to the van to get changed ready for out committee meeting in the pub.

So what have I learnt? Ultra running is at least 60% mental, my foot hurts but it is not impossible to continue after a few minutes and it is wonderful to be out in the fresh air on the hills so smile. Now we have a month of what should be hard training and reccees ready for the Calderdale Hike and the Fellsman which are only a week apart this year.