Wednesday, 20 July 2016

St Cuthbert's Way Ultra

The T shirt says 100km, the route maps say 64 miles plus. This year there was a diversion after river bank erosion so about 1 mile less but then I made 4 errors and so probably added the mile back in!
Most of the route would be new to me although I hoped to recognise parts of the second half after last year's Jedburgh ultra which covers some of the same ground. I wasn't worried about the nav as it is a long distance path and well signed (oh yes?).
The weekend started early for us as on Friday we drove to the NE to see family for lunch and then to spend money at the Montane Outlet store. Just as well we don't live closer to this wonderful Aladdin's cave. By early evening we had scoped out Wooler Bowling Club and found a quiet layby for the night.

I never sleep well before a race and this was no exception. The alarm went all too soon at 5.30am and we moved to the Bowling Club to put up flags, banners and display boards.

 I also registered, left my drop bags and had some breakfast.

 The coach of runners from Melrose arrived and I had time for a quick chat with Andy before Bob and I shot off to Holy Island to put up more flags and the Runfurther start banner.

By 7.30 it was much warmer but breezy- a wind we would be running into all day. After a quick speech by the RO Tim we were off.

 I had promised myself to set off slowly but the first 5 miles are flat and mostly tarmac as the race leaves Holy Island over the causeway and then along the estuary.

 I knew the pace was fast and that perhaps I should not be in the top 7 at this stage  (or any stage) of the race but I was trying to shelter behind men and was enjoying a chat with Andy, Neil and others.

 Mr Orange socks (Keith Robson?) was soon hundreds of yards ahead - he would either have an awesome race or blow up. We let him go. Interestingly despite having traveled so far I was running with a guy from Morecambe and even more bizarre Katey from Preston.

We both knew we had met before but it was miles before we could think of where it might be although we only live a couple of miles apart. More of Katey and Mr Orange socks later.

Gradually people settled into their own pace and after the A1 I was suddenly alone. Katey had run ahead with Neil and Andy had dropped behind me. I thumbed the map just in case but the StCW signs seemed OK or the direction was obvious.

 I made a very brief and short diversion to St Cuthbert's cave before enjoying a lovely downhill path to the lanes. Here there was no sign so out came the maps. Then at the next junction my maps showed a CP but there wasn't one? Oh heck. I saw runners ahead on a land-rover track so off I trotted. We were carrying trackers so I hoped that even if I had somehow missed the CP I had proof of being there (somehow I had downloaded last year's map and this CP did not exist this year). I caught the two runners and ran from here towards Wooler with them.

 All was well until the historic bridge over the R Till. I could see Katey up ahead and was determined to catch her. At the top of the hill side a StCW arrow pointed diagonally? I spotted a gate to the right and took it. My 1:50,000 map was unclear and the path seemed suspiciously overgrown but I knew there were not many runners ahead so perhaps they had left little track. After 15 minutes I was in head high bracken and then thistles and nettles. It was too far to go back so I hacked my way down and around the hill trying to get back on route. My legs were on fire from nettle and thistle stings and my language was a bit choice. Running was impossible.

The next CP was Wooler so I grabbed my drop bag and forced down rice pud and more before running off straight into error number 2. This time I was not alone. A huge brown sign pointed left so we took it. Fortunately a marshall spotted our error and came racing after us. More time lost and now I had little confidence in the signs. I concentrated on plodding up out of town and onto the common as fast as I could. Then at the entrance to the woods I met my next dilemna. The sign pointed left but a path clearly went straight on like the one on my map. I went straight on and before long found this was incorrect and that the path must have been diverted to avoid windblown trees. A kilometre or so of threading my way around, up and even crawling under meant even more time lost.
Fantastic scenery
It is just as well that the next section across the northern edge of the Cheviots was beautiful because I was building up to a big sulk! I had lost perhaps 30 minutes in 3 mistakes in the last 3 miles. Not good.

I loved the next section on grassy paths, hill tracks and even boggy sections.I caught a couple of runners that had slipped past me when I was awol and that plus the beauty boosted my spirits.
Scotland!!! we must be getting closer to the end
The CP at Hethpool was very welcome as I was out of water (and wishing I had carried a bigger bottle). More hill track and then lovely grassy paths followed. Somewhere around here Jackie from Helsby was spectating and told me that Andy was only just ahead- bugger, another one who had slipped by when I was awol. I set off in pursuit and caught him before Kirk Yetholm.
Not a happy runner
We ran together for a bit and both admitted to being a bit knackered and to finding it tough. Two evening sprint races in the previous week had perhaps not been my wisest preparation. leaving the village across the river meadows Andy was just behind me but as I hit the dreaded tarmac he was no where in sight and I concentrated on staying in touch with red shirt man up ahead.

