Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Pushing my Mountain Marathon boundaries

I love the SLMM but was cross and frustrated when they axed my beloved KLETS course. We tried to get them to change their mind but it was not to be. I stepped up to the KLETS back in 2012 after completing various lower courses with both Matthew, my son, and Rowena my usual partner. It was to be a new set of challenges- running a MM solo and also an interesting mix of linear and score as on KLETS you have to collect all the controls but are not given any order to do so. The solo element was quite scary- carrying all the gear, having nobody to check your navigation and nobody to keep you going at tough times either. That year was also different at the last minute when we were given all the controls for both days.
It was tough but I loved it. I did KLETS every year from then onwards. Often I was the only female either to enter or to finish although there were a couple of years when Kirsty ran too, and won. So what to do in 2019? I didn't want to do score and the only other solo option would be the elite Scafell course that they were re-introducing and beefing up so it was even harder. This really would be a challenge and I knew I would need many things going in my favour on that weekend. The organisation of the SLMM has changed a little in the last two years and suddenly we were no longer needed to park camper-vans. The big bonus was an inside sit down job instead! It did mean that I also got to see the others on my course when they registered and to panic at how young, tall and fit they were. I was the oldest person and in the end only one other female ran.

The Howgills are beautiful and I have run there a number of times, including an OMM and a Capricorn, but I do not know them well. I was aware that if we had low cloud the navigation could be tricky with lots of potential for ending up in the wrong valley.
Big valleys and tops
Also usually when I run there I stick on the ridges whereas I knew the planner for this would not be so kind. the valleys are very steep and very big. Having collected a succession of injuries I arrived at the event not really knowing how far I would get, never mind whether I could complete the course.
Fantastic blue sky!
A good weather forecast with no low cloud or rain persuaded me to stick with it. After an easy time at registration I slept well in the van.
I had an early start and beat the crowds
I had a lazy amble to the start on Saturday and was there so in advance of my 8.06am start that I had time to chat to the planner. It was already warm and clearly going to get hotter. I mind this less than most people so that was fine.
I took my time marking up my map. Without a partner to check against it seemed worth the extra minutes. An odd looking course with the first four CPs in a loop that ended with us looking straight back down on the parking field. Then another loop much later over on Wild Boar Fell but I had expected that. I had even guessed the location of the mid camp correctly. A steady climb saw me find CP1 with no bother.
Just before the first big up (of so many)
I got pulled a bit off line by the path and others but it meant a fenced area as a good attack point. On my way to CP2 Richard came past me and I tried not to worry that this meant I was going slowly.We took different lines to CP2 and even to CP3 but soon after 3 we were back together and going at roughly the same pace for a while. Different lines to CP5 saw Richard pull away again but I could still see him and others from time to time. It is easy to be 'influenced' by others and I was now. After crossing a dodgy landslip after CP5 when I reached the col I spotted the others contouring the next hillside. It wasn't long before I wished I had stuck to my plan of a ridge run! It went on and on, was steep and my feet were sliding in my shoes. It hurt.

 Richard was up ahead and starting to take rests so maybe I wasn't doing too badly. On the way to CP7 I chatted with a young man called Duncan who is the same age as our sons. I moaned I was too old whereas he was worried he was too young and inexperienced to do this alone. After the roads and crossing Wild Boar Fell first Steve Birkinshaw ran past (so he had caught up almost 2 hours on me) and then Shane Ohly.  I stopped for water but didn't want to sit down and eat. I wished I had remembered to pick up the sweet potato from the van. Once we had reached the summit and were descending I felt better. I lost Duncan and caught Richard.
Lots of big descents and equally big climbs
The run to CP10 was lovely and I reminded myself of The Yomp route which crosses the same area but in reverse. Richard and I were now together and it would stay that way until the end. It was good to have company and I think we helped push each other a bit. It was a bit of a trek to CP12 to finish our loop on this fell but then fast to CP13 and the end was getting closer. We stopped to eat, drink and bathe our hot feet before tackling the last lump. I had sort of persuaded myself that this bit was short and easy. It wasn't steep but at this stage any hill felt enormous. There was a lovely downhill to the road and bridge that would lead us through to the finish field.  Yes, finally, I had done it. I was so relieved, just a little tearful and very very tired. I queued to collect my milk and then sat drinking a coke (Thanks Janet) before I could even contemplate putting up my tent. All the flattish spots near download seemed to be taken so I wandered down to the next field and the toilets. It would do. I later cursed all the selfish people who let the doors slam but on the plus side I was right next to the path and so got to chat to many people without even needing to leave my tent.

