Sunday, 17 September 2017

Crewing the Hardmoors 60

Bob had rashly? bravely? decided to go for a Runfurther Grand Slam. Several races would be a challenge for different reasons but he was anxious about the Hardmoors 60 - possibly after seeing me in pieces at various Hardmoors races and partly due to what for him would be tight cut-offs. To help with this I offered to crew rather than run. It meant the van could be at intervals along the course with clean dry clothes, a change of shoes, a la carte menu etc.
We drove across on Friday and walked a bit of the route from Skelton to Saltburn Valley Gardens. A gremlin had duplicated a sentence in the race notes and talked about going under the viaduct twice. I was sure it didn't but it made a nice walk and we had hours to kill. It was beautiful and sunny afternoon but by early evening that was changing fast. A night in the camper-van with the wind howling and torrential rain beating on the roof meant that I was becoming more and more happy that I was not racing but a little concerned that this would not be great for Bob.
Ready for anything
By 5.45am we were at the Sea Cadets. Bob and Dick registered and off at their pre-agreed early start time of 6am. Having the extra two hours was a buffer that hopefully would not be needed as Bob was determined to arrive at the cut-offs within the given hours. The rain had stopped although the skies were leaden. I left them to it and was busy putting up Runfurther display boards and banners which the RO's team then moved to the finish for me.
Swollen after heavy rain overnight
I was parked up in Saltburn with more than enough time to have breakfast and read my book. It was wild and windy and a nasty squall of rain came through.

Once it was dry I set off back up the course to see how they were doing.  I thought I might get to the viaduct but they were moving well and almost at the Visitor Centre CP.  I raced back to the van to dig out a dry shirt for Bob and also to get more food ready.
Damp start to the day
I have run this line a few times but never driven most of it and our van is big so I was mildly anxious of getting stuck somewhere.
Up and over- the next roller-coaster
I moved to Skinningrove as a surprise. This time I put the kettle on and then only had a very very short run before they emerged around the little headland.
Dick contemplating the damage from his fall
Tea, food and a gear sort and they were off up the next steps and hill. Dick had fallen and was suffering a bit.
An eating ultra
Next stop Cowbar before Staithes which is impossible for vehicles. This time there was no rain and the day was brightening but as I ran back towards Boulby headland the strong northerly kept halting me in my tracks- luckily they had a nice tail wind. Any records this year will be wind assisted.

 Bob was moving well and Dick not far behind although his ribs were now starting to bother him. They refuelled in the van and moved on not too many minutes apart.

It was nice being able to run back to find then like this and take their special requests for food or drink and also ensure that they lost as little time as possible. As I was leaving I spotted the first two men flying down the old eroded road. It would be minutes before they caught Bob and Dick.
Runswick Bay had moved the CP. I had expected them in the lower car park and hoped to park the van at the top. I managed to squeeze in and it is a great CP location with an aerial view over the beach and along to the ravine and also back up the road to see runners appearing.

The lead men raced through and also in the top 6 Martin Terry who would be 1stV50. I ran back up the course again (I would be very bored at and ultra doing no running) and had a request for hot sugary tea.

Ah, we have no sugar in the van. Bob made do and took on more food- marmite and peanut butter sandwiches being a favourite (not together).

I sent him on his way and was worrying about Dick. He arrived with talk of maybe dropping out as his fall was causing him pain and we are all due to go to Scotland for more adventures next week. I knew I didn't have long to get to Sandsend  but that once there I could wait so he set off again. I couldn't get the van in the car park but found easy parking on the roadside.
Good to see Barney back
 It was now warm enough to remove my over trousers  although my reward was a heavy shower. I got talking to runners and suddenly spotted Bob on the big track from the old alum works.

 I shot off to meet him, to get his requests and then to race back to the van to prepare. He was moving well and making better time than I had anticipated.
More Hardmoors steps
I realised that if I used his ipad for photos I could upload them during the race. I took a few random runners too and had great banter with Steve and Shaun who ran for the camera more than once. I had also met Martin again and I gutted that in our haste to get a good action Runfurther photo it is a bit blurred.

