Sunday, 22 December 2019

Tour de Helvellyn

I love all Nav4 races but this one has a special place in my heart after using it to complete my 52@52in52 challenge back in 2013. The year of wading through thigh deep floods and a hyperthermic Jon S.  Also it 2014 it was my first race in freedom having just retired. I then missed some years with trips abroad and skiing but do remember the snow in 2017 and using my kathoolas.
This time I was fit and felt that I was recovered from The Hill- all that is except for my foot.
Before the race... sore but running seems sort of OK

It seemed to have multiple issues and this was confirmed by Angela W on Friday evening in the hall. Oh well, the forecast was good so I would see how I got on. Short runs in the week suggested running didn't make it worse so long as the path/ foot plant was predictable.
I slept well in the van and had plenty of time to chat with people in the hall. My plan was to wait until almost dawn so that my the time I reached the fell it was light and I would not need my torch. The good forecast also meant I could just about fir everything in my race vest. The staggered start is good- less pressure to use the toilet and also less pressure to shoot off too fast up the lane and over the first few miles. I started steadily up the lane and was happy to walk a bit. From the fell gate I picked up the pace a bit as I love the grassy tracks on Askham Common. As usual some runners went west on the main path but most went my way. It was now perfectly light and warm enough for me to take off my hat and gloves. Thank goodness I put thin tights on. It wasn't long before I passed John K and then Matt N came racing past me. Leaving the common I was cautious on the lovely ramp; it was too early for me to trust my foot. I then opted for the lower road route and the climb through the zig zags to Martindale church. At least there were no floods this year, just some large puddles. It must be faster that way because I ended up ahead of Matt again- although not for long. The road into Boredale suited my foot today with no sudden or unexpected twists. I felt I was moving OK but looking at my splits compared to carol and Fiona it was from Martindale to Side Farm that I lost most time (about 40 minutes!). I knew I had been slow on the descent over the rocks as I was guarding my foot, plus there was a queue at the Farm but even so that's a huge loss. I took advantage of the queue to eat and set off for Glenridding replenished. I chatted to Derek F for a bit and then Mark S and others as we climbed out of the valley and up past the old mines. I seemed to slow down here and especially so on the steep rough climb through the loose old workings. Then I spotted Tony, Josie etc ahead and that perked me up.
Two cuddly Nav4 Santas
Stuart was at the bridge as usual but with no snow it was on, on. The climb to Sticks Pass took a little longer than I remembered and it was a relief to crest the ridge path and start dropping towards Thirlmere.
The biggest patch of snow this year
Once I hit the fence line the path got steeper and I slowed down again. Barney came flying past shouting Hello but I didn't speed up even for the photographer.
Steep down the Stannah and Thirlmere
Despite this I only lost 10 minutes on the girls here. The next path section is a jumble of mud, rocks and bracken. Time to be careful again. I met up with Albert here. Jim was scanning bar codes on the fell side and then Gaynor was taking numbers in the car park. We had a brief chat.
The Winter Hill Billies- so friendly and always a laugh
The Winter Hill Billy team were all waiting for Albert and others. I grabbed more cheese and some crisps and set off on the forest track. Another 'easy' section that would allow me to run.
I found a good place to cross Raise Beck and was soon on the main path clambering upwards. It was wet but not slippery this year.
Climbing Raise Beck
John B was there dressed as Santa taking photos and Fiona appeared. She was powering up the path and I made a big effort to stay with her. We ran together in the clag past Grisedale Tarn and onto the nasty rocky path.
The trod I need to find
One day I really will check out the valley trod because even if it is boggy I am sure it will be faster for me than the rock. I tried to relax knowing that once we reached the bridge that the path was much better. As we reached the farm land I caught Fiona again, she had taken a small tumble on the gateway gravel. It was fairly easy back to Side Farm. Despite being so slow on the rocky path I only lost 1-2 minutes here. At the farm Howard helped me refill my soft flask with MF and I grabbed some more cheese and crisps to eat as I plodded up to Boredale Hause. One guy came flying past and then jogged all the way to the top! Eating savoury seemed to be working well for me and I felt OK. Fiona needed the loo and this let me get ahead by several minutes but I knew she would be racing to catch me. I made a slight nav error at the top but soon regained the correct path. Once I had negotiated the first rocky section I really enjoyed running down the ramp and then along the first section of lane. Ken S came blasting past and shot off into the distance. I was busy doing mental maths and thinking there must be an error. At this rate I might actually get a PB and slip under the 8 hour mark. Next Martin T appeared and I used him to pull me for the next few miles.  He was always ahead but not by much and when he slowed to a walk I made myself run and narrow the gap again. This worked all the way to the edge of Askham Common where I suddenly tripped and fell heavily. It was so sudden I didn't even have time to put my hands out and so bashed my knee and elbow.  I soon realised that I was OK really and jogged on rather than stiffen up. From the cockpit it is a lovely run back and I could see runners ahead and on the skyline. My foot was sore but no worse than when I had set off. I think it is the fastest  have run from the cockpit all the way back to the hall.
Tony recorded 59km, Albert over 60km. 38 miles?
Yes a very surprising PB of 7.55 (in the best conditions I have had on the route). 1st FV50 and 5th F overall. A good day out. Carol was 1st F in 7.14 and Fiona was 14 mins ahead of me. Adam Perry broke the 6 hour barrier. Awesome.