I must have looked a wreck because the people next to me even offered to put my tent up. Neo air pumped up and I could relax with a drink. Despite thinking I had drunk pretty well during the day I did seem dehydrated. My ankle was fat again and my shin swollen again too but neither was really painful. Once fed I wandered up to the results. Not too bad at all. First woman, second Vet (I don't mind being beaten by an icon like Steve B) and 7th /13 or /16 starters on the solo. My 9hrs 5 would have put me 5th on the pairs too.  Before long I felt the need for another lie down and more food. Bob had bailed with a sore leg so I collected his milk and decided to drink it while it was a bit chilled. Not much later I was in my bed. Not easy to sleep even though I was tired thanks to the summer light and the banging toilet doors but I did doze off and got about 6hrs total in the end.

Sunday was forecast to be slightly cooler with a little more cloud. It was. There was also no wind so the midges at camp were awful. I stayed in my tent as long as I could and the bonus of being solo was I had plenty of space to pack things away, map up my map and study route options as well as eating. Eventually it could be put off no longer and I braved the world to take the tent down. Richard and I had had hatched a plan where we might try to start together and see if we were going at the same pace. No binding deal but I think we both hoped it would help with pace, motivation and maybe even nav when we were tired. Studying the map I had already spotted that we were likely to have more running today and scope for sticking to some ridge paths for at least some of the time.

Richard set off fast and half way up the first hill I was already doubting any hope of us running together. Then suddenly I caught him on the descent to CP2. I had not expected that as I don't think of the downs as my forte. Great news. The next leg looked tricky in terms of route choice. We both agreed that there would be mega climb and unless we were confident of moving fast on a loopy ridge run we might as well just go straight up and get on with it. Just as well we were together as Richard had mis-marked his map and almost punched the wrong control. We were now almost half way, in terms of the number of CPs at least. We also got a bit of a boost when we saw others on our course and realised that some were already retiring. Katie joined us for a short while but we were soon alone again. Sneaking a peep at the next leg my heart sank.  Right back towards the mid camp again!
Paths at last on Day 2
The upside was a wonderful ridge run heading south over all the top peaks. I loved this bit and pushed hard. Less than two minutes behind Steve B on this leg! BUT, it was a long way down to CP4 and what goes down must come back up again.

The fast pace took its toll and by CP5 we were knackered enough to take a breather before the mega climb back up to The Calf. At least some nice ridge paths were our reward and CP6 came quite quickly. I had convinced myself that 6-7 was no big deal but again there were some steep ridges to cross. I started worrying about being timed out. We had to be back by 4pm and time was slipping away.

It felt like all the competitors had gone home with just a doze of us out on the hills. I couldn't bear the thought that all the hard work could be for nothing. Then suddenly CP7 appeared along with cheerful singing girls. A huge elephant track led the way from there to CP8 and the end. I was off! I did stop and wait while Richard was sick again. We had spent the day together and it seemed to storm off.

The final drop to the lane was tough on sore feet but we felt like we were sprinting on the lane for the final 500m. (bet it didn't look like a sprint to others though).

Wow. I had done it, my first Scafell class and then first female as a bonus. The prize giving and Nicky Spinks were long gone but I was given my shot glass and voucher.

Roger kindly refused to kit check me on the grounds that he knew I would be carrying everything, get kit checked most years and possibly because I looked like I might cry or thump him if he insisted on me emptying my sack. Bob kindly got me tea and food and slowly I felt more human. Richard came to join us and then Katie arrived too. Fantastic.