I was very pleased to leave the road and the next hills were some of the best on the route- short grass, no tussocks and soft ground. Up over Crookedhouse Hill and then Wideopen Hill.

 We were now certainly more than half way and had a great run down to Morebattle on grassy paths with little wooden stump signs guiding the way. The CP staff here were amazing and nothing was too much trouble.
Struggling but smiling
A cup of tea (apparently I was the first to ask for a hot drink), cheese and more water filled a hole and let me run on again. The next few miles to Cessford were all on tarmac and my legs and feet were complaining. It should have made for easier running but I found it mentally tough and slowed compared to even muddy uphills. It was only a few miles but it seemed more. A few field paths followed and the descending to the river only a spit from Bonjedward (I always think of two bad singers with daft haircuts?) I spotted Katey again. I was so pleased to have made up for lost time that my brain turned off and in my enthusiasm I missed a vital sign post. I couldn't see Katey or the guy on the lane. Odd? Could they really have raced that far ahead? I set off in pursuit when I should have stopped with alarm bells ringing. I asked a local if they had seen two runners. Yes (but sadly not the right two I was soon to find out). I reached the main road and realised my mistake. More time lost and more tarmac- all my fault. I was so cross with myself that I ran hard and Katey was only just leaving the CP when I arrived. Along the first river bank we ran together and having had no rest I  thought I was beaten. Once we hit the undulating woodland paths I felt better and more importantly I knew the way here. I helped Katey and a small group of 45 milers as we headed up onto Dere Street. Katey had admitted to never having run this far before and I was enjoying being off road again.

 I pushed the pace as hard as I dared and towards the end of the woods I had pulled ahead and caught Mr Orange socks. He had been suffering stomach issues. I don't know what he ate at Maxton but it certainly revived him and although we ran the next miles together I was struggling to keep up.

The diversion section was very well signed but the next meander seemed to take forever and the up and down sections of wooden stairs were taking their toll. Leaving Newtown St Boswell I used two more 45ers to pull me along as we headed up along side Bowden Burn.

I crossed the village alone and set off for the woods glad to be on mud paths again. I knew the way through the woods and was happy that we used the col and did not need to climb any of the three volcanoes that make up the Eildon Hills.
Looking back to the col the next morning
I kept getting glimpses of Mr Orange socks all the way up and out onto the open land and even up to the col (and apparently he kept turning and finding he had had dropped me, no, I was back again). It was a bit gloomy in the beech woods but not really dark and still very warm even though the sun was going down fast. The end was now literally in sight (or would have been if I had known exactly where to look).
The Abbey the next day- no time in the race for pics
I spotted the Abbey and enjoyed the descent. The final descent is on wooden steps but they are nice and even, not greasy and so I kept up my pace. I found the self clip at the Abbey and the Trail Outlaw signs that would guide me to the finish at Darnick village hall.

There were two uphill sections but I plodded on the best I could. I declined the offer of champagne at the last road junction and concentrated on spotting Trail Outlaw and Runfurther flags which would mean the finish.

 What a relief to see the hall and to creep under the 13 hour 30 barrier that I had set myself.

It was just as well I did not stop for champagne as the second lady finshed fast only two minutes behind (I had not seen her all day so she got her pacing right) and then Katey was only another 7 minutes behind her. Not bad at all for her first 100km.

So, another 1000 Runfurther points, two trophies and some wonderful prizes. Plus medals and a Tshirt.

 Bob had worked almost as hard as me. After taking down flags at the start he drove to Wooler to collect the display boards. Tim brought the rest of the flags and banners which allowed Bob to enjoy a run in the Eildon Hills and along the river before he went to Darnick to put up yet more flags, banners and display boards. He then still had the energy to give me lots of TLC with cups of tea, sandwiches and two trips to the van to collect my recovery drink and then my wash bag. I eventually staggered out to the van and bed but Bob stayed up for more finishers before bringing all the RF kit back to the van.