Several cups of tea, soup, bread and cake and I was feeling better. I applauded all the Winter Hill Billies in and also John K, Derek and Ian C (I managed to beat Ian by 22 secs). A quick change into warm dry clothes out in the van and then some more socialising in the hall. It seemed they had more than enough helpers so we wandered out into the parking field to say Bye to Joe before driving home. I would happily have stayed if needed but it was good to have a shower and my own bed even if a gradually ballooning and stiffening foot did keep waking me up.
It was a bit of a shock to see how much worse my foot was this morning and it took hours for it to gain any sort of mobility. In the end I went for a painful limping hobble to the shop and back. It did help - less ore and more mobile but I cannot keep walking all night!

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Upping the challenge again

I had been aware of The Hill for some time thanks to Jon S. For various reasons I never managed to do the original events on Shining Tor (something I now regret). It is a strange concept as mark would ideally have almost no finishers and then there is the mental challenge too. On paper it looks OK.

Laps of 3.7 miles- 44 of them in 48 hrs. It should mean hour laps and a 4 hour buffer. Easy! Ha ha.
I don't really have an ideal local hill to replicate this on but did belatedly have a bit of a go on Parlic and Fairsnape. Distance is a little further and climb a little more plus there is no flat and the steep bit is at the bottom. I did 3 laps at a steady pace and was sure hour laps was possible.
The advert
Pre race I was worried about the weather. I am not good if it is cold and wet. Jon had suffered dreadful weather on Shining Tor. I was also worried that icy roads or snow might make getting to the event difficult. On the day it was the path and food that were more of an issue. The food is entirely my problem. I know this and took loads with me and knew I had to eat regularly. Knowing and doing are not the same though. Karen W did a great job getting us tea and food and there was a range of food on offer. (although I am not a fan of pot noodle and especially not the flavours on offer)
I banked some speedy early laps to try to gain more of a buffer. This was good but meant less eating!
Friday afternoon as we arrived
Once we had all persuaded Mark that it was NOT going to be too easy and that the snow across on The Cheviot was too deep we stuck to the original plan of 44 laps. I thought it would be good to knock off the four and start on the next chunk before stopping. I think I did 5 or 6 before going inside for tea and some food, although I had some snack food on the trail. We started at 7pm in the dark and already tired having been up all day and travelling. It was good to have a break inside but I was also conscious that this would eat into my time buffer. At some point on that evening we had about two hours of sleety snow which was annoying in our head torch beam but not a serious problem otherwise. I shot indoors to pull on over trousers. After that the weather was fairly kind. It wasn't terribly cold just chilly and the wind was not fierce until late on Saturday afternoon. Most of Saturday was really quite pleasant and with great views.
Auchinhope Hut after a few laps
After my first break I tried to limit by indoor breaks to every three laps although I did also stop to go to the loo. I have no record of exactly how this panned out and it would be good to have those individual splits and to see how much time was spent not running too (need to ask timing man if this is possible). I guess with a supporter they could record this for you and perhaps even chivy you out if necessary. It is so easy to forget when you are concentrating on just getting it done and also doing the mental maths to check what is still possible.
I do remember congratulating myself on being 1/4 way there and this was around the time it was getting light again. Dawn always lifts my spirits and it nice to get rid of the head torch which always seems to annoy my head/ears. The 'tunnel' effect from the torches was not so bad this weekend as the moon was quite full and despite the clouds was giving some light on the wider hills. I was slightly shocked to find how many had already bailed by daylight. (facebook from Mark C = Hill update. Half the field gone overnight.) This is not a race but the sort of challenge where we were all willing each other on. Well, that was my take on it. If I am honest it's a bit of a blur but I do remember going inside to find that Gaynor had stopped (at 10 laps) and that Alan had stopped at 8 laps. Alan had kindly loaned me his spare pair of gaiters and was now rooting for me so that they travelled as many laps as possible.
The route mark had found as a replacement for Shining Tor was interesting. After last years icy problems he was determined the event would not be stopped again. The first part from Mounthooly bunkhouse is a track with some small undulations and a gradual climb. After a mile there is a slight dip and a grassy path to a tin hut. Then the real 'fun' begins with a wet quad bike track to the skyline ridge and then along the ridge to Auchinhope Hut. Most of the first section looked great when we arrived and stayed not too bad though out. After the tin hut was a different story. The quad track was a boggy mess when we arrived. It got worse and worse as we went up and down it even though the lines we took varied as we searched for better lines.At the start it was just wet. After a few laps it was muddy. By daylight you could see a huge brown stain snaking down the hill. By the end it was a peaty muddy bog fest. It was impossible to run up this bog and even running down was tricky. We feared losing a foot or leg in a hole and wrenching forward.
The boggy quad bike track
I was amazed on Saturday afternoon when David H complimented me on my descending - but he lives in Portsmouth and gets little hill practise. I was less timid than I would be on a rocky path given that a fall would probably just mean getting very wet and muddy.
Gradually there were fewer runners passing me in either direction and so fewer cheerful Hellos or more solemn grunts. Carl and Martin bailed at 14 laps and then Mark and Karl at 16. Heather was still in albeit moving slowly. Her crew had decided not to tell her the real maths unless she worked it out for herself. We had shared some chats and maths and knew we were unlikely to do all 160 miles in the time allowed. She bowed to the inevitable after 18 laps knowing she could not make the Half Hill. There were only 7 of us trudging up and down by now 20 hours in.  I kept doing the maths and decided to concentrate on getting a Half Hill of 22 laps in 24 hours. I felt this would mean I had achieved something; although I now recognise that it also set in my mind that I would stop at that point.
Resting not sleeping
We were now heading into the second night and most of us were dog tired. Starting at 7pm on Friday was mean. A morning start to bank some laps, then an inevitable night would mean that we would now be getting dawn and a lifting of spirits. It would then be down to grinding it out through the last night if you knew a finish was possible. I think this did mess with my head. Finishing at 7pm sounded comfortable. Heading out into that night with probably little hope in the end sounded daft. This is what I told myself. Would I have carried on if it was daylight? Maybe. I think it is more likely. Plus on my last two laps I was getting blown sideways on the ridge by an ever strengthening wind. Mark sets a tough challenge. Before long we were down to 5 of us. We were still saying Hi, well done, raising a hand etc but nobody was even trying to run uphill. Even Paul was doubting he could do it. I had lost track of who had done how many laps but was sad to find Robert just missed out on the Half Hill. I didn't know him and he rarely spoke out on the route, perhaps I should have taken the initiative and dragged him with me on those last 4-5 laps.
Windy but not evil weather
Now we were 4. There was one way it was better now it was dark again- you could spot head torches and see where the others were. Somehow passing others in one direction or another was motivating and encouraging. David had said he was going to aim for 100 miles but I fear my suggestion of Half a Hill got him thinking. He was lapping faster than me and so stopped on 22 laps at 5.20pm. 
Now we were 3. Having made my decision I enjoyed the last couple of laps more and at 6.40pm went inside with my Half Hill done.
Yes- I look like I should have continued
I should say at this point that the Half Hill is just my invention. As far as Mark was concerned it was another DNF. Fail. That sounds harsh and in reality he is nothing like as harsh as he sounds on the web. Despite his "no getting as far as you can in 48 hrs" he pulled nobody even when it was obvious they could not complete. He was encouraging and did want a tiny numbers of us to succeed. I think he really wanted me to carry on and try even though a finish was unlikely. I had 24hrs 20 to do 22 more laps. So a buffer of 2 hrs 20 on hour laps. My average lap time was 1.04 (last lap was 1hr 13 but I stopped to look at the stars knowing I had plenty of time before my 7pm limit) and I have to assume it would drop to at least 1hr 10. That meant my buffer was enough for 14 more laps but not 22. Even if the bogs had frozen solid I don't believe it was possible for me. So was it sensible to stop when I did? Yes, probably but when should we be sensible?
I crawled into bed willing Paul and Guy onwards. Paul I knew from Hardmoors races and especially the H200 when back in 2017 he finished in 48 hrs, well ahead of my 56 hrs. Guy I did not know but he was moving well. As I slept Paul bailed at 25 laps having decided the boggy track would not let him do fast enough laps. Guy toughed it out for 29 laps. He did set out on the 30th lap but kept lying down to sleep and wisely decided he should return to the bunkhouse not long after midnight. All this confirms to me that if they couldn't do it then I was wise to stop; doing more laps but in a slower time would not really count as a victory.
Congratulations to all who accepted the challenge- how ever many laps you did