I was just getting worried about Dick and hoped he would figure out that the van would not fit under the height barriers so I would be up the road... No, he was worried too- that he would have to run to Saltwick and that I had abandoned him. Not a chance. A relieved man climbed into the van, sank into a chair with a cup of tea and announced that sadly he was done for the day.
I now had company for the remainder of the day which was nice as the evening came and the hours stretched a bit. I didn't fancy the narrow roads and crowds at Whitby Abbey and no support was allowed at Saltwick caravan site so we moved to to Robin Hood's Bay. We were far to early so had a brew, a chat and then I went for a wander while Dick had forty winks.
The sun has come out
 I thought I was getting a dab hand at predicting Bob's time but he stormed along this section so I missed my run. I was also worried about getting a parking space closer to the CP and had to hover and then move fast to get this. Soup, more sandwiches and a toilet break for Bob before he set off downhill but knowing Boggle Hole and the steps were coming soon. He took his better torch now too as reports said the coast road was blocked and so I might not get to Ravenscar easily. In fact we were there with plenty of time to spare and what a view it is looking back north along the coast. This time I left Dick cat napping and did get a run. Bob decided to go to the CP in the hall and not the van so we all walked up together.

Several cups of tea and many squares of quiche later he felt fortified enough to continue. Nick arrived too, and then Sarah and Andy so we had a little Runfurther party. I pushed Bob out the door with the encouragement that the next bit was downhill. Well the first bit on the road and even the first cliff top bit is...... I just didn't mention Hayburn Wyke and the other inlets. We moved on to Scalby and the Sea Life Centre. The heat was definitely going out of the day now, so much so that we put the van heater on for a while to take the chill off. We had another hot drink, did the maths to predict Bob's arrival and then waited. By the time I set off back onto the cliffs it was getting dark and as my eyes had not gradually adjusted I needed my torch.

First I met Nick who assured me had passed Bob some time back. I kept going and suddenly Bob was there only about 5-10 minutes behind Nick. He had obviously had a good patch once the terrain levelled out.

 A quick pit stop in the warm van and he was sent off around the Scarborough Proms and Bays. This is not my favourite section but I do try to see the positives- street lights, a level surface, no mud and no hills- and encouraged Bob to do the same. I sent him after two ladies but sadly they were doing a charity run on a different route.
Meanwhile we moved to Holbeck cliff top. In the dark I had misunderstood the lie of the land so it is just as well that itchy feet made me get out and explore and found the CP! I was chilly so ran back to the Spa. It was lovely seeing head torches appear and to be able to encourage runners on. Bob by now was slowing. I had taken him a cup of hot chocolate which he drank but he also wanted a warm top - an opportunity for a quick sprint to the van and back. He didn't want to eat much and I should probably have insisted more strongly. Most important was the fact that he made the CP before 9.30pm. With his two hour head start this meant he would have just made the 11.30pm cut off and so could consider he had completed the course and made all the cut-offs. There was nowhere else sensible to meet until Filey.  We had plenty of time for a last minute Tesco dash, to find a parking spot close to the hall and to chat to finishers. I took down the Runfurther stuff whilst I had spare time- I guessed that runners arriving after 15 hours or so would not be very bothered what flags they didn't see in the dark and that they would not want to read a display board! Dick went off for a shower and I had plenty of time to chat and eat. Predicting Bob's time was getting less easy. I knew he had hoped to finish before midnight but thought this would be tight. I dug out my head torch and ran out onto Filey Brigg. I met Sarah S and various other runners. Using my garmin I was able to let them know just how little they now had left. Jon had arranged for glow sticks on the steps and across the grass and cliff tops. At the slip way I met Nick and he shot off to use the beach approach and so save himself the climb and steps. I was well on m way to Cunstone Nab when I met Bob and Steve Spence. Steve was jet lagged and hallucinating. He jogged off and just wanted it over. Bob was exhausted and nothing I did or said could persuade him to run or jog.
Finished at last!
It felt a long 1.8 miles back to town and the last hill. Then the church clock was there and I urged him to keep going- getting in before 00.30am was possible. Tired but happy that the Grand Slam is still on he collapsed into a chair. Great effort, well done.

