Tuesday, 12 June 2018

The Northern Traverse

Yes, I know the race was a month ago but we have only just returned home.
Nervous in St Bees

 It has given me time to reflect and this blog will be an experiment with something different rather than beginning at the start and going through to the finish.

I should perhaps explain that the NT follows the route of Wainwrights Coast to Coast from St Bees in the Lake District

through 3 National Parks to Robin Hoods Bay on the North Sea. It is about 190 miles so with errors I probably ran about 192 in total.
It's a long drive in a car!
I always like to set myself targets for the long ultras and usually have a gold, silver and bronze target.

I tried to base these on my experience from the Hardmoors 200 but forgot that I had not receed the Lakes section as I know the area quite well. This first section was harder than anticipated just in terms of running the trail.
Beside Ennerdale

The rocks and tree roots along Ennerdale and then the wet, mud etc from Kidsty Pike and along Haweswater were all hard work and less runnable than the lovely grassy paths in the Wolds last year.
Warm near Ennerdale
The hot weather and gnarly paths almost gave my feet more of a bashing than I had anticipated and this told later on.  I had targeted bronze to finish, silver to be sub 60 and gold to beat my Hardmoors time. How naive! I did also have a secret hope to be first lady but kept this quiet and was well aware that I cannot control how others run.
I also do plan, a bit. Nothing like the detail of John Knyaston but I had a spreadsheet of distances and possible splits printed on waterproof paper and easily accessible to me during the race. It is nice to tick off the miles and good to have a bit of focus. I also knew after last year that my plan would be flexible. I was particularly concerned in terms of sleep as my spreadsheet showed I was not likely to be at any of the main aid stations with sleeping tents at a time when I would want to use them.
and we're off and the nerves can stop
Despite telling myself to set off slowly I soon found myself in the top 6 or so and close to Matt Neale. I was bothered when I was close to Greg as I know he is faster and was almost relieved when he pulled ahead and out of sight.
5th Oops, a steady start?
Matt and I ran a fair chunk together but also had some huge chunks when we were nowhere near each other. It was good to stay with runners until Ennerdale Bridge as I had not run this section. Later I was more than happy to be alone even through the nights.
I should thank those that I ran with on the first chunk and Matt for suggesting an ice cream at Ennerdale Bridge. Darren and I ran from Kidsty Pike to Shap and beyond before he sadly had to pull out. I was alone for the section after Kirby Stephen and suffered a bit in the heat past Keld. After the A19 road crossing I met up with Matt again and we spent almost all of day 3 together. It was good to have company and we pulled each other along. He also suggested a food stop at Lord Stones. We had to wait for it to open but the poached eggs on toast were superb.
The trail was varied. For me the worst section was the track up after Rosthwaite - a stony track where I just couldn't get into my stride. The most runnable was perhaps the short grass on much of the Shap to Kirby Stephen section.
There were lows and there were highs, mentally as well as in altitude. Not too many lows but the rain on the first night meant stumbling along Haweswater in the dark was tough, the second night seemed very chilly. The damp and slightly frosted tall vegetation soaked my legs that night and after a short sit on a stile I woke as my face hit the wet grass. This night at 3am was the worst and I doubted my ability to run the SW100 in June and almost phoned Bob  to say how bad I felt. Fortunately I told myself not to be so pathetic and to get on with it. I don't usually mind the heat but somewhere around Keld I found I was running out of steam. I needed more food and water but there wasn't really anywhere suitable. There were more highs. The 3 poached egg breakfast was amazing. The lie in the sun at the Lion Inn with my feet up on a chair to help the swelling and being served by the CP staff there revived me. The sunset over Angle Tarn was beautiful and I really wished I had my camera then. Matt and I finding a litre of Buxton spring water when our supplies were very low had us both ridiculously happy. Getting lost on the final moor but then sorting out  and staying cool under pressure made me so happy I blasted from there to the end. Finally Bob coming out to meet me when one torch had died and the other was getting dim really lifted my spirits on the section along the coastal Cleveland Way.
The end
 Sitting on the slipway in Robin Hoods Bay at gone midnight was special.

For me food and eating can make or break a long ultra and I think I have learnt a great deal since my first long race of the UTMB 5 years ago. The food at our CPs was superb and the staff there were so willing to find exactly what you felt like.
Can see why Stuart thought I arrived grumpy now!
Nice to put my feet up but hard to eat, drink and get organised from there
Arrival, feet up and about to leave- what a difference the CP made
Big thanks to those that made me fried egg sandwich at KS and Richmond. The soup at Rosthwaite was great although I should have eaten more there. Shap was very welcome after the wet night and I had more soup, cups of tea, bread, custard etc. By the Lion Inn I was onto crisps, soup but should perhaps have eaten more. I did have chocolate milk in my drop bags and I know this always goes down so well. I carried baby bel cheese, nuts, chocolate bars (yes, bad melting), a big sausage, lots of Mountain Fuel to drink which I found very good- some energy, salts and easy to drink as a mild taste. I also had a few mocha caffeine gels which seemed to do the trick when I was flagging. I had made flapjack but ate little of this. My only mistake was a Costa Coffee at the A19 and the Snickers bar that I had with it. Trying to catch Matt through Ingleby Cross I threw up.It is hard to know what I will fancy and this was something that made the unsupported nature of the race harder than the H200 where Bob kept appearing in the van and asking what I would like.

