Tuesday, 27 August 2013

UTMB Time Again

Not much from me on the blog lately. I've been too busy sitting in the sun, drinking wine, eating pizza and pretending that all those aches and pains will go away soon, an activity otherwise known in the ultra world as "tapering". It's time for the annual Chamonix party again. I missed it last year because I was otherwise engaged in the Tor des Geants race starting over the other side of the hill in Courmayeur, but I'm excited to be back this year for another crack at this iconic event.

This isn't a wilderness experience you understand. With 2300 runners on a course that for many of its 105 miles is a singletrack, you're never going to be alone. But that is more than made up for by the stunning nature of the course, with its big climbs, never-ending descents and views to die for. And of course, the welcome you get all along the way  -  the "Bravos", the "Courages", a bonfire in every village and checkpoints you can hear long before you see them. Chamonix is completely taken over for the week by the UTMB, and of course the concurrent events, the PTL, CCC and TDS. It's a scene that every ultra runner has to be part of at least once in their career.

The weather hasn't been kind in recent years, the last time the "official" course was run was in 2009, so let's hope this year it comes good again.

So on Thursday I'll be heading over to a town that I've been visiting on and off for the past 48 years. Time for another dose of adventure.

 Bonhomme hut  - but in the race it's always dark when you get to here!

Friday, 23 August 2013

Finishing the Lakeland 100

It's only about a week now until entries open for the Lakeland 100 and 50 races. Even though (or maybe because) I have a pretty unimpressive record in the "Lakelands" myself (one 50 finish, one 100 finish and two 100 DNF's) I'm fairly hooked on the events now and it struck me when at this year's race that I saw many of the same faces, so there must be some sort of "Lakeland" community building up. I thought it would be interesting to see how people have fared in the events as a whole over the years, rather than in individual races (this will turn into a lot of numbers, if you're not into this sort of thing, now's the time to go to a different blog and read a race report!).

I started by putting all the L100 results onto a spreadsheet to see where that would lead. Now there will probably be some mistakes in this because it's sometimes difficult to see whether last year's "William" is the same person as this year's "Bill", the results for the first couple of years are fairly basic, and so on, but overall it won't be far out. I haven't included the sheet here because (a) I don't know how to do it on this blog (it's a date of birth problem, I probably need a ten-year-old to show me how), and (b) it means you can search for the names of individual heroes yourself if you're interested, they can't blame me for unwanted publicity! What I've decided to do in this particular post is to concentrate on the question asked by many Lakeland 100 suitors  - "how difficult is it to finish?" Well the honest and simple answer is "pretty hard", but if you're on the point of throwing your hat in the ring and would like to know what your chances are, you might find the following statistics interesting.

Before starting, I have assumed that a "finisher" is a runner who is recorded on the results as having a Coniston Finish. This is not the same as finishing under the 40 hour cut-off because each year a number of finishers are declared up to 2 hours after the 40 hours. I don't know how the Organisers/Marshals make this call, but it might be encouraging to anyone crawling out of Tilberthwaite with the hours on the clock running down alarmingly to know that all may not yet be lost!

I should also point out that these are statistics, and the individual performances that they summarise are just that - individual. The easiest way to illustrate this point is probably the oldest example - you toss a coin and it comes down "heads" 99 times in a row, so what are the chances of the next toss coming down "tails" - 50% of course. But with that proviso let's carry on and see how the results have panned out.

There have been 6 Lakeland 100's since the event started in 2008, and the success rate (ie the percentage of starters that eventually finished) are easy to get:

2008  -  39%
2009  -  44%
2010  -  57%
2011  -  52%
2012  -  52%
2013  -  45%

The curious will already be wondering why the years are different, why it goes down as well as up, but hold that thought for now; there is a lot more going on in the background.

Over the six years, 704 individuals have started at least one Lakeland 100. But some runners make multiple attempts:
494    runners have started the race once
137    started twice
53      started three times
14      started four times
4        started five times, and
2        started six times

And success comes sooner for some than others:
329   runners completed the race on their first attempt.
51     completed on their second (ie after one DNF)
9       completed after two DNF's, and
1       completed after three DNF's - now that's serious persistance!
So overall, your chances of success at your first attempt are 47%, but that goes up to 53% if you're prepared to keep at it. Looking at the DNF figures next........

