Monday, 13 November 2017

White Rose Ultra

I really had no intention of running the White Rose ultra this year, but after failing to make the start of the Lakes in a Day event from getting two punctures on the way there, I had a quick look around to see what was available to fill the gap and the White Rose seemed an easy decision. It offers a choice of 30, 60 and 100 mile courses all based on a 30 mile loop in the southern Pennines near Huddersfield, only about an hour and a quarter drive from Chester so it would be possible for the 30 at least for me to travel over on the morning of the race and get back in time for dinner. I ran the 30 a couple of years ago in the company of John Kynaston (it was his first lap of the 60) in wall to wall sunshine; I had enjoyed it, but though the views are good and there is a fair bit of climbing (around 4500 ft this year), the course follows a lot of easy tracks and quite a high percentage of country roads, so the pace required is reasonably quick, which I thought wouldn't be great for my knees in their current condition. In 2015 John and I had taken 5 hours 47 mins for the lap; I suspected I would not get anywhere near that this time, but the cutoff for the 30 miles is a fairly generous 8 hours so I could take it much easier and still get round. I needed the trip anyway, having done nothing of note since Offa's Dyke back in September.

The start/finish location had been changed since 2015. Back then it was in a dingy old mill building, this time it was in a rather smart Visitor Centre at the eastern end of the Standedge canal tunnel near Marsden, and I arrived in good time just after 7am to register ready for an 8am start. The weather forecast was a bit mixed. Rain for definite at first, followed by a clearing later in the day with a drop in temperature and a rise in wind speed  -  so wet first, then cold!

All three events were started off simultaneously on the dot of 8am, after a brief briefing from RD Wayne Law, so around 350 competitors left the visitor centre and set off up the first hill. It was raining. The pattern of the loop was fairly simple, a series of climbs up to moor level followed by returns down to valleys, in a jagged loop. The first up/down was fairly short, but the climb was up a narrow tarmac road so it enabled the field to thin out to everyone's preferred pace easily, without any jostling or difficulties with overtaking. Not that I was really interested in overtaking anyway, but it was encouraging to see that all the field around me were walking the hill and I wasn't completely at the back. The ascent was followed by a nice runnable descent back to valley level; I had decided to keep my jogging fairly comfortable even on the downhills to see if I could get round without too much knee pain, and on the first descent this seemed to be working fine.

The most memorable ascent is a long gentle one from Marsden, picking up the Pennine Way path after a mile or so all the way up to the highest point on the loop near the A635 at the top of the Wessenden valley, at around the 1500ft contour. It's a gentle climb on a nice track with good views. In 2015 this had come over halfway around the course, and with it being a hot day John and I found it a bit of a pull and had to walk from time to time. This time though, because of the new location of the start/finish, it was the second ascent of the day, and in the cooler, rainy conditions was runnable, or at least joggable, all the way. Near the start I fell in with and started chatting to a 100 mile runner, Perry, and we spent most of the remainder of my day together. It was good to have the company. On the ascent it had stopped raining and as we were jogging steadily we were warming up so jackets came off (it was never wet enough to warrant waterproof trousers all day, but then these are a garment I don't wear often anyway).

There was an unmanned water station at the high point but neither of us needed to stop. There were two water points and two food points (which had stuff like biscuits and jelly babies) around the 30 mile loop. I was experimenting with going light on food and drink because I've been doing a bit of "no food" training to try to get better at fat burning, so I took  no food with me and just picked up a ginger biscuit and a few jelly babies at the two points they were available. That and the litre of water that I started with seemed fine for the 30 miles.

There was a very long easy descent after this, but after that I don't really remember much detail of the rest of the course. It was a series of ascents, many of which I walked, and descents, but all on good ground under foot, country lanes, jeep tracks and the occasional but infrequent bit of muddy footpath, across farmland, bits of moor and through villages. The route was fully marked and I suppose not having to pay attention to a map makes you less aware of the overall scheme of things, a bit like when you're using a satnav in the car.

After the initial rain had stopped the day got colder and windier as forecast, presumably in the wake of a passing weather front. Jackets went back on again and as the morning turned into a grey afternoon it started to feel a bit bleak. Still, it was pleasant enough to be out in the countryside and making steady progress.

The steepest uphill on the course had been reserved for the final mile or so before the finish, a bit of a sting in the tail when we thought we were almost done. The end for me came in just over six and a half hours, as I came in in 102nd place out of 197 finishers. Around 45 minutes slower than two years ago but I was happy enough, it had been a fairly relaxed trip and I wasn't out for personal records. I wished Perry all the best for the two and a bit more loops he still had on the agenda and sidled off inside for tea and a warming bowl of chilli. One of my knees had been a bit painful for the final 10 miles or so but otherwise I seemed to have survived OK.

I really didn't envy the 60 and 100 competitors carrying on into what was clearly going to be a pretty chilly night. It must have been tough, the attrition rates were quite high - only 12 out of 36 starters completed the 100; unfortunately, Perry was not among them.

Meanwhile I could enