I sat down to write a story about my recent run around the White Rose Ultra course, a nice enough event on a fine but breezy day. I had a good time, the course was good, the organisation fine and I got round a few minutes faster than the previous year without incurring too much stress. It was doubly enjoyable because my son John was running his first ultra and a pretty good job he made of it too, finishing in joint seventh place in a field of over two hundred.
But, I thought, I've told this sort of story so many times over the past few years that it doesn't really bring anything new or interesting to this particular party so what have I really to add?
I've had a pretty reasonable year, completing 10 events including a couple of marathons, three fairly tough 50 milers, the 95 mile West Highland Way and the 235m Deadwater adventure, along with a number of shorter ultras. I've failed to finish two others and I've just pulled out of the Cheviot Goat, which I was looking forward too but finally admitted I'm in no shape to tackle competently at present.
I'm still enjoying my running when I can get my knees to co-operate, and next year I'm hoping to complete a Hardmoors Grand Slam, something I've been meaning to attempt for a number of years but never really got around to, along with a few other projects such as getting back to Chamonix again if I can make it.
But in terms of this blog, I think any race reports would just be more of the same, and on all the other running topics that interest me I've had my say more than enough over the years. I posted my first piece on 1st July 2009 and since then have done 230 more, with a total number of views over the years of around 150,000.
So I think it's time to call it a day. Never say never, as they say, but I don't expect to be posting again anytime soon. It's been fun, and, if you have, then thanks for reading my pieces. But for now, it's over and out.
Tuesday, 16 October 2018
Nearly all the reportage I've seen so far about this year's LIAD has been about water - torrential rain and wading through streams, lakes and puddles, and of getting cold. Well, being as contrary as I'm sure my regular readers now expect, I have a different view of the world.
I love the LIAD event. I did the first three then was unable to make the start last year because of the embarrassment of a double puncture on the way to Cartmel, so was looking forward to another run down the course. My last time in the near perfect conditions of 2016 was a few seconds over 15 hours, but having had a fairly busy year of events and with another couple of years on the clock and a somewhat problematic weather forecast, I decided I would shoot for somewhere in the 18-20 hour bracket and made plans accordingly.
The rain was not as bad as forecast over the first leg to Threlkeld, and the Caldew crossing, secured by a rope kindly set up by the marshals, was shallower than I expected being barely knee-deep. The wet state of the ground made the ascent of Blencathra a pretty long, slow squelch, but it was good to see Joe and Stuart at the top as usual, though the Hall's Fell Ridge descent was also slower than usual because a bit of care was required in the conditions, the rocks running with water in places. I was happy to get down to Threlkeld in a bit over four hours and out again in four and a half after a solid breakfast to see me through the long section which comes next.
I was overtaken by two runners as I loped slowly along the railway track, but once back on the fells at Newsham, although I was travelling steadily rather than with any speed, I passed runners at regular intervals from there on, maybe gaining about 30 places by Helvellyn. The conditions were worse along this section but by no means extreme. We were treated to a few heavy rain showers with easings in between, visibility was between 100 and 200 yards in general so navigation was straightforward and there was an increasing but not too troublesome south westerly wind all the way from the top of Clough Head. One saving grace was that the air temperature was fairly warm so I think you would have had to have been in pretty lightweight clothing to feel cold. I had decided from the forecast that it was not a day for lightweight jackets, so I had left my OMM Kameleika at home and gone with the Montane Alpine Pro as I didn't foresee taking it off all day. I had also worn some lightweight overtrousers (which I don't normally bother with) right from the start, on the basis that being continuously warm and wet is a better deal than being cold and wet. Under the jacket I just had a merino vest and was happy. I didn't feel the need to wear gloves or a hat (other than a baseball cap to keep the rain out of my eyes) all day.
I got to Helvellyn at around 4pm, that is about 8 hours after the start. Another hour max would put me on Fairfield which from my previous completions I knew was about half way in time for me, so an 18 hour finish looked on (I didn't know at this point of course how bad the flooding was on the Ambleside to Finsthwaite stretch, which I think cost many people a lot of time). I caught up with another runner at the Helvellyn shelter, where I stopped a minute for something to eat and drink. He said he was struggling and would may be call it a day, but could he tag along for a bit. We continued on a short way to the point where the Wythburn path splits off down to the right, and I told him that if he wanted to go down, this was an easy way, or else he could carry on to Grisedale Tarn and make a decision there. He chose to go down. We were with another lady runner at that point but I didn't see her again, so either she went slower than me along the next bit or turned back herself.
From this point, in the half hour it took me to get from here to Grisedale Hause, the whole nature of the event changed for me. The wind increased in strength quite markedly and became very gusty rather than steady. In a few hundred yards it had reached a strength where I felt I could be blown off my feet so I guess it was gusting in the 60-70mph range. I'm eleven stone and that speed seems to be critical for me, heavier people would probably feel secure in this, lighter ones maybe more worried. I was once blown off my feet on the broken ground between Carnedd Dafydd and Pen yr Oleu Wen in Wales; I landed 10 yards away in a pile of rocks. The result was cuts and bruises, but also a realisation that this sort of incident could also end in broken bones, a crack on the head or an involuntary excursion over a cliff if there happened to be one handy. Since then I have had a healthy respect for the power of strong wind, probably one of our most serious objective dangers in UK hills because it is the one you can do least about other than trying to get out of it. It's not about being blown over, it's all about where you are likely end up if it happens.
Where the path follows the scarp edge between Nethermost Pike and Dollywagon I took a line about 10 yards down the hillside to the right to stay clear of the drop. On reaching the solitary fencepost marker I was tempted to go down the Bob Graham trod to the west end of Grisedale Tarn to lose height rapidly down safe grassy ground, but we had already been told this would be an offence in the "extremely naughty" category so I carried on along the main path in the hope that the conditions might be localised and the wind lower down would be significantly less. The zigzag path down to the tarn was quite tricky; the wind was no less strong and I had to stop and crouch frequently to withstand the stronger gusts, which was making progress pretty slow. I still passed two pairs of runners on the way down, both of whom were hanging on to each other at times (I'm not sure whether the physics of this suggests more or less likelihood of lift-off - maybe it's psychologically good anyway). The tarn outflow was a bit of a wade and I still had to pause frequently on the path up to the hause. There was a group of four or five runners stopped there, a few yards up the path to Fairfield, and another one continuing upwards a bit higher up.
The wind was not significantly less down here than on Dollywagon. My appraisal of the situation was that I was not likely to get blown off if I continued over Fairfield, but the possibility was not insignificant, and I had an escape if I chose to use it. My concern was the broken ground over Hart Crag and Dove Crag; without that I would have carried on, with the knowledge of it I decided that for me, the risk at that moment was one that I did not choose to take. I shouted to the others that it was too windy for me and that I was going down.
I first tried the slabbed path down Tongue Gill but the stream crossing wasn't feasible so I contoured round to the Coast to Coast route down Little Tongue Gill which was fine. I walked back along the road to the Ambleside checkpoint which I reached at about 7.30pm. I was in good shape and had more than enough time left to complete the course, but having missed out about five miles including some major summits that clearly wasn't possible, so I handed in my tracker and went home.