349   runners have had one DNF (some of these have had one or more finishes as well of course)
51     have had two DNF's (again, some of these have finishes as well)
13     have had three DNF's (four of these have also had at least one finish)
4       have had four DNF's  (two of these have also had at least one finish)
You have to feel for the guys with 3 or 4 DNF's without a finish  -  how long would you keep trying? But let's wind up on a more positive note with the successes:

310   runners have finished the event once
56     have finished twice
20     have finished three times
3       have finished four times
And one runner has five Lakeland 100 finishes to his credit. On his sixth start, he pulled up at Ambleside.

So overall, 704 runners have taken on the challenge of starting a Lakeland 100, and 390 of those have finished at least once.

But for all 704 it has probably been an experience they won't forget in a hurry. So if you click your name in on 1st September, good luck on the journey!

(I was tempted to include the 50 results because many runners have done both and I was interested to see how experience in the 50 translates into performance in the 100, but in the end I decided that was a bit too geeky even for me)

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Just another number

I try not to think about this too often, but August comes around again every year. 
Five years ago to the day I climbed the Cassin Route on the North East Face of the Piz Badile in Southern Switzerland, one of the classic Alpine climbs made popular by Gaston Rebuffat's book "Starlight and Storm". Modest in difficulty by modern standards, it still requires you to get up around 3000ft of continuously good rock climbing and down again before you're overtaken either by nightfall or one of the frequent thunderstorms that sneak up on the mountain from the hot Italian plain to the south. It was first climbed in the 1930's by the famous Italian mountaineer Riccardo Cassin with three companions (two of whom died in a storm on the descent), but the more interesting fact is that over fifty years after his first ascent, Cassin went back and repeated his climb -  at the age of eighty.

This time last year I was in the Olympic Stadium watching David Rudisha cruising through his 800m heat, but a few weeks later I was off to Italy for the Tor des Geants race. I wandered happily through the Itailian Alps from Sunday morning until Friday evening and was pleased enough to arrive in 270th place out of 631 starters. There were only 6 Brits in the event last year, and the speediest pair were George and Anthony who came in a good 24 hours ahead of me in 64th and 65th places, fine performances. But it was also encouraging to see that just ahead of them in 63rd place was a guy called Raymond Rebischung, winning the "over 60's" category.

Joss Naylor made his round of 70 Lakeland tops, 50 miles and 25,000ft of ascent in 21 hours, when he was 70,  and earlier this summer Gavin Bryan-Jones completed the West Highland Way in 26 hours 15 minutes at a similar age.

But my all-time hero, and forgive me if you've heard this from me before, is still a guy called Ivan Waller. I first became aware of him back in the 70's when he was still climbing, but he is summed up perfectly in a short passage written by Ronald Turnbull many years later, which reads:

Once there was a man called Ivan Waller. In 1931 he climbed behind Colin Kirkus on a seriously overhanging route called Mickledore Grooves in the days when falling off generally meant death, or severe injury if you were really lucky.

What happens to mountaineers as they get older? They just turn into older mountaineers. At the age of 70 Ivan turned to the Munros and climbed 140 of them in two years to become Munroist number 207. Three years later he backpacked across Scotland in the Ultimate Challenge event. Still in his seventies he completed the 45 mile walk of the Lakeland 3000ft peaks in a day, and climbed Tower Ridge in winter conditions without causing the slightest anxiety to my cousin, who was his companion. He also traversed the Cuillin Ridge twice, the second time escorting an older companion. He considered the Corbetts: "This may be beyond my span because I still have more than 160 to do at 81 years of age  -  but a man can try".
I've spent today climbing in the slate quarries above Llanberis, after the wet weekend and Monday probably the fastest-drying rock in the world, so I've had a nice day. Then after a few more days in the hills I'm off to France in a couple of weeks time for the UTMB at the end of the month; life's far from dull.

So thanks for all the birthday wishes. I've changed the number in the panel on the right, but it is, after all, just another number.