After an hour or so I felt better. Trashed but happy. I now also have an invite to the Japanese OMM in the autumn. Wow that would be a real adventure, thanks Richard now I need to see if I can do it. Thanks to Josie and other who I have pinched photos from and the guys at Event Safety for the overnight ice-pack.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Nav4 Pennine 39 (a race or a social weekend)

Actually it was both, but no surprises there really. I love Nav4 events- always great scenery, interesting route, superb CPs and post race food and loads of lovely people.
Our weekend started early on Friday with a rapid drive to Romneys in Kendal to collect mint cake for Runfurther.
Mint cake for all the remaining Runfurther races
Then it was a dash back to Hutton Roof to climb. The forecast had promised warmth and some sun but the reality was cool, breezy and some sun. Off came the shorts and one went the long tights and a few more top layers.
Spot the continent
Still we managed 10 climbs on the little crags and it let me practice placing trad gear again and getting some faith that the gear would actually hold me if it had to. By late afternoon we were driving to Keswick for our second collection of the weekend.
Eco new bags for Mountain Fuel
This time Mountain Fuel from Rupert. With the van loaded up we then drove to Alston, ignoring the road closed signs when we spotted cars travelling in both directions high up on the fellside. By 7pm all the flags and banners plus display boards were up and spot prizes displayed.
Alston YHA- what a great venue
After a quick meal in the van we joined Dick, Nick and John in the pub for a brief committee meeting.
It was a fairly leisurely start and plenty of time to be ready for the bus to the start at 8am. As I stood in the sunshine it was already warm, although not as hot as last year. Ken Sutor was running so the means Runfurther point would take a hammering but I wasn't sure about the women.
Photos from Nick Ham- no idea what we were saying? Smaller? Bigger?
There were some I did not know and I 'worried' over whether they were fast. This was the fourth running of the race and I have done it every year. The first year we raced down the little field to the gates and over the bridge, then the next year we walked slowly and carefully across the failing bridge and last year we took a long detour walk to reach the other side. This year some paths were closed due to filming but at 9am on Saturday it was deserted. We were able to revert to the original start from just off the road. Race briefing was quiet and quick. We were off. I charged the first field to make sure I didn't get stuck at the gates or the bridge - plenty of time to slow down a little on the riverside path.
The first stretch on the Pennine Way follows the river and you get glimpses of the waterfalls, including the spectacular High Force. The path is very runnable with just a few trip hazards. It then crosses pleasant farmland to the first bridge over the Tees before hugging the riverside below cliffs of Falcon Crags most of the way to Cauldron Snout.
Cauldron Snout
This section is scattered with rocks and most have been worn smooth by the river of millions of feet on the PW. Time to slow down and take care. As it tumbles down from Cow Green reservoir and over Whin Sill the flow is always impressive. It was all constructed as the outflow to take water down the Tees without the expense and ugliness of a pipe. A short scramble up the rocks and we were at CP1.
Ros at CP1
I was on my own. I could see a bright green vest ahead and knew that in front of that were Ken and Ilkley man. Behind me I could see orange vest but not much else. I couldn't see any women but maybe they were running a cautious race with a speedy second half.  Before long I ceased worrying and just enjoyed the day. Running alone I kept a steady and more sustainable pace than sometimes. I was really having fun. Even the track to Birkdale and beyond didn't seem so bad and I amused myself with memories from exactly a month ago when I was running the opposite direction in the dark and the rain during the Hadrian 100. After the pull up to 600m or so you get the lovely reward of turning off the vehicle track and running on grass. Happy feet again. I love this section towards the bridge over Maize Beck and the stunning High Cup Nick and even before you get there the views are lovely.