A big Thank You from RF. He was too tired to wait up for Dick, but I am sure he will understand. Sunday was a day of rest- a lazy day of slow walking, sleeping and eating. We did manage to explore Melrose and Berwick though. What do ultra runners do for recovery?

Two days of hard climbing on the worlds biggest climbing wall on the two hottest days of the year so far. End result blistered hands, a lost toe nail but yes, we had fun.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

SLMM - a favourite

This has become a real family favourite. So many of our friends are there either volunteering or competing, it's local for us as it is always in the Lake District and it has an unusual option- KLETS. After a number of mountain marathons I decided I was up for the challenge. It would be a big ask and I was terrified of going it alone never mind carrying all my kit. I used old maps from previous SLMM events when I had run a pairs course with Rowena and marked on the Klets controls. Could I plan a decent route (it is not a linear course but not a score either- just up to you to decide what order to get them all) and if I could do that could I actually run the route? Imagine my horror when in 2012 I turned up in Wasdale to find that they had tinkered with the format! That year we got all the controls for the weekend and had to decide which to do on each day. I lost sleep over this on the Friday but in the end the choice was either south or north of the lake and just which to do on Saturday and which to leave for Sunday. I was 17th, 6th vet and first lady. Now I was hooked. The next year near Black Combe there was an impressive field of talent and I was only 34th, 10th vet but still first lady (and only). Deepdale in Patterdale followed in 2014 with a smaller field where I was 9th, 3rd vet and the only lady. Last year at Torver I was so pleased that there were 3 women running. The other two both beat me but I was happy with my run, beat some men I did not expect to beat and was 3rd vet.  This year the event centre was near Pooley Bridge and for some reason the field was quite small.
Smiling marshalls- thanks Elaine

We arrived very early on Friday afternoon as Bob was on parking duty. He had decided not to run as the Pillar course was too much as like the Klets you have to get them all; not a score event. I wandered  around chatting, bought some new shoes from Pete Bland with vouchers I had accumulated and offered to help if need be. There were heavy rain showers and I retired to the van to eat a big meal and check my kit. The forecast for Saturday was for lots of heavy rain and it was chilly for July. I registered early, spotted some friends and then went to the van for hot chocolate and bed.
The forecast was correct although I was lucky and did at least get to walk to the start in the dry and even more important was able to mark up my map in the dry. Lying on the fell in the rain trying to plot checkpoints from grid references is not the best start to a weekend MM. The start was at the top of Park Foot campsite; exactly where Rowena and I started our first KIMM back in 2005. I marked up my map quite quickly and managed to overtake Digby by 8 minutes (it would not last). The order for the first few seemed obvious so I ran off. The first was about 8km away on the other side of Loadpot Hill. At some point I found I was running at the same pace as Haydn and it was nice to have company. Digby came racing past and Bill J shouted hello. By CP4 I was almost at Kidsty Pike but low down on Ranadale Beck. It was now very wet and cascading down my jacket. I could not decide whether to drop to Mardale Head or climb to High Street and then descend the rocky ridges at Blea Tarn. I will never really know which was the best option. The weather and chance of Haydn's company meant I went down. We then climbed with Phil, who was on 'Pillar', to our control on the rocky terrain between Blea Water and Small Water.  Next stop Branstree and an out and back from the Gatesgarth Pass area. I knew where the next CP was as I had been given it before on a different MM; a cave below Kentmere Pike. The following two controls were cruel; half way down to the reservoir, up almost over Mardale Ill Bell and then down again to a sheep fold (somewhere near the reservoir I pulled ahead of Haydn).Yet more climbing followed on the way to Thornthwaite Beacon. I had planned an out and back to conserve height here but it took longer than I hoped to reach the control near Grey Crag so I dropped to Hayeswater and then had to climb The Knott. My legs were now complaining big time and I could not keep up with Scott who I had met as we started the descent. It was a lovely run from the stream below The Knott to Satura Crag but I got carried away chasing Scott. We both descended too far on a nice grassy path until I realised the mistake and shouted. Another climb, and this time unnecessary. The final control below Angle Tarn  was easy enough, but the site of a mountain rescue as we passed.
Patterdale M Rescue at work
It was steep and the wet grass and mud made it very slippery. I was so glad of the aggressive lugs on the new shoes I had bought the night before. My feet were sore from the wet and the many kilometres of contouring earlier in the day but I did not slip over once. Our finish and overnight camp was at Deepdale- scene of the SLMM two years ago. I was trashed. I was so pleased to have finished but it had taken so much out of me. Roughly 34km with over 2500m of climb. 8 hours 43 minutes.
Look better than I felt even after food
Bob was on road crossing duty but told me where to find our friends. Just as well as I needed Mark and Albert to help me put my tent up. Rowena kindly went to collect my milk while I struggled out of damp clothes and collected water. Lots of food and drink perked me up but I seemed to spend most of the evening lying in my tent, cooking, eating and drinking.