I enjoyed my day. It was nice to pay back all the times Bob has supported me and I really liked being able to encourage runners and cheer them on.
Big breakfast on Sunday

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Grand Raid de Pyrenees and summer 2017

We set off for the continent  little later in August than usual but the plan was the same- one big race in France, lots of heat and sun, some good mountain walks and then either via ferratas or climbing or both. I am trying to find a different 'big' race each year as it seems time is running out as age catches me up and there are so many I want to do. The problem is I like some I have already done and so also want to return to them. This year the problem was solved when the GRP offered a new longer ultra as part of their 10th anniversary.
The red profile was ours!
Instead of 170km we would do 220km and with about 13,000km so I could go back as it would be a different course! Bob was going to do the 80km again and hope that this year they would not cut his course 15km from the end due to thunder and lightning.
Sleepy Vielle Aure before the racers arrived
It was a long drive all the way through France in rather damp weather but by our first day in Vielle Aure, the tiny village that hosts the race, the weather was back to hot and sunny. After such a terrible time at the LTofBradwell I was more than a little anxious about the event. My foot was better than it had been but still sore even just walking barefoot on a hard surface. I tried to calm myself with the belief that we would be out for 40-50 hours and that this would mean a fair bit of walking and jogging which doesn't seem to trouble my foot so much. I also seem to have developed a skill and fast stomping/walking up big hills even if my running is not up to so much now. With almost a week to go before the race the village was very quiet. We parked up on the lane by the river and slowly and steadily more vans arrived over the coming days. I guess at this time many would suggest tapering but I was far too excited and anxious to do that. On our first day I explored a very steep climb up and onto the final ridge and then found an easy way back down. It reassured me a bit - my foot was no worse and I loved being out in the heat. The second day Bob and I set off to do the first and final sections of the race. I was interested to have some idea of target times for the first few places up to the Col de Portet and we both wanted to see what the new finish from that Col would be like. From Vignec to Granges de Lias was just as I remembered it.
Granges de Lias
Then the continuing climb up to Les Cabanes actually seemed easier. I was happy plodding up to Cabane des Tortes and then it suddenly gets very steep so I set myself a time limit and got my head down. That would be the first big climb of about 1450m done.
Merlan from Col de Portet and then Neouvielle National Park

 Today I lay in the sun and waited for Bob. He had taken a wrong turning and so was some time.
Col de Portet looking at first high part of route
At least in the race it would be well marked. The final section of the race back down to Vielle Aure was new to us but we both thought it was  a great route - nicely runnable along the ridge, a short steep section down to Soulan and then a very easy path back to Vignec before a final few km along the river path.
Our final ridge (not the road)
With fresh legs we both imagined running hard down this last section in the race- yeah, right.
Hey this will be great running- not after all those miles
We had a day exploring the other side of the valley and found a wonderful mountain walk and then a fourth day stomping up a steep climb to the summer pastures.

In between there was a fair bit of ice cream and a few beers.

The Sunters arrived and we met up for coffee and a chat. Albert like me had entered the longest race, the others would do the 80km Tour du Lacs like Bob.
I spent most of Wednesday relaxing and faffing before registration at 3pm and then handing in three drop bags at the end of the afternoon. The race briefing was in French but I followed most of it and the RO always does a question and answer bit for non french speakers at the end. The forecast was for gales on the 'new' highest bit of our course and there was already talk of holding the lead runners for a couple of hours. The forecast was a little more mixed than when I raced two years ago but it would be mostly dry and hot.
Dark as we left the van
A 6am start meant we would have very little  running in real dark this year so I opted not to bother with a torch for now. The first section is on lit roads and then on the big track from Vignec I knew other runners lights would be more than enough for half an hour or so.
Things getting lively in the square
It did still feel chilly to me though as we congregated in the village square. I found Albert but then we lost each other when we went in search of toilets. The race limit was 800 but only 500+ had entered this long ultra. It makes it small and friendly, all the atmosphere but none of the shoving.
Nervous smiles
I assumed he was ahead of me at the start but in fact he started very gently and in fact I never saw him at all. When I arrived at our highest point later on the Pic du Midi I was told he had dropped out with injuries.