I have huge admiration for the way James Thurlow and whole Open Adventure team kept the entire course open for this event. It's a fine line at times but it was clearly the right thing to do and they worked tirelessly in the face of what were at times quite trying conditions. I took part in a 50 mile event in Snowdonia three weeks ago, when a loop over Lliwedd was omitted once the race had begun because there was an hour or two of sleety rain on an otherwise pretty fine day, so not all RD's take the same line, but maybe we need both types of event. The flip side of the Open Adventure policy is that you are going into territory and conditions where your safety cannot be guaranteed so I think it is up to each participant to take responsibility for looking after themselves.
I have thought about the decision I made on Saturday over the past day or two and am still content that faced with the same set of options again I would make the same call. It was right for me, it may not have been right for others and I certainly wouldn't criticise anyone who had a different view. A slight change in circumstances may have swayed me the other way. If the wind had not increased in force until maybe 30 or 45 minutes later I would have already committed to Fairfield and carried on. If there had not been a ready escape route from Grisedale Hause (or if I did not know that ground from previous experience), that may also have tipped the balance.
And there are always other personal factors that influence our decision making. I have been a mountaineer for over 50 years, and started in an age where, as one American climber famously put it at the height of the HIV crisis, "sex was safe and climbing was dangerous". You generally paid a high price for mistakes, and rescue was either not available or far more limited than it is now. The rule was that you got yourself out of anything you had got yourself into, which made us (those of us that survived, at least) maybe a bit more conservative over the years. And I have to admit the opprobrium to be faced by a 70 year old grandfather with dodgy knees getting himself into a mess on a Cumbrian hillside on a rainy and windy day is likely to be somewhat more pointed than that for a more conventionally athletic participant with probably a greater perceived right to be there. All this baggage influences our decisions. Whatever, we are who we are.
I'll be back next year.
Tuesday, 9 October 2018
I ran my first marathon in 2004 to see if I could. I was 56 years old and I thought it would be the only one I would do. Somehow it wasn't, and now a few years later I find that I've just clocked up my 100th marathon or ultra. With 18 road marathons, 5 trail marathons and 77 ultras you can see where my preferences lie. It's a meaningless figure really, just a step along the road, I'll carry on doing these things until I find them too hard, I hope that's a few years yet. And of course there have been a few DNF's along the way, about a dozen, I've probably learnt more from those than the completions. Ambitions for the future? Well, it's a while since I did the Fling, a race that will always have a special place for me as it was my first ultra, and I always said I would have a go at Jon Steele's Hardmoors Grand Slam one of the years. The Lakeland 100 and Lakes in a Day have their special attractions. And the longer events, the 200 mile "journeys" have been especially rewarding over the last few years, I'm sure there are more of those out there that I might still have the capability for a tilt at. That's the attraction, there's always more to do than you can possibly fit in. But for anyone interested, here's my list so far:
2004 Rotterdam Marathon
2005 Rotterdam Marathon (2)
2006 London Marathon
2007 Paris Marathon
West Highland Way
New York Marathon
2008 Haworth Hobble
Rotterdam Marathon (3)
Highland Fling (2)
West Highland Way (2)
Rotherham Round (2)
2009 Haworth Hobble (2)
Rotterdam Marathon (4)
Highland Fling (3)
West Highland Way (3)
Devil o'the Highlands
Amsterdam Marathon (2)
2010 Thames Trot
Highland Fling (4)
LDWA Heart of Scotland 100
West Highland Way (4)
UTMB (shortened course due to bad weather)
Snowdonia Marathon (2)
2011 Hardmoors 55 (2)
Rotterdam Marathon (5)
Highland Fling (5)
West Highland Way (5)
Rotherham Round (3)
Brecon Beacons Ultra
Tour de Helvellyn
2012 Hardmoors 55 (3)
Highland Fling (6)
West Highland Way (6)
Tor des Geants
Glen Ogle 33
Tour de Helvellyn (2)
2013 Belvoir Challenge
Hardmoors 55 (4)
Exmoor Coastal Ultra
Highland Fling (7)
Scafell Pike Marathon
West Highland Way (7)
Lakeland Trails 100k
2014 Sandstone Trail Run
West Highland Way (8)
Lakes 10 Peaks Long Course
Lakeland 100 (2)
Grand Tour of Skiddaw
Brecon Beacons 10 Peaks Long Course
Lakes 3 x 3000
Lakes in a Day
2015 Anglesey Coastal Ultra
South Devon Coastal Ultra
Belvoir Challenge (2)
Hardmoors 55 (5)
Highland Fling (8)
Keswick Festival Ultra
Ring of Fire
Lakes in a Day (2)
White Rose Ultra
2016 Northumberland Coastal Ultra
Pembrokeshire Coastal Ultra
West Highland Way (9)
Lakeland 100 (3)
High Peak 40
Lakes in a Day (3)
Wooler Trail Marathon
2017 South Devon Coastal Ultra (2)
Exmoor Coastal Ultra (2)
Lakes Sky Ultra
St Begas Ultra
King Offas Dyke Race
White Rose Ultra (2)
Escape from Meriden
Winter Cross Ultra
2018 Anglesey Coastal Ultra (2)
Brecon to Cardiff
Hardmoors 55 (6)
London Marathon (2)
Ultra Tour of Snowdonia 50
Coniston Trail Marathon
West Highland Way (10)
GB Ultras Snowdonia 50
Thursday, 27 September 2018
When this sort of thing happens people always say it's like travelling by bus; you wait for ages then two turn up at once. The Lakes has for some time had an abundance of superb races at around the 50 mile mark - the Lakeland 50, Lakes in a Day, Lakes 3 x 3000, Lakes 10 Peaks and so on - but Snowdonia, the UK's only other "south of the border" true mountain area, was lacking. Then this year we had the inaugural running of two hopefully long-term classics, with the "Ultra Tour of Snowdonia" back in May and the "GB Ultras Mt Snowdon" last weekend.
I was going to do my normal event write-up of the latter, but then a friend who knew that I'd done both events asked me which one I liked best and it seemed that it might be more useful to compare and contrast the two experiences. I'll say at the start that I'm not going to come up with a "winner"; I thought both events were great days out which I enjoyed thoroughly; however they were different in many ways and it may be of interest to record how and why.
These will be only my own impressions of course, and in case this goes a bit beyond my normal following, perhaps I should start with a brief word on my stumble into the ultra running world so you can decide whether or not to take my comments seriously. After a lifetime of mountaineering I got into running quite late in life and ran my first ultra back in 2007 when I was approaching 59. Since then I've found it an absorbing and rewarding pastime, probably reaching my "peak" (!!) about five years ago with 10 hour finishes in the Lakeland 50 and Highland Fling. I've done a fair few 100's and longer races, but dodgy knees and the inevitable passage of time means that I'm happy enough just to complete the events I enter nowadays. The Snowdon 50 last weekend was my 77th ultra.
It's worth noting that each of these Snowdon 50's have an accompanying 100 mile event, and it's impossible to do any sort of comparison without referring to these at times. Unless someone comes up with a magic knee potion I'm afraid both of these are beyond me now, but as I know the hills of Snowdonia pretty well having been kicking around in them for over 50 years or more, I think I can stray into odd comments on the 100's without too much trepidation.
So here we go.
1. The Organisations
The UTS 50/100 was organised by Apex Running, a small company run by Mike Jones. Mike is an elite runner himself, having won the Lakeland 100 twice and got a top ten finish in the CCC among other things. This year's 50/100 was Apex' first event, and I don't detect that Mike wants to expand beyond this one race at present. So for this year, Apex had no experience, no track record, and no "following" of regular attendees.