Looking after each other (we look about 90)
The weather could not really have been better in my opinion. It was warm but not crazy hot on the Saturday. Wet over the first night but not torrential rain and a bit chilly on the second night. Perhaps a bit too hot on the Sunday and Monday but I would rather that than being cold and wet as I hate running with my hood up. There was no clag to spoil the views or to make the nav hard.
The navigation was fairly straight forward but not as well signed as the Wolds Way and Cleveland Way. Fortunately I was with others to Ennerdale Bridge and then either knew the area or had receed the rest of the route. I made few errors and most were very small. Matt and I missed one turning early on but soon put it right. I made a slight error after Orton in the dark on an area I thought I knew well, again it was soon corrected. My most annoying mistake was at Crackpot Hall. I convinced myself that after the hall I had to turn off the main path and only realised this was wrong once I had dropped all the way to the main river. I missed the turn for Wray House farm on the second night but realised this when I met the level crossing and had to turn back. Getting lost on the last moor was comical in retrospect. I had passed a wooden post with C to C on it. When I dropped into a gorge I knew it was wrong but my solution was to try to re-find the wooden post- in the dark and with a failing head torch. In the end I recognised this a daft and concentrated on just getting to the gate and track off the moor. I was so proud that I had stayed cool and sorted it out that It really buoyed me up for the last section to the finish.
I kept my pebbles
It was tricky to know what gear to take and run in. I opted for long tights so I didn't have to faff and change at night if I got cold. They were a bit too warm at times but I was able to pull them up over my knees. I changed tops once it was too damp but was very happy with an incredible thin merino Patagonia long sleeve and a very old craft top that has a collar and so stops the rucksack straps rubbing. I know Injinji socks work for me, especially with Crane dry socks as an added layer. I had taped my two big toes as both had lost the toe nails in the previous fortnight and this worked well. I got no blisters until I popped a small one at the Lion Inn, just very hot and smashed feet. I found the tabbard a pain (sorry James) but loved my Patagonia knickers. I had charger blocks in my drop bags and these recharged my main torch well the first time but not the second. I suspect I had not connected it properly. A smaller sack would have been nice but I had everything being rammed in tight and fear it will stop me getting things when I should. I used my old KIMM sack with side pockets where I can reach water, big hip pockets for food and modified it a bit to reduce the volume. It is always comfy for me. I stayed in the same shoes the whole way Inov8 Trail Ultras, typically now discontinued!

As far as sleeping was concerned I knew to be flexible. By Shap I was ready for  quick lie down but it was bright and busy plus I was eager to get on. When I reached KS it was the start of the second day and I was reluctant to waste day light hours so just had a quick lie down for 10 minutes. Perhaps that's why Matt stormed past me near Keld. By Richmond I knew I had to sleep. It was too bright in the tent at first but I did get two 20 minute snoozes before heading off into the night. I rested longer at the Lion Inn than I had planned but the company was good, a rest with my feet up was needed and it gave me the chance to eat more. The sleep monsters were not a problem the first night but during the second night and then the start of the third as I ran into Robin Hoods Bay they became interesting. Marsh grass became the peaks of tents, bushes were dogs, a salt bin was a person crouched by the road side. I probably talked to myself but there was nobody to hear.
Above Glaisdale, day 3
What would I change? Not much. Perhaps more solid food earlier on and swap the flapjack for marmite sarnies. I could have spent less time at Lord Stones and the Lion Inn but maybe the rest was good. I would spend less time worrying about who was catching me (Jen Scotney) as I know I cannot control how others run.
All the women finished.
Am I happy? Yes.The target times were clearly too ambitious but I do not feel I failed. I was 4th overall, 1st lady by 15 hours. Not bad for an old lady.

I have met many people who have offered their congratulations. Some of these I was not sure I knew which is always embarrassing. There are 3 in particular who voiced their admiration and congratulations which meant a lot to me; I value their opinions and so their words did make me proud. Also my now adult children were clearly very proud of me and Bob is supportive as always. One of my birthday presents from him was a pair of Whitby jet ear rings. John Kynaston has done a chart of splits and these make happy reading too.

It was an active recovery. After falling into bed at about 2am on Tues I was up for breakfast and then sat around in the sun until lunch time. Bob then drove to Scotland as I slept in the van.

The next day we did a lovely walk up Beinn Ime and Beinn Narnian.
Spot the green NT sweatshirt
My legs felt OK except for enormous fat calfs but my feet were tender. The following day we did a classic Scottish rock climb.

 Fortunately I had anticipated swollen feet and borrowed my sons rock boots; there was no way mine would fit yet.

We then had a day and a half on Rum and managed the whole Cuillin ridge with a wild mid camp.

  The weather forecast was spot on- a dreary damp Sunday and a wet Monday. I was pleased to get a rest and to use cafes and a laundrette.

Then it was 10 days of non stop scrambling, walking

and climbing on Skye before the LAMM
Not often you get to sunbathe at mid camp
on Harris and then 3 more days of huge walks. The LAMM mid-camp was a superb location.

My birthday treat was on Skye- a day with a climb, an abseil,

 a scramble and a skinny dip in a river to wash and refresh. Perfect.
Bastier Tooth Skye
Marshalling and doing radio comms at the Keswick Mountain Festival came as a relief. We collected more Mountain Fuel and Romneys mint cake for Runfurther and managed to squeeze in 4 hours on Kendal climbing wall before arriving home with a very full and dirty van.

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