Lessons learnt:
Find a way of recording exactly what your times per lap are and when you have had breaks.
Have a supporter to do this and to chase you out or make you eat. (Karen didn't know me well enough)
Practise more on a local hill- perhaps 15 laps rather than the 3 I did on Fairsnape.
Have a food box outside or in the drying room as Gaynor did- this reduces your stops and getting comfortable.
Get fitter so that I do actually run the easy bits even when I am tired.

Would I do it again. Yes, but not on that course.  My legs felt fine both then and in the days after, although I could not go any faster. My feet felt fine - until I stopped and realised that the frost nip in two toes was reactivated and that the "not a neuroma" was sore and my whole foot was huge. Not sure if this was the newish shoes, laces too tight  or other. I never did change my socks as it was so wet that there seemed little point. I guess if I had maybe I would have spotted the problems earlier. Not sure it would have changed the overall result though.
No idea what went on but four days later and still not good
I keep searching for a better venue- one that has a bunkhouse or similar, won't ice up, is not a bog fest, is a little sheltered from the worst weather. No luck yet. If it returns to Shining Tor I must have another go. In the meantime perhaps I could park our van at Fell Foot and do my own Hill on Fairsnape (I haven't told Bob of this idea yet).
Am I disappointed. Mostly no, or at least not in myself. I was 3rd man standing and 4th on laps per hr. I made it to the Half Hill along with 3 fit men.