The GB Ultras 50/100 was organised by GB Ultras. This was my first GB Ultras Event so I don't know any of the organisers personally but they have been going several years and run a series of 50/100 mile events plus their flagship "Race Across Scotland" which follows the 200 mile Southern Uplands Way. So they have more experience than Apex in running events and a clear following of regular competitors who focus on their events, in a similar way to the groups that follow and take part in Jon and Shirley Steele's "Hardmoors" series or Richard Weremiuk's "Beyond Marathon" races. This is evident from their Facebook pages and groups. However this was GB Ultras' first race in Snowdonia.
Both of these are small organisations run by capable enthusiasts. You wouldn't expect the same level of attention to detail as you get in major established events such as the Lakeland 100 or the Dragon's Back, but that is just a fact, not a disadvantage. There are still plenty of events out in the Pennines where you can turn up on the day, pay your fifteen or twenty pounds and have a great day out with mimimal fuss. One of the attractions of ultra running is that it encompasses a whole range of event style and sophistication; you can choose what suits you best.
2. Facts and figures
The UTS50 as run this year was advertised as 50 miles and 6000m (19,700ft) of ascent; with no navigation glitches my watch recorded 55 miles and 18,000 ft of ascent. (Looking at the website, it seems that a revised course is proposed next year with a 5,100m (16,700ft) of ascent.
The GB 50 course was originally advertised as 55 miles and 17,900ft of ascent. However, shortly before the event it was shortened by omitting a descent to Nant Peris and re-ascent over Elidir Fawr and Y Garn. Again I made no navigational mistakes and my (same) watch recorded the course as it was actually run as 50 miles and 16,000ft of ascent.
In terms of the challenge, both of the 100 courses are monsters, with UTS weighing in with 33,000ft of ascent and the GB 29,000ft. Compare this with the until-recently-one-of-the-tough-100's-in-the-UK Lakeland 100, which comes in at a relatively modest 22,000ft.
The cut-offs are interesting. The UTS allowed 48 hours for the 100 (50 next year) and 36 hours for the 50 (34 next year) whereas the GB allowed a similar 48 for the 100 but only 24 for the 50. This meant that whatever the challenges the actual course presented, completing the UTS 50 was always going to be an easier deal than the GB50 for slower runners.
For what it's worth I'll add in here that I finished the UTS50 in 25 hrs 19 mins, in 107th place out of 166 starters, and the GB50 in 23 hrs 7mins, in 111th place out of 200 starters, so I think a similar level of (fairly mediocre) performance in both, but again a reason why I think I can compare them objectively. But I also think if the GB50 had followed its originally intended course including the Nant Peris loop, I would probably have been in some trouble.
Anyone who wants to see the detailed courses can of course look on the appropriate race websites, but in brief they were as follows:
The UTS100 followed two loops based on Llanberis. The "northern" loop headed first over Snowdon by the the Llaberis and Pyg tracks then cut south of Moel Siabod to Dolwyddelan, returning north to Capel Curig. From there it headed north to Llyn Cowlyd then traversed all the southern Carneddau to Ogwen, followed by all of the Glyder range except Tryfan back to Llanberis. It then continued round the "southern" loop which took in Moel Elio and Mynedd Mawr before heading up Snowdon by the Ranger path and back down by the Rhyd Ddu path. From Rhyd Ddu it followed a section of the Paddy Buckley round, over the northern peaks of the Nantlle ridge then along the subsidiary ridge to Moel Hebog and down to Beddgelert. From there it went through the Aberglaslyn pass and back over Cnicht to Nantgwynant. The final "sting in the tail" was the ascent of Lliwedd via the Watkin path, a descent down to the Llyn Llyddau causeway (ie almost back down to Pen-y Pass) and finally back over Snowdon via the Miners and Llanberis paths to Llanberis.
The UTS 50 followed the harder southern loop only, and as the 100 started 12 hours ahead of the 50, it was logical to allow 36 hours as it then used the same checkpoints during the same opening hours as the 100.
The GB Ultras 50 started and finished in Betws y Coed, first following valley footpaths to a checkpoint near the foot of Tryfan on the A5. From there it went up the Heather Terrace to within about 300ft from the top of Tryfan, then picked up the Miners path down to Pen y Gwryd and up to Pen y Pass. The original intention was to go up Snowdon via the Pyg Track and down over Lliwedd, but on the day the descent was re-routed down the Miners path. The route then retraced its steps via Pen y Pass, Pen y Gwryd and the Miners track, turning off on the top plateau to take in both Glyders and descend via the Devils Kitchen to Ogwen. It then went directly up Pen yr Oleu Wen, over the southern Carneddau as far as the start of the climb after Craig yr Ysfa, then directly back down to the A5/Tryfan. checkpoint. From there it followed the outward low level route back to Betws but with a 6 mile detour out to Crafnant to make up the mileage.
The GB 100 runners followed exactly the same route, starting at the same time (actually just 10 mins earlier), then did a second loop, first out to Cowlyd and back to the A5, an ascent of Pen yr Oleu Wen by the easier eastern track, then a long descent down to Bethesda. They then returned along valley paths to the Tryfan A5 checkpoint. The final run-in was another ascent of Heather terrace, down the ridge to Capel Curig then a repeat of the 50 finish along the low level route via Crafnant back to Betws.
I have described both routes in the past tense because I suspect both RD's will want to "tweak" them in some areas for next year.
Of course I don't have access to the thinking of the course setters, but from how they turned out it's clear that they started with different objectives. In summary, I think the UTS route was devised as a journey through the mountains which incidentally was a challenging course, whereas the GB Ultras route was set to be a challenge, but happened to run through some spectacular mountain scenery. The GB ultras 50 contained a few "in your face" climbs and some gnarly descents, but also a total of nearly 25 miles of fairly gentle ground at the start and finish; the UTS 50 had equally steep climbs but the majority could be done by steady walking, the only "scrambly" type ground being on the Nantlle ridge, a short section of Cnicht and the traverse of Lliwedd. However there was no "easy" ground at all on the UTS route, it was either up or down all the way.
Finally, it's worth pointing out that the GB routes, both 50 and 100, repeated the same ground for quite a few miles, either in the same or opposite direction, whereas the UTS100 only repeated the Llanberis track to Snowdon (up at the very start and down at the very finish) and the UTS50 repeated not a single step. If you're in this mainly for the challenge this comparison will be totally irrelevant to you; if you're out to experience as much of Snowdonia as you can, it may be important.
4. Course Marking
Both events went for marked courses to some degree. The UTS attempted a fully marked course, with a flag on average about every 50 metres - closer on the tricky bits and further apart on obvious, easy to follow paths. The idea was that you could if you chose follow the route from the flags, as you do in Alpine events. GB Ultras went more for "reassurance" marking, ie fewer flags but in place at critical turning points and occasionally elsewhere; my understanding was that you needed to navigate by other means but the flags were intended to give you some confidence that you were getting things right. Neither of these approaches was totally successful.
I know one of the reasons for course marking is to attract runners from overseas, where the ability to navigate is not usually a necessary skill to take part in ultra races, but I really think RD's in the UK need to have a rethink on this for two reasons:
(1) Marking is fine where the route follows paths that are well defined on the ground (as they are in almost all Alpine events). But courses in the UK often follow tracks that are hard to see on the ground even in good visibility, and almost impossible at night. If you combine this with misty conditions that can limit visibility to significantly less than the distance between flags, you get a situation where you can't see from one to the next with no clue on the ground as to which direction to take. Being able to navigate without the markers is then the only way safe progress can be made.