 I stuck to my plan of a reasonable start but did not let myself get carried away and so I arrived at all points to the Col de Portet within about 5 mins of my plan. I lost a few places with a toilet break at Merlans ski restaurant but caught some by being more efficient at the food stop. I still hadn't seen Albert but was settling into the rhythm and finding myself running within a group of a dozen people over the next few hours.
Bob at Merlans on his race- thanks Albert
Having said that with only 523 on the start line we were spread quite thinly along the trails. The next section from Merlan past lakes and through high mountains is beautiful. The Col de Bastan came quite easily and then it was a largely downhill section towards La Mongie and the ski resort. I say mostly downhill beacuse there was about 200m of climb. I felt I was running well (for me) and enjoying myself. There was a young Italian girl in a very distinctive pink skirt running at the same sort of pace and this helped me to push hard. The supporters at La Mongie were incredible- the noise they made with cheers, clapping and cow bells was deafening. It was now hot and sunny so there were dozens of people out watching and I have to say they made us feel such starts that it was quite emotional. I refilled both water flasks but in all the excitement I forgot to go inside for food. Not a serious mistake as I was carrying plenty but it made me think about concentrating.

  As I left La Mongie and began to contour and then climb to the Col de Sencours I started dipping my cap and buff in streams to keep me cool. I was overtaken by a small number of runners who had obviously had a very conservative start here but I did also pass a few others flaked out on the side of the path, sitting in the shade of rocks etc. By the time we got to the Col it was roasting.
Col De Sencours from above- Albert again
 It is only 7km up to the Pic du Midi and back but there is little shade and no food or water at the top. I made sure I had both before I left the Col. This is the only out and back section in the race but it gives you a good opportunity to see the lead runners and also to check out who is in front of you and by how much. The first lady came racing down and must have been in the top 15 or so (she finished 10th) but it was some time before I saw the second lady. I was sure I also counted a third lady but apparently I was wrong and the marshall on the summit insisted I was third with the young Italian girl not far behind me.
Albert's photo supporting the 80km race
I got a lovely surprise at the top as Michelle and Abbie were shouting support. It seemed rude to rush off so I stopped for a short chat. At this stage my foot was more than bearable although I was worried about the descent on a stony track.