From Nick Ham
The area is so quiet compared to the Lakes and the bird life is brilliant. I made good time to the Nick and although I didn't stop I did soak in the views as I concentrated on staying ahead of orange shirt man. The next section is a rapid 400m plunge down to Dufton with views into the Lake District. It starts on grass but even once you reach the track there is plenty of grass verge. By now there were a number of walkers heading up the hill and most were congratulating us. I resisted the temptation to steal the post van that had been left idling at the top of the lane and knew I could be at the CP slightly ahead of schedule. Lins and Mel were in charge. My water bottle was taken and refilled- I added more Mountain Fuel powder and grabbed melon, tomatoes, crisps and cheese. I love real food at CP. I set off at a slow jog munching cheese and tomatoes. As I was leaving orange shirt man was just arriving.
The next climb to Knock Old Man is a beat all the way up to 794m. It was warm and steamy but not as hot as last year. The streams all had more water in than I remember so I was able to refill my bottle easily. I could see the green vest ahead struggling and decided to reel him in. No running just a steady and determined plod. Then I could see another runner further up and so I targeted them too. It made the climb go faster and nobody was actually catching me yet. After the cairn the plateau is fairly runnable and then downhill to meet the radar station road. There are at least 3 route options here. The guy ahead stuck to the road and didn't turn off. That was the last I saw of him. Orange vest (Steve Rivers) was keeping an eye on me and followed. Go to snow pole 71, cut up the re-entrant, meet the wooden steps and contour the main hill. What follows is a lovely roller coaster down from Great Dun Fell, up over Little Dun Fell, down the other side and finally up Cross Fell. At 893m this is the highest point on the route. I tried to pull ahead to keep my trod a secret but Steve spotted me and followed. It's nice and grassy, only a little boggy and cuts the corner slightly too. Someone had already been down it, I guessed it would be Ken.
Greg's Hut
Arriving at Greg's Hut I was greeted by Little Dave.
Nick at the hut

He was well bundled up in clothes so it must have been chilly stood about even though I was only running in shorts and T shirt.
Dave with water? (Pipe?)
We had a brief chat as I filled my bottle at the pipe and moaned about the 'new' yellow brick road that had been created.
Others at the pipe
The track down to Garrigill is about 6 miles or so and it goes on a bit. It also is definitely not all downhill!
The Yellow Brick Road
Somewhere along this Steve caught me up. It was good as we made each other run more than if we had been alone. A supporter walking up assured me that I would not be caught by another woman so that was good. Now it was just my race and perhaps an attempt to get a PB. A MF jelly perked me up and although I thought Steve had arrived strong I suddenly realised that I was alone again. I used the verge where I could to save my feet and the new hardcore on the road was better than I had feared. Thanks to the steam-roller guys who had done a good job. Garrigill appeared and I forced myself to keep running most of the way to the CP.
CP at Garrigill- nearly back home
Again the food was laid out and I knew I had to stop. Ignoring the food and a cup of tea would save 2-3 mins but I might run out of energy on the final river path. Stopping and eating would make dipping under 7hrs a big ask. I stopped. It is meant to be fun after all. Under 4 miles to go and despite the stiles mostly nice running. I knew the way and ticked off the landmarks in my head. First the footbridge, then the dink up right at the farm then the little bridge over a side stream and finally the start of the woods which mean you are almost back. I had set my watch early when Joe was doing his race brief and so could not be sure of my time.
From Nick Ham- always good to see those flags!
I ran fast, even up the final steps. 7 hours exactly. Bang on the time of last year. It would have been nice to get 6hrs..... but apart from the usual pain in my right foot I felt good. My legs were not really tired and I had not actually been pressured or racing people. Strange that just running at a steady pace got me the same time.
Top positions
Ken of course was already back and had won in 5hrs 31.

Stuart Fludger was an hour later and I was less than 30 mins after that. More a reflection on there not being many fast men on the day but I would get my 1000 Runfurther points. Steve came in 10 mins later followed by Colin, Ian and Chris. I had run with Chris last weekend and shown him the way several times. Today without me he had missed turning off the PW in Dufton to reach the CP but phoned Joe to let him know.
Lovely pressie
Joe presented me with my photobook and hoody- some lovely memories of all the days out and friends I have made over the last decade running ultras. It was a good opportunity to get a few more friends to sign the card.
So many memories
Nav4 carrot and corriander soup was wonderful and allowed me to recover enough to go for a shower. Refreshed from that I came down for more soup, bread, cake, tea, crisps.... yep love eating after an ultra.Others were having a tough day.