(2) In many events that I have run in the UK with marked courses, including the two we are talking about here, markers get removed or moved. This can be by high winds, animals or humans, either mischievously or maliciously. Once the integrity of the marker stream is compromised, you don't know if you can trust it so you may as well not have it. Marshals may be able to keep an eye on the situation over a 35 mile Sky Race taking place wholly in daylight, but once you are into 50 or 100 miles of flags needing to stay in place for several days, keeping control of the situation is all but impossible.
Both events suffered from both of these effects.
I'm sure the attraction of a marked course attracts some competitors who would otherwise not come because they are not confident of their ability to navigate. If the marking goes wrong then these people are in trouble. For this reason alone I believe RD's should stop marking courses in mountain events, and insist that competitors can find their way around with map/compass/gps/etc.
Because the routes visited the same ground on more than one occasion, the GB Ultras events were able to use most of their checkpoints multiple times. They needed only 6 checkpoints in total (plus the home base) to cover both races, and the 3 key ones were linked by only about 10 miles of main road. This slick bit of organisation obviously improved their ability to communicate and keep checkpoints supplied and crewed. The checkpoints were all in Gazebos with mainly snack type food and cold drinks, although the later ones could provide tea and coffee too. There were always a lot of volunteers at the checkpoints, they were really enthusiastic, helpful and supportive, giving great encouragement to the runners. It was clear that a lot of the checkpoint crew were also runners, which I think helped a lot.
Because it took in a much wider chunk of Snowdonia, The UTS needed a lot more checkpoints. 7 (plus home base) were shared by the 50 and 100, and a further 7 were required exclusively for the 100. I only experienced the ones catering for the 50. They were often only crewed by only two or three people. The early ones were outside but key ones later on were in halls, cafes, etc. They had quite substantial food including hot chunky soup, which was a great boost when you're about to set off up Snowdon at 1am on a chilly night.
6. Odds and Sods
For such demanding courses in a mountain environment, I was surprised that neither event went for individual competitor tracking. It obviously adds to the cost but it is a feature of the majority of comparable events nowadays. I would have thought RD's would have gone for it purely for peace of mind, but it creates such interest among "dot watchers" that the publicity generated for the event must be a significant bonus side effect.
I found the other runners that I met along the way interesting. Now remember that I am very much a back-of-pack competitor but in events such as these every one that leaves the start line has to have a degree of competence to survive, let alone finish. Almost everyone that I talked to in the UTS50 knew that they were taking part in one of the toughest 50 milers around; they expected it to be hard. Conversely, I met many runners on the GB Ultras course who were finding it tougher than they expected. Whether this is as a result of website publicity, word of mouth, Facebook pages, I don't know; that's just how it seemed to me. For anyone who hasn't done either of these events, my take is as follows; there are a number of fairly classic 50 milers that have been around for a while, all of a similar level of difficulty, such as the Highland Fling, the Hardmoors 55 and the Lakeland 50. From these, it is a significant step up to events like the Lakes in a Day and the Lakes 3x3000. It is then similar step up from here to the UTS50 and the GB Ultras Snowdon 50. Make no mistake, these 50 milers are tough.
At the moment, what makes the GB Ultras slightly harder is the time allowance of 24 hours. I finished with less than an hour to spare. Had the Lliwedd traverse been included it may have been touch and go for me, had the Nant Peris loop been included I would almost certainly have been timed out. On the UTS50 which in my view is a slightly tougher course on the ground, I was always in my comfort zone because I was never going to be timed out.
The UTS offers a 100 which is going to challenge the very best, while at the same time a 50 which is accessible to almost anyone who has the determination to tough it out. By extending the time allowance for the 50 (the checkpoints are there anyway for the 100) The GB Ultras team could do the same.
But as I said at the start, they are both great events in their different ways, and I really hope they continue long into the future.
Monday, 10 September 2018
This is going to be a long post. I didn't allow myself to be hurried too much in the race and I'm going for the same level of casual luxury in the memories. So you have been warned, but if you still want to come along then I suggest you settle down with a G&T or whatever floats your boat and we'll begin.
I suppose I've got a bit hooked on the longer races over the past few years, with completions in the Tor des Geants, Northern Traverse and King Offa's Dyke, and a couple of fanciful brushes with the Dragon's Back (which I would have loved to have met ten years ago but which I know deep down is now beyond me). The idea of setting out on a journey of several days, the planning and preparation, then dealing with the event as it unfolds ("no plan survives first contact with the enemy") is really satisfying. These are also events where a bit of nous and determination can compensate rather more for a declining running ability than is possible in shorter races.
So Deadwater, a six day stage race of 235 miles seemed perfect for this year's adventure. I had already done two Beyond Marathon events (King Offa's Dyke and Escape from Meriden) so I knew the organisation would be spot on, and I had read the blogs from the previous year's inaugural running with growing enthusiasm. I signed up pretty well as soon as entries opened back in the autumn of last year. 50 places were available and the start list fairly rapidly grew to over 40.
The concept of the race is that it runs from the Scottish border at the tiny village of Deadwater at the northern end of the Kielder Forest, to the Welsh border at Chester (well, within about a mile of it anyway!). That I live in Chester was just an added incentive to enter the race - I would be running home.
The race is divided into six separate stages with an overnight camp at the end of each day. There are no intermediate cut-off times, you just have to finish each stage in time to be on the start line of the next one at 8am - the significance of this for runners going at my speed will become more apparent as we go along! Tents are provided and set up, but you have to carry everything else you need, sleeping bag and mat, all the clothes you think you will need, and all your food - the organisation just provides cold water at checkpoints and hot water at the overnight camps. Race Director Richard Weremiuk did take pity on us a bit though; we were allowed a food resupply bag after three days, and a shoe bag containing one pair of spare shoes and a pair of socks which would be available each night.
Other than looking at the route from time to time to start getting it in my head, I didn't think much about the event until after the Lakeland 100 at the end of July, which left me about 4 weeks to get my act together.
I was familiar with a good proportion of the course through having done the Pennine Way, though I didn't realise until the event how different this can be feel in the opposite direction, and I decided not to recce any of the rest but let it come as a fresh experience. This had worked well for me on the other long events I had done so I was quite comfortable with the approach. I decided to navigate primarily from the maps that would be provided. A GPS back-up was recommended so I decided to take my Etrex 30 and put a fairly rough version of the route in to it, which I made by referring to the maps on the event website. A very detailed trace was available from the website but in general I prefer to know where I am on the map so I didn't use it.
Selection of kit and food took a bit of time. I'll add some details right at the end for those interested, but the basic circle to be squared was
- carry enough food (2000 cals a day was mandatory but the word was 3000 was a more realistic target to prevent you losing steam)
- carry enough clothes/kit to keep you warm and dry in the daytime, and warm enough to sleep at night
- try to keep your pack weight down to around 5kg, including a litre of water.
I think most competitors found this was not an easy task, and my pack was nearer to 5,5kg when I set out from Deadwater.
Leaving the Outside World
Richard had laid on a minibus from Hexham station for those of us arriving before 3pm. My train got in at around 2.45 so the little waiting room was almost full of runners by then. I knew Greg from many previous races, Karl had overtaken me in the last few miles of Offa's Dyke, and I had first met Tim at the West Highland Way Race probably 10 years ago. I soon got to know some of the others, first on the bus ride then at the pub in Kielder where most of us went for a substantial "last supper" and a beer or two before the rigours of the journey were to start.