As it was I flew down and grabbed more food and drink before heading off to more mountains, cols and lakes. This area is not quite a rocky or rugged so I found some grassy paths to run on. It does have some high cols tho - Col de la Bonida at 2302, plus d'Aoube and Bareilles at over 2200 before two small er cols lead to the ski area of Hautacam. I was now racing and keeping an eye on third place. I had good company through the Lac Bleu area and I arrived at the CP happy. I was determined to look after my feet so in between soup, cheese and other food I shook out my socks and shoes. I wanted to be well fuelled for the next few miles as much  would be downhill and even some on a road. The initial path down through fields was wetter than two years ago and nice and soft for my foot but the road and then track started to make it sore. At least this time I knew where to expect the Pierrefitte CP. Last time as we got close to the valley floor I thought it was soon, only to find that there is a big loop and some climb to avoid the town roads.
This was our first drop bag aid station. I washed my feet, changed my socks, and ate. Sadly I struggled with the pasta but I did manage soup and some solids.  I restocked my own supplies of food- threw out the home made flapjack that I just didn't fancy but took more cashew nuts and mint cake. Strange the things we decide to like! I also took off a sweat drenched shirt and sorted my sack ready for the first night. First lady was about 2 hours ahead of me at this point and I had been going over 14 hours. My Italian friend caught me here and we set off together up Turon de Bene. Before long it was dark enough for torches and I was on my own but with other lights in sight. No CP up here this year which got me confused for a bit. Our new route set off down through trees to Estaing. It was not an easy path in the dark with trip hazards galore. The men got ahead until the terrain improved. Arriving at Estaing I ate but suddenly felt tired. I tried to figure out what to do about sleep. To wait until Cauterets seemed daft as it would then be light but if we ran through two nights I would need some sleep. I lay on a camp bed and tried to relax. It was too noisy and I was too wired. I eventually slept for 10 mins or so in a 30 min rest. I set off again into the dark and now it was very misty with steady drizzle. Not great for torch light even with flourescent streamers marking the way. Before the Col d' Iheou we had bunched into a small group of six although on the long drop to Cauterets we soon spread out again. Some time in this bit the sun came up and the drizzle stopped. I arrived at the CP still 3rd lady. I grabbed my drop bag and tried to get organised. Changing my socks I found a small blister and the bottoms of my feet were a bit mashed. A kind Kine man treated both and they soon felt good. Clean socks but I stuck with the same shoes as my foot seemed to be finding them OK. I left without my poles but luckily realised only a few paces beyond the door.The new day really lifted my spirits and I tried to find out where the lead men were and what was happening to the gales and the race route. I was assured we were doing the full 220km but very soon it was clear that we were not. Instead of heading south into the Gavarnie and some seriously big mountains and technical trail we were sent east. I was disappointed but also relieved. Apparently they had held the leaders for two hours before deciding to cut that section - partly because the gales did not stop up there and partly I think because they were worried at how few were going to finish (200 had already stopped by the time they came to leave Cauterets). I didn't know it at the time but my Italian friend stopped there too. I had seen her arrive looking much more jaded than I expected.
I had run well on day one, survived the night but I was now starting to struggle. My foot was bearable but a new issue developed. A cramping ball of discomfort and then pain under my left ribs. I tried folding and stretching to ease it and even took some rests. I was very frustrated but struggling to run even downhill. At least the views were good and we were now so spread out that very few runners came past me.  Nearing the valley floor I looked for the town of Luz. Hmm, it was some miles further along the valley. It meant a roller-coaster of paths along the valley-side. I could not believe how many little climbs there were; the town after all is in the valley bottom. I should have realised that my loss of humour meant I needed food but I was too tired. It was a relief to stagger into Luz and find our third drop bags. I changed socks again and then decided to change shoes. I am not sure why really as although they did have more cushioning the others were doing OK. I faffed and tried to eat and managed some but really I wanted to be on my way. I could remember the next few miles from two years ago and set off alone. The rest had eased my rib area pain (for a while) so I cracked on while I could. Climbing onto the hillside I was sure I saw a pink skirt and this made me even more determined. I would NOT be overtaken now.  By Barreges I was tired but happy to have done some faster miles. It didn't last. As I left the town I wished I had a few euros for an icecream but had to content myself with blackberries and billberries once I was on  the hill. The refuge de la Glere was over 1600m above Luz so we had been steadily climbing for some time and it was getting steeper. The soup was wonderful but the pain was now really slowing me up. I tried lying down, stretching, hunching but nothing worked so there seemed little to do except get on with it. Rock hopping up to the Hourquette de Mounicot took my mind off all else for some time. It was brutal but beautiful. Without a marked route it would have been very tricky. Another climb to the Hourquette d'Aubert at 2488m meant we were on the final stretch (sort of). This was the edge of their National Park the Neouvielle. Dramatic peaks and splendid views really helped. The path became more runnable and soon the big lakes came into view. I had hoped to run this section, especially when we hot the tarmac downhill but in the end it was a real struggle. The men I was with pulled away and it took me until the CP at Oredon to ctach them and then only because they ate more and spent more time at the CPs than me. I had it in my head that we now just climbed over a ridge to Merlans and then that was it; Col de Portet and down. Ha ha. IN fact it took me about two and a half hours and towards the end of this time I was convinced I was in some Escher parallel universe where all paths went up and up but never got anywhere. Heading up the ski piste to Merlans we were suddenly exposed to the winds. Even here it was gale force and had blown some of the tapes away and was knocking me about. Perhaps they were wise to chop the course. I stopped to put my cag on and staggered into the CP. I did not want to sit and seize up  but kept having food pressed on me. Climbing to the Col de Portet was hilarious as the tapes had been blown away and people were fanned out widely. I went off course but then found the big vehicle track and stuck to that. I had really been looking forward to the ridge run as it is wide and grassy. I did the best I could. The drop to Soulans was tough and my fight had gone. I knew I would not be caught now and I knew I could not catch the second lady. I ambled down to the village, stopped at the fountain for water and then continued down to Vignec.  I was determined not to blow it and fall at this stage and let myself believe this caution allowed me to wimp out of trying hard. Poor mental strength. It did mean that I reached the river path in a reasonable state and was able to jog back to the finish and look ridiculously fresh as I ran up the red carpet.
Bob was not expecting us back until after he had started in the morning and he needed to sleep before his race anyhow. I sat in the square chatting and had a very thorough wash in the fountain.
so many lights in the square it felt like midday
I then had to explain to marshalls in poor french at 2am that this was so I did not disturb my husband too much as he would be getting up at 4.30 ready to run.