Nick was slower than last year but happy to have been able to complete after an op and recovery. Dick, Bob and John seemed to be taking forever.  I ate a bowl of Joe's chilli as I waited.

They were now last though as Elise and Jules had ambled round stunned by what was to them new scenery and taking lots of photos.

Joe had given beer tokens so once I had made sure that Bob was very tired but sort of OK we went to the pub. When I returned to the YHA Bob had already walked back to the van and bed.
A leisurely and breakfast of several parts on Sunday set us up for taking down all the flags etc and the drive home. The plan had been to go climbing again but Bob was knackered and his leg sore and I seem to have damage the shin on my left leg, although on the plus side the ankle seems to have fixed itself.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Comparing two weekends

After the LDWA 100 I had a rest and a weekend off. It wasn't energy free as it also involved Sarah's 50th with a ceilidh and a walk/jog on Barden Moor on the way home but there was certainly no pressure. The following weekend saw a drive of fairly epic proportions to the Scottish Mountain Marathon (LAMM replacement). The event centre was Strathcarron and the forecast was not good. In the end it wasn't at all bad with just a bit of rain on Friday night as we sat cooking tea in the tent. The midges were out in force though. Day 1 led us on a 32km route with about 1600m of climb. We didn't get perfect nav or route choice but there were no really tragic blunders either. The views north and NW to Skye were amazing. As we dibbed the finish the heavens opened before we could get the tent up. Luckily it stopped after a couple of hours. I say luckily because many of us had pitched in haste and were now on small humps with rapidly rising marsh areas and braided streams. Day 2 had lower cloud but just one small shower towards the end. We ran about 26km with 1400m of climb. Again we did OK and only lost some serious time of over 10 mins on one leg. I may not be able to run fast but I do seem to have stamina. Towards the end of day 1 I continued to feel strong and on Day 2 this was even more marked. It was nice to feel so comfortable although at times a little frustrating also as this was a pairs event. The real plus was almost all the course being on soft ground and so my foot issue just didn't occur. Happy running. I tried out my newish Altra Mountain Kings and the grip was great. We did OK overall and were pretty consistent. 12th each day and overall. 2nd F and 1st FV both days and overall. 3rd Vs on day 1 and then 2nd Vs overall, losing out on 1st by just 11 seconds.
During the week we climbed twice and organised the annual Scout/Guide orienteering Champs so not much time for running except to jog round putting out and collecting in controls. I woke on Thursday to find a sore ankle tendon- no idea how that happened but it seemed to get better and no worse with exercise. I hoped it would allow me to get round OK.
By Friday we were in Grasmere and meeting the team at Ascend Events ready for the Lakeland 5 Passes event. All the flags, banners and display boards went up that evening which gave me a relaxed start to Saturday and the race.
So pleased to have all these sponsors for Runfurther