It was a cold, clear night at the Kielder campsite. As we went for our hot water for breakfast the following morning, ice was being scraped from windscreens. I think most of us discovered the limitations of our one-and-a-bit season sleeping bags. But it was a beautiful clear morning as all competitors were ferried the two miles to the Scottish border, Deadwater, and the start. From the original entry list, only 18 of us made the start line, exactly the same number as last year.
|The Start Line|
Day 1 "The Forest" Deadwater to Haltwhistle 33 miles 2814 ft ascent
Day 1 was to be a fairly gentle warm-up, mostly broad forest tracks through the vast Kielder forest. I had decided before the start to adopt the strategy of jogging the downhills and walking everything else which had got me around a lot of big events in the past. Consequently, as everyone ran or jogged enthusiastically away from the start line I was soon left on my own at the back of the field, a position I have to admit I'm not totally unfamiliar with. But it was easy walking in beautiful countryside and there was nowhere else I would rather have been, full of anticipation for the adventure to unfold.
A few undulations began to appear as we moved from the old railway line from Deadwater to the trail down the west side of the large Kielder Lake, and by jogging the downs I gradually caught up with Caroline. She was running more than me but a bit slower, so we passed and repassed each other, chatting occasionally, for the next few miles until we reached the first checkpoint about 8 miles from the start. All the way through the race the checkpoints became focal points to aim for, a way of breaking up the total distance into manageable chunks. Although practically they could only offer the competitors water, the welcome and support from the volunteer marshals at every checkpoint was one of the things that made the overall experience a bit special, and over the week we got to know and really appreciate them. The first checkpoint of the day was normally crewed by Jac and Lucie, so here they were about half way down the lake.
After here I got ahead of Caroline and didn't see her again until the end of the day. After a bit more lakeside the route turned into the forest and a long steady climb up to the highpoint of the day. I expected the forest to be a bit tedious, but the sections with trees on both sides were quite short, and once on the higher ground the wide vistas over moorland were beautiful. In our crowded little island we need places like this.
|Wide views in Kielder Forest|
Richard had got his 4WD pickup to a spot in the forest miles from the nearest metalled road for checkpoint 2 at around 18,5 miles. A quick water top up, then with over half the day done the rest seemed to go quite quickly. Jac and Lucie were there again for checkpoint 3 just as we left the forest, with just a half dozen miles to the overnight camp (Checkpoint 4) near Haltwhistle. There was a little sting in the tail as after over 30 miles on solid jeep tracks, the last mile was over our first taste of open moorland, looking for little trods among the tussocks while following an overall general direction.
I finished the day as planned, feeling in good shape and warmed up but not over-extended, in 9:16:56. (just to put this in perspective winner John Parkin finished in just over 5 and a half hours!) I was in last but one place but not too bothered about that; it was about the journey. Later, we sat around a campsite table eating our food in the sunshine, joking that this might be the only fine evening we would have. The forecast for the next day wasn't great.
I stayed with the majority of the pack for the first mile after the off because it was down a hill into Haltwhistle town, but once we reached level ground normal service was resumed with me firmly at the back. After going through the town and a bit of road, the route then followed an old railway line, the "South Tyne Trail" for 12 miles or so. It was slightly uphill all the way, but at such a gentle angle that it felt level. Walking so far on such easy ground really felt like a waste of good daylight hours, so I knew I should run some of it. I passed Caroline saying that I intended to run and walk alternate miles, but once I got started it felt easy enough so I just ran it all. It was drizzling steadily now so it felt good to get it done. A highlight was running over the impressive Lambley Viaduct, but mostly the track was in trees with only occasional views. The only break was the first checkpoint of the day (CP5) at 9 miles from Haltwhistle. I passed two or three other runners just before Alston, where we joined the Pennine Way, then caught Tim and Craig at the Garrigill checkpoint (CP6) which was crewed by Andy and Karen, two more of the wonderful volunteers.
The next bit of the day had most of us wanting to get it done as quickly as we could. It was the longest stage of the race at around 17 miles, over the highest point on the course (Cross Fell), and in the face of a weather forecast predicting heavy rain and high winds. I made relatively good time on the first part of the ascent, the jeep track up to Gregs hut, together with Tim and Craig. I think we made a mistake in following the official route at one point though when it followed a "short cut" from the track. This was across very tussocky grass and heather with no path on the ground and took us a long time; we would have been quicker staying on the track which although a bit further and taking in a bit more climb would have been much quicker. It was raining steadily when we reached the hut so we went inside for a quick warm-up and were surprised to find Lucie in residence, having just walked over from the top of the road on Great Dun Fell. She said conditions over the top of Cross Fell weren't too bad at all, which I think cheered everyone up. I set out with Tim but once the top was reached he was going faster than me so I was on my own again. Visibility was quite poor and it was still raining, but the wind was nowhere near as strong as I had expected (I've been up here before!) so I made reasonable progress along the tops to find Jac at another impromptu checkpoint in the car on Dun Fell, with the offer of hot water to warm us up a bit, gratefully accepted.
It was a longish way down but pretty straightforward, and as we came down out of the cloud the rain seemed to have stopped. I whipped off my waterproofs to let the wind dry the clothes underneath so I had something dry to sleep in. A mile before Dufton I was caught by Kevin and we carried on to the overnight camp at the edge of the village together (CP7). Again I felt it had been a good day with not too much stress. I finished in 10:24:44, this time with 3 or 4 people behind me so I was getting more established in the race.
Rain came and went throughout the evening, the prime dining spot and social centre after collecting hot water seemed to be the cab of a large quadbike parked in the barn of the farm where we were camped. No luxury spared on these trips.
I was looking forward to this day as it covered some nice looking open country in an area that I hadn't visited before. Unfortunately, the promised return of good weather was going to be a day later than originally thought, but it didn't seem too bad as we set out, now reduced by one or two retirees from the second day. It was a flat start so the normal pattern for the first few miles. I started at the back, caught Caroline after a half hour or so then a little while later caught two other runners, Nick and Claire. Nick said he was intending to retire at the next checkpoint, Claire was going better so the two of us carried on together. The first part of the day was through woods and fields and the little town of Appleby-in Westmorland, mostly easy going but occasionally having to decide on a bit of navigation. I was using the map and Claire had a detailed gps trace on her watch so we worked well enough together, onto and through the first checkpoint of the day (CP8) at Great Asby.
From here to the next checkpoint after Ravenstonedale the route crossed a stretch of nice open moorland, easy underfoot and with good paths. I remembered crossing the same area by a different route on the Northern Traverse event. I was able to keep up a good walking pace over this ground but Claire said she was struggling a bit so I pressed on. I then made a really silly mistake between Newbiggin and Ravenstonedale. For a short while I had been using my gps to check track directions over the moor; I had lost my compass earlier, I think it had become detached from the little carabiner tethering it to my pack (I confessed this to Richard later in the day, his response was that if I'd got myself over Wild Boar Fell ok without it then he wasn't too bothered). But I then carried on glancing at the gps rather than the map and only after it was too late I noticed that I had followed an "old" route on the website which followed a series of fields with quite long grass, whereas the map we had been given that morning took a route which was half a mile or so shorter and on road. When I finally came out onto the road again I saw another runner way ahead, and after working quite hard to catch up I discovered it was Claire - my little detour had cost a fair bit of time. After that I always made sure that I stayed in touch with the current map all the way to the finish. We got to the checkpoint (CP 9) together but Claire said she was going to rest for a short while so I carried on alone again.