It was only a short amble back to the van and then I stripped and fell into bed. I woke in a panic at 4.55am thinking Bob had missed his race. I had not heard him get up and go and certainly did not have time to dress and get to his start. Bugger.
I spent most of the next day getting a shower, wandering around in a daze, sitting with my legs in the fountain, cheering on other runners and eating!! My legs felt fine really, not up to a big run perhaps but I could do stairs fine, which says it all really.... should have run more on day 2.

On reflection am I happy with the race. Yes- after LToBradwell I really wasn't sure I would complete the course, my foot behaved better than I dared hope, I made the podium as 3rd F and was 1st FV50, the slow first night in the clag cost me some time and I would not have had the 30 min sleep if I had known we were not going to run a whole second night.
The next FV50 - so made up to get the prize
Given the pain in my rib area I am pleased I stuck at it when it would have been easy to give in. BUT... the race was less than 20km longer than the one 2 years ago and I was over 9 hours longer. Yes, I know I am getting older but that doesn't count.

The winning time was an amazing 26 hrs 26 minutes but only the first 3 men made it in under 30 hours. First lady was fantastic at 35 hrs 22, the 2nd F at 42 hrs 56 and me at 44 hrs 18.
523 started the race and only 299 finished  - quite a serious fall out.

I have no idea if the 220km will be a one off and whether they will revert to the usual length next year or not. It would be nice to go back and do the Gavarnie part but it owuld be tough.
Bob completed his race this time. Unfortunately I had stayed up all day and all evening checking on his progress and then found a friend was up at Col de Portet. They agreed to ring me when his family ran through and I knew Bob would be slower. So I went to bed. Unfortunatley both the friend and I fell deeply alseep so Bob arrived back at the van and I missed him on the finish line. Oops.
Knackered finisher
The prize giving in the village square was great. I love the low key but wonderful prizes here. I got a hoody, sunglasses, a spa day, two night BandB plus a huge bag of wine and local produce.

All this was finished off with an enormous closing buffet where we all ate far too much.

After a celebratory meal with the Sunters we moved on. The village had gone back to its sleepy state and we had mountains and Via Ferattas calling.
I may update this when the official photos are published this weekend.
We found 3 in Spain and then started heading slowly north to make the drive less onerous. I at last got to visit Carcasonne which was lovely.

We never managed to rock climb but we did manage 7 more ferattas including the hardest one we have ever done. I love the high Cevennes and limestone Causse.

Washing in fountains and swim bathing in a lake and camping wild in the van is what I love best (in the hot dry weather obviously). By 10th Sept the weather was changing unless we drove south which seemed tempting but wrong. We had a  very cloudy day in the Puy de Dome area and settled for coming home. A good summer trip.