 Bob went off early to do parking duty and I pottered with breakfast and kit. In the hall I tried to direct Runfurther people to the boards and spot prizes before I met up with Richard L who I have not seen for ages. Earlier in the year I had persuaded Sabrina to enter and ensure that she had 4 counters for our series. I was keen that it was won this year by a fast runner and not an old plodder. She claimed to be tired after the Dragons Back and then an impromptu Ramsay Round last weekend. It's fair to say she did start cautiously as we streamed out on the tarmac and track towards Loughrigg but from that top at about 3 miles she started racing.
On my sunny recee
From Loughrigg you drop to Ambleside and then climb to Wansfell. It was steamy and yes we possibly had gone off rather fast.
Kirkstone and red Screes from Wansfell
The second summit was cold and breezy so it was a relief to drop to Troutbeck. Well relief from the weather, sadly not relief for my feet as Nanny Lane is gnarly. A fallen tree had brought down some dry stone wall and the obstacle bunched us all up again. As we started the pull up the nicer side of Garburn Pass I started to struggle.
Hayley - winning woman
Hayley Evans was long out of sight and now Sabrina and Helen started to disappear too. Ah well, plod on the best you can. Again at the top it was breezy. The drop into Kentmere has to be one of the most eroded tracks in the Lake District but I had in my head that it was awful so on the day it was just bad rather than dreadful. The CP was stocked with all sorts of goodies. I ate quiche while Bob refilled my water bottle. Then it was off to Longsleddale and more gnarly track after a short grassy section. I was now on my own which was fine but meant it was easy to ease off. I tried to see runners up ahead and to work on reeling them in.
It took a while but by the top of Gatesgarth I had overtaken one and caught an other. It was damp and cold enough for me to put my cag on here but I wasn't overly concerned by the low cloud as I knew the way. The odd tiny yellow flag just helped serve as confirmation. The safety marshalls on Harter Fell looked cold but I didn't stop more than a second as I had spotted more runners ahead.
The views you might have got if you were lucky
This section and across to Thornthwaite Beacon was my favourite and the cloud allowed occasional views. I couldn't quite catch the guys ahead yet but they were still in my sights as I dropped to Threshthwaite Mouth and climbed up to Stoney Cove Pike.
Not race day

Again they were runners from other parts of the country and had no idea where they were or where they were going. I had twice called runners back in Ambleside and was now asked if we were "on Kentmere". The look I got when I pointed out Red Screes across the valley and explained that it was our next summit was priceless.
Richard putting his poles to good use
The drop to Kirkstone was not as greasy as I had expected and I broke out onto the grass where I could. Again the CP had quiche and again I refilled my bottle (although I forgot to add the Mountain Fuel powder).
Red Screes from Kirkstone
The top on a sunny day
I set off to take the last serious climb eating as I went. The climb was tough but I loved the descent to Scandale Pass- don't mind mud and bog. 
soft ground at last
Sadly it then changed into another gnarly track and by now my foot was complaining big time.

 The male runner I had my sights on ran steadily away as I ran/jogged and walked. Another woman caught me and this dredged up some spirit and made me fight to stay with her.
5th woman
We took it in turns to lead. Dropping to Sweden Bridge and Rydal I used the verges where ever I could and tried to force some more food down.

I have decided I prefer Aldi 'fake' naked bars to the real thing and will never bother with gels even if they are a freebie (MF Jellies were what I should have had).
more grass at last- it didn't last long though
The dirt road to the Hall and campsite seemed longer than I remember but I knew there was a tap and so was able to refill again and to remember this time to add MF powder. All that was left was the old Coffin Road- how appropriate. I was struggling but determined not to be dropped. I am glad I had receed this as it was over sooner than I thought and then there was just the steep tarmac   down to Dove Cottage and the main road. We debated which route to take to the village hall. Neither of us knew which was faster. I hoped the riverside path would not be busy and opted for it. My new friend followed. To my surprise it was deserted and the gamble paid off. I could smell the finish and dug deep. I had been 4th all the way round and was not about to let that change now.
The final steps to the upstairs of the hall were cruel but I stayed ahead, by less than a minute. Bob was back from the Kentmere CP and so was here to great me and get me cups of tea. After cup 6 he did suggest I just asked for the tea pot. My foot was agony for over an hour but eventually it eased as I got stuck into the delicious post race meal. We had agreed to wait for as many runners and especially Runfurther runners as possible and so had a very relaxed late afternoon.

Big bling
As usual I had forgotten to turn my watch off so for the moment my time is a guess of about 7 hours, 4th F and 1st FV50.  I had hoped to run more but I guess it wasn't so bad in the end. 33 miles and 10,000ft is advertised. Interestingly my device measured 49.75km and 2700m whereas Sabrina measured 50.37 and 2828m (her is a much fancier beast so is likely more accurate). I also forgot to go and take a screen shot of the results so these will have to wait.