The next section was over Wild Boar Fell itself with a steady but quite gentle climb up. It was now a dry but quite grey afternoon with a freshening wind.
|Starting up Wild Boar Fell|
It looked as though the clouds were quite high and I reached summit still with a view, but then soon after the mist descended again reducing visibility to maybe 50 yards or so. Nevertheless, I had a great run along the extensive top of the fell, followed by a bit of a dip and pull up to Swart Fell before a long descent down to Garsdale. It was clearly a not very often visited place but there were still good little trods all the way so long as you kept your eyes open for them. Richard was waiting with CP10 just by Garsdale station, with a warning that the next 4k was all on road - and uphill. It didn't look too daunting, though with time passing I was still only 27 miles into this 46 mile day, so had no time to hang around.
It was a virtually traffic-free road, and was followed by a long, contouring, grassy bridleway giving easy progress all the way to the next checkpoint (CP11). Medic Chris was there and it was good to sit in the warm van for a few minutes. It was just about dark now, and they said the light I could see leaving the CP as I was approaching was Kevin, and also that Claire had been making really good progress so was now not far behind me. I said I would push on so that I didn't start to seize up, but would go slowly so Claire would probably catch me.
Only 10 miles to go from here to the overnight camp at Horton, and it started out easily following a good jeep track. After a mile or so however the route left this to follow the "Ribble Way" which would probably have been easy to follow in daylight but in the dark was quite difficult to make out at times. It went in and out and up and down over a series of becks an re-entrants before dropping down to a road again at Gearstones. As I descended the last slope to the road I met Chris coming up to check that Claire was finding her way back to the road ok.
The route then crossed the road and then had to cross a river, with a ford and a bridge shown on the map. I couldn't see either at first, but by tracking downstream a hundred yards or so I found the ford, which looked pretty unpleasant in the conditions, at least knee deep, fast flowing and quite wide. I tracked back upstream to find the bridge, and as I got to it I saw a light on it. At first I thought it might be someone from the nearby farm who had been watching my meanderings up and down the river, but it turned out to be Claire, so we carried on together. The remainder of the leg set us a series of navigation problems which neither the 1:50k map nor Claire's detailed trace solved completely; we needed the odd bit of nous and trial and error to find our way through a lot of tussocky grass, numerous wall crossings via hard-to-spot stiles, then through and around a long line of 30 foot high crags before eventually hitting the Pennine Way a mile or so short of Horton.
We were met at the outskirts of the village by Andy and Chris, and finally arrived at the overnight camp (CP12) at around half past midnight. My time was 16:28:15 for the day. Again I felt in pretty good shape, but a bit guilty at having kept Chris and Andy up so late. They were great about it though, fetching us hot water so I could have my soup and curry before turning in. Chris checked out Claire's feet which were not looking too good even after only 3 days; she showed remarkable persistence to carry on right through to the finish with them.
|The 10 remaining runners getting ready to start Day 4|
Even after a latish night, I probably had my best sleep so far and was up at 6am for the hour earlier start today - 7am. I'm not quite sure who retired where, but I think we were now down to the 10 runners who made it to the finish, plus Caroline who with great determination carried on each day as "non-competitive" after not making it over Cross Fell on Day 2, it was good to have her around. I hope my fellow competitors won't think me unjust if I say that by now the field had divided into the "runners", a group at the front comprising last year's winner John Parkin plus Paul Nelson, Andy Robertson and Greg, who were already 10-15 hours ahead of the "finishers", comprising the rest of us.
The day started with a couple of steady ascents in the drizzly, grey, early morning light, first two thirds of the way up Pen-y-Ghent, then over the summit of Fountains Fell. By the time we came down out of the mist on the latter however, things were looking up and it was clear the weather was at last on the turn. In fact we had steadily improving weather from here to the end of the week.
|Leader John Parkin approaching CP13 just south of Malham Tarn|
The first checkpoint of this long day was at the southern edge of Malham Tarn (CP13), where Richard had put the "Beyond Marathon" flags up to greet us on our way. The route followed the Pennine Way again for all of the day apart from the last 3 miles, so it was down and across the limestone pavement above Malham Cove, through the village and over the river. From here to Cowling I've always regarded as the "tedious agricultural bit" of the Pennine Way but that was on the basis of grey winter weather and continuous slop underfoot. Today, with the sun overhead and firm grass underfoot it was an altogether different and infinitely more pleasurable experience.
We were surprised by Lucie and Jac wearing grass skirts at CP14 on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at East Marton. Tim was just leaving as I arrived and I couldn't resist the temptation of a five minute break in a comfy chair in the sunshine.
But onwards and upwards, the steady climb from here up to Pinhall Beacon, a nice bit of moor, then over the fields to Lothersdale. Somewhere around here I caught up Tim and Kevin and we stayed more or less together for a few miles. But once we were up on the flat moor past Cowling they were making better speed so rather than struggle to stay in touch I let them go and carried on at my own pace.
I had a bit of difficulty finding the checkpoint at Ponden (CP15). The marker on the map was centred on the buildings around the outdoor centre at the top of the hill as you approach, but I couldn't see anything there so I carried on thinking that it must be in the lay-by at the bottom of the hill. Nothing there either. I then made one of those decisions that you make when you're 12 hours into day 4 of a six day race; I walked back up the hill to have another look. After finding nothing second time around I eventually rang Richard who said it would be on the road at the bottom of the hill somewhere. Two hundred yards beyond where I had turned around last time there was the van with Karen and Andy and a warm welcome. I topped up, changed my torch batteries thinking that this would be the last night I would need them, and set off towards Wuthering Heights.
The majority of this stage went really well; I was quick up the hill, jogged down the other side to the Walshaw Dean reservoirs, along them and down the road. I found the tricky path leading to the two footbridges before Gorple reservoir then up onto Heptonstall moor and over it still in good style. I was on track at the second road crossing at Colden, down the farm lane, into the field and through the odd little metal gate. Then it all went wrong. I had travelled this ground at least three times before, including once in the dark, but always in the opposite direction. I found myself in a field of long grass unable to find my way to a path leading down into the little ravine at Colden Clough. Eventually I found one, but once down by the river I just couldn't find the bridge. Eventually, after tracking both upstream and downstream for what seemed like miles I found it, crossed and climbed up the other side. It then took me another age to find the stile into the next field. Finally I emerged onto the little lane from which the steep final descent into the Calder Valley starts. I then had another problem. My torch batteries, fresh at Ponden, were now fading fast and I had no more replacements. In desperation I got out my tiny back-up light and one step at a time inched my way down the steep muddy paths. I was leaking time, I probably lost at least an hour on these couple of miles, and worse still I had no light sources with which to carry on the race. In most races you get a low point at some time, and mine was here and now.
On reflection, the only thing I can think happened to my batteries is that to save weight I was using an old torch that I hadn't used for some years. Since I last used it I had moved to using Lithium batteries - more expensive but much lighter and longer lasting than alkaline ones. But I hadn't checked that they were suitable for the torch, and I guess they weren't, lasting only about 4 hours when the alkalines used to do at least double that.