The on and off rain didn't tempt me to lie outside or to socialise for long. It was nice to have Josie, Tony, Albert, Darren, Rowena and Jennifer to chat with and we watched two mountain rescues and helicopter evacuations from the same spot near my last control.
Josie dressed to party in the rain
Bob came back with the news that I was first vet by 30 mins and that sadly Julie had quit early on in the day so I was now the only lady on my course. An early night and eventually a reasonable sleep.
Sunday dawned bright and clear with a forecast of no rain. I put on wet socks so that I had two pairs on to cushion my feet and then struggled into damp shorts much to Albert's admiration. Having collected my control descriptions for the day at 6.30am I had marked up my map, eaten breakfast and was ready to go by 7.30.
Packed up and ready for action- didn't need the cag for long
I chatted with Tony about the best order to take the controls and then wandered off for a last toilet stop before the walk to the start. I knew my legs were like jelly from yesterday and was very worried about how I would cope. The straight line said 23km so it would be shorter but not short. Bob was back on road crossing so I got a good morning kiss on the way to the start. Even though I was early there was a bit of a queue as the last of the chasing start went off. Then began a steady procession as almost every one trudged up the gently sloping track to Boredale Hause. My legs did NOT think it was a gentle slope today.
Boredale Hause and the 'gentle' incline path
This wasn't the end of my climb; next came Place Fell, although fortunately I did not need to go all the way to the top. Over my right shoulder I spotted the two Klets leaders heading towards Beda Fell. Having got CP1 spot on I then lost concentration and made a silly error losing at least 5 minutes on the way to the next one. Sometime here it started raining, although not heavy rain like yesterday- so much for the forecast. The two or maybe three course leaders were well out of sight now. Leaving Place Fell the rest of us bunched up for a while before Digby shot off, followed by Pete and then Bill and Scott. Greg, Haydn and I were close behind as we contoured near Boredale Hause before climbing Beda Fell. The grassy path down into Martindale was wonderful and we were soon being waved through the gap in the OoB by a marshall (Richard) and the rain had stopped. Eight more controls to collect. Greg and I were now running at roughly the same pace and despite some very different route choices were were together for much of the rest of the day. After Dodd Gill we went opposite ways round Loadpot Hill but still managed to meet up at the CP. The remaining CPs were scattered from here to beyond the Cockpit and I was very unsure which order to take them in. I am still not sure even now after much studying of the map. Sometimes you just have to decide and get on with it.These hills have wonderful running on the grassy paths and when you are descending even off the path, BUT off the paths and up or contouring through bog and bracken really slowed my pace. I knew my mood was low and a sure sign that I was hungry. I munched on a strange mixture of sausage and flapjack which gave me enough energy to climb to the penultimate CP and then blast to the fell gate and down through the campsite to the finish. The photos may not look like I was blasting but I was trying my hardest. Somewhere in the campsite I lost Greg (I do not know how) and at last I was being cheered in on the finishing straight. Yes. Completed. An easier day of almost 30km but only 1500m or so of climb. 5 Hours 15

 I was shattered but managed to keep my humour at the kit check. Bob then kindly filled my water bottle and took my stuff back to the van while I got food and cups of tea.
Bob kit checking a winner
I knew I was first lady but also knew Digby was keen to get first vet. On Sundays run he did but fortunately my lead from Saturday was enough. When Martin Stone asked which prize I wanted it was easy- First Vet (nice to beat the men). I was in fact the oldest on the course so my handicap was good.
Prizes and volunteer rewards
The meal barely touched the sides and it took several cups of squash and tea to quench my thirst. It was warm and sunny for the prize giving and nice to be able to stand and chat.

We also raised over £700 for Mountain Rescue before people drove home and this will increase after gift aid and the SLMM add to it.. A great weekend yet again. Thanks to the RO, planners and all the marshalls.