Anyway, the result was that I eventually stumbled into Andy waiting at the foot of the last steep lane, with me saying I think I've had it, I have no batteries left. He led me back to the van (CP 16), where camp manager Tom was also in residence. Hot water was provided for a much-needed hot meal. Andy then said "Don't worry, I have batteries, it would be daft to stop now". He saved my race at that point. I was so grateful. He later told me that he'd been competing in last year's race and had to stop at this very point because his feet were in such a bad state, so a bit of a poignant moment.
Newly illuminated, I set off up Stoodley Pike with a definite spring in my step. The only problem was that when I pulled clear of the woods high enough to see the monument, the damn thing wouldn't stay still. I had had no hallucinations yet although it was well into the night by now and I was fairly tired, but I had never experienced this effect before. Every time I raised my eyes to the spikey construction, it jumped away to another bit of hillside. In the end I gave up and just concentrated on the track ahead until the tower was no more than fifty yards away, at which point it finally landed in the right place.
It was a fine night but with a chilly breeze so I made what speed I could over the jumbly ground for the mile or so to pick up the line of slabs leading to the long line of reservoirs before the White House pub. There were no signs on the track so I assumed the detour around the back of Warland reservoir, which had affected both winter and summer Spine races this year, had now been lifted, meaning easy going along a good level track all the way to the pub. Somewhere along here it got light, and a bit further on I caught and passed Claire and Alistair, who had been ahead of me all day/night but were now being hampered by sore feet.
Jac was in the car park just below the pub (CP17) with a welcoming mug of warm water, then it was just along the leet for a few hundred yards and downhill all the way to the overnight (?) stop by Hollingworth Lake (CP 18). My "long stage" had taken just short of 25 hours - 24:54:02 to be precise. On the plus side, I still had over an hour before I needed to start Day 5, and was still feeling pretty chipper, all things considered.
After a short rest and a bite to eat I was ready to cross the timing mat at the official "morning lie-in" start time for Day 5 of 9am (an hour's extra rest granted after the long stage). Each morning about fifteen minutes before the start we were given the day's map and a briefing by Richard on the day's course and likely weather. Today he started with "Well, you should have it cracked by now, just a couple of 30 mile fun runs to finish!".
After crossing the start mat I actually rested another hour before setting out, as did one or two of the other late finishers from the day before, so at around 10am I set off for "canal hell" with Tim. We had treated ourselves to precious dry socks for what we expected to be a day of hard-packed towpaths. Unfortunately to get to the first canal we had to cross a couple of fields with long wet grass (it was raining again this morning) so everything was wet again before we even saw the water. That's the way of these sort of events, you think you have the bases covered but you never have really. Tim was not able to run because he had a sore leg which he was sure was infected; it was a nasty swollen red, and as a medic he should know what he's talking about. He was working with the race medics (who were brilliant the whole time for all of us) on how he could procure some antibiotics.
We hit the Rochdale canal and set off for Manchester. After the past four days it was, well, different. Surroundings not too bad, though Tim was disturbed by the amount of litter urban Englishmen seem to create, but I did find it hard on the feet, asphalt pretty well all the way. Outside the Boat and Horses pub at mile 10, Lucie and Jac appeared, this time as Wonderwoman and a Bunny Girl (CP19). Not too pressed for time today, we sat down for a brief rest and chat. Tim managing his leg, did he want some ice, I'll go in the pub and get some for you. Is that wise, dressed like that? Why not? She went, ice appeared.
|Bunny and Wonderwoman on the Rochdale Canal|
On into Manchester, a bit more interest now, our canal ended, over a few streets to find another, same again. I know Manchester at street level, not down here, it's a different world. Eventually we were underneath the bars at the back of Manchester Central, familiar ground, celebrations after numerous Great Manchester runs, then gradually out of town past the football ground, the "Sir Alex Ferguson Stand". We were greeted by Nathan, a runner, taking photos, he knew all about the race and had just popped out of work nearby to wish us well, much appreciated. And so on to CP20 at the marina. A final plan for Tim, best option was to stop the clock and take him to a nearby walk-in centre for treatment. He would rejoin the race later, I pressed on.
|Through Manchester with Tim|
After a bit of rest I was getting a bit bored with the hard surface and the long straight canal sections so I started running to get the thing done a bit quicker. Just approaching Sale I saw my daughter-in-law Jade running towards me, out for a run. She and my son John live in Sale and had been watching my tracker and knew I was close. After a quick hug, Jade said that John and my two granddaughters Florence (6) and Evie (4) were waiting by Sale steps. What a lovely surprise, high fives and hugs all round, a bit of weighing of my enormous pack, offers of sweets (sadly had to be declined) and general celebration. I stayed five minutes or so but then had to be on my way. I ran most of the way to where the route left the canal at the far edge of Altrincham. We were then left with a short stretch of disused railway line and a bit of road that led to and over the Ship Canal to the overnight camp at a site just south of Warrington (CP21). It was dark again by the time I arrived, but still plenty of time for a shower and food before turning in. Though short and flat, I had found it mentally and physically quite a tough day. Time taken including the hours rest at the start was 12:31:01
We were divided into two groups for this final day, with the slower runners starting at 7am and the quicker ones an hour later, to get our finishing times closer together. Naturally I started with the 7am group. I had decided to run as much as I could today, no need to save anything for tomorrow now. I found myself with Tim and Jo after a mile or two; they are both better runners than me but I thought with a bit of effort I should be able to hang on to them at this stage of the game, and it stayed that way until the finish. Tim was now fighting fit after a course of antibiotics last evening and through the night. I hadn't seen much of Jo up until now because on all the days except Cross Fell she had been travelling much faster than me. We jogged and walked alternately throughout the day. Soon after leaving the campsite the route followed a wide creek leading back towards the Ship Canal; it was a cold but beautifully sunny morning and on a small island in the middle we saw a cormorant spreading its wings. Not a bad start to the day in urban Warrington. We followed the north bank of the Ship Canal for a few miles then turned south through Stockton Heath to meet and follow the Bridgewater canal. This had a natural gravel towpath which was so much more comfortable than the hard paths we had followed all the previous day.
|Creek leading to the Manchester Ship Canal|
Soon after joining the canal CP22 came up at Higher Walton. Fancy dress of course, this time with a Christmas theme, we were greeted with ho-ho-hos from Santa and an Elf. One of my oldest friends and long term climbing partner Malcolm lives in Higher Walton, so he had turned up as well to get in on the act, it was great to see him.
|Ho ho ho|
We had been going just under two hours and I had estimated that at our relative speeds leader John would catch us in another hour. Not a bit of it; we had barely gone ten minutes from the CP when he came past at a really quick pace. He told us later that believing he had the race already won, he had intended to take the last day easier and make it more of a social occasion, running with some of the others, but on confessing this to his daughter the night before, he had received a sharp response. It was time to do the very best he could, she said, to lay down a time that would be a real challenge for runners in subsequent years - "Run faster dad!". The result was that we didn't see the second runner Paul until nearly six miles further on, on the hill down into Frodsham. He was quickly followed by Andy R and then Greg, all going well.
The second checkpoint CP23 was at the ring-o-Bells pub in Frodsham, a final CP duty for Andy and Karen who had supported us so well over the week. After that we were up Frodsham Hill and onto the Sandstone Trail. This really is home running territory for me so I was able to keep the others on the right track through the myriad paths through the woods (apart from one occasion when Tim got too far ahead and found a few extra-curricular yards on the wrong bit of hill, but then we saw him coming down to join us again before long). After a too-short period on the ST, we dived off to follow the Longster Trail through fields and odd bits of road to the outskirts of Chester. The final checkpoint CP24 was at the pub in Great Barrow, run by a lady who had completed the event last year , then we were soon over the ring road and along the last bit of canal, the Shropshire Union this time, into the city.
It was great to leave the canal for the final time and run right through the city centre, along Frodsham Street, then under the famous Eastgate Clock and past the Cross, many of the shoppers looking a bit bemused by three battered looking runners jogging past them. Turning right by the Falcon I told Tim that we were now in the home straight and the pace crept up perceptibly. Jo and I had to work a bit to convince Tim that the finish would be at the hotel on the right side of the roundabout rather than the castle on the left, but we all went the right way in the end, the finishing arch was there, and then it was done. I managed the 30 miles of the final day in 7:33:41, my fastest average speed over any day by quite some margin. The "runners" were all still there at the finish to welcome us, and we all stayed for those still to come. There was beer and pizza, and best of all, a sit down without having to plan what was going to come next! My wife Jan was also there at the finish to welcome me home; she liked the atmosphere so much that she decided to come along to the dinner later that evening.
|With Tim and Jo at the finish|
The awards dinner at the hotel was a great event, attended by all the runners still involved, nearly all the volunteers and many family members. All finishers were presented with a superb medal and the winners got their individual prizes. Winner John Parkin's overall time of 44:23:40 was quite staggering. Almost FIVE HOURS faster than his winning time last year, when the course was around 12 miles shorter due to the omission of Wild Boar Fell. He did his daughter proud, that's going to take some beating. My own total of 81:08:37 earned me ninth place out of the ten finishers, but also a rather unexpected "First Vet 70" prize, although as I was the only competitor in that particular group, that was simply a matter of turning up and then finishing. With a bit more effort and application I could probably have knocked a few hours off my total, but for me the time was never going to be important, it was always about the journey. I had had a great time, stayed in control (well, apart from the Hebden Bridge battery affair!), and finished in good shape. The journey had been good.
|All the finishers at the dinner. Back: Andy R, Greg, Jo, Alistair, Claire,|
Kevin, Caroline. Front: Paul, John, Tim, Andy C.
It seems impossible to thank enough those who made this adventure possible. To Tom, Andy, Karen, Lucie, Jac, the medics, but above all Richard who devised and delivered such a great event, we will remember these six days for a long time. Also, to my fellow competitors whether you finished or not, you were all great. It was a happy event.
Technical stuff for those interested.
Pack weight was key, but no one figure is right for everyone. Paul, who is very strong, carried a heavier pack than anyone else but still came second overall. I went out a couple of times before the event, once for just over 30 miles, with 6kg, and found that I could manage that OK for my style of running (run the downs and occasional flats, walk everything else.) Anything lighter would be a bonus. Days 1 and 4 would be the heaviest, 3 and 6 the lightest, because of the food weight.
Overall I tried to keep everything as light as possible, but didn't fret if it was something I felt I needed that seemed a bit heavier than "par".
I took an OMM 1.0 sleeping bag with a silk liner, together these were less than 500g and would have been quite warm enough if the weather had been normal for August. We had some nights when the temperatures were around freezing so I needed all my clothes as well to stay warm.
I used a 4ft x 18in piece of 5mm close cell mat, which weighed nothing and was absolutely fine for insulation. I also took an inflatable pillow.
I carried or wore at various times
- OMM Kamleika smock
- Montane Minimus rain pants
- long sleeved Helly Hansen lifa vest
- Icebreaker Merino vest
- extra light Ron Hill Fleece
- Rab Neutrino puffy smock
- Ron Hill tights
- Underarmour pants (2x)
- lightweight fleece beanie
- foldable baseball cap
- thin merino gloves
- Salomon waterproof shell mitts
- I also had a bit of hardware, mug, spoon, etc. My headtorch was an old Black Diamond model about equivalent in weight and power to a Petzl Tikka. If you run fast enough to need a brighter torch than this then you will finish each stage in daylight and will not use one at all; so anything other than a lightweight torch is overkill. My back up which (just) had enough brightness to get me down to Hebden Bridge was a Petzl eLite.
All packed in a OMM 20L Adventure sack. I used a 30L drybag inside it as a liner to keep everything dry.
I took 2 identical pairs of shoes, Skechers GoRun Ultra2
Some people have asked me how I keep my feet in good shape on long races. My strategy is very simple:
1. Have shoes that fit. I think the fit is more important than choice of brand/model for any other reason. All blisters come ultimately from movement of the foot within the shoe. Stop this and you stop blisters. The only other thing you need to combat is potential trenchfoot from continually wet feet.
2. For a long continuous race (ie no chance of getting feet dry) I wear Dexshell waterproof socks. They don't keep your feet dry but they minimise moisture, stay warm, and minimise mud ingress.
3, For a long stage race (ie feet can be dried off each evening) I wear Drymax socks.
4. I keep socks as lightweight as possible and never wear liners
5. I coat my feet each morning (or every 24 hours in the case of continuous races) with a liberal coating of Sudocrem. The sock makers say don't do this but it works for me.
Everyone's different but I have evolved this system over several years and it works for me. For Deadwater I had three pairs of socks (two at the start and one in shoe bag) which I rotated along with the shoes to start each day as dry as possible. Drymax socks will normally dry off in your sleeping bag overnight if they're wrung out fully beforehand.
For main meals I took the freeze dried stuff as did almost everyone else. My typical evening was Soup (100cals) Main course (800) and pudding (500) plus tea and coffee with sugar (100).
For breakfast I used 2 x cereal bars (400) plus tea/coffee (100)
This totalled 2000 cals per day. While running I ate at least another 1000 calories. I don't get on with technical stuff (gels, etc) over long periods, except Shotbloks. So as well as these I just took normal confectionery - Mars and Snickers bars, Dairy Milk chocolate, Haribos, nuts and raisins, ginger biscuits, etc. At the end I had nothing left at all. I drank just water because the stuff I use for shorter events (Mountain Fuel) is not really weight efficient enough for a long race, Water was carried in two 500ml bottles of the type found in the kids section at Sainsburys. I had a spare 1 litre capacity in a rolled up platypus at the bottom of my sack which I never used.
I used an old Suunto Ambit watch set to "Trek" mode which meant it was only charged once during the week. I used it for gauging distances to the next CP and for an occasional location ping to check the GR of where I was, and of course for telling the time of day.
I took a non-smart phone with a Manx Telecom simcard which works on all available networks. It did not need charging during the week.
I took my eTrex 30 GPS with a rough plot of the course installed. I find its real value is in the map background enabling you to navigate when it's too difficult to open (or see) a map. I used it a few times, but not much overall.
I used a very old pair of Gipron collapsible poles. 350g and very sturdy, invaluable when you have knees like mine.
I made sure that I finished each day knowing that I was in good enough shape to start the next one. I concentrated mainly on how I felt and then let forward progress take care of itself without feeling I was pushing it. A bit of an uncompetitive attitude maybe, but it keeps you moving forward without too much stress and allows you to enjoy the journey, which after all is what we're here for.
That's about it.
(all photos stolen from the group Facebook pages, hope the photographers don't mind too much)
(all photos stolen from the group Facebook pages, hope the photographers don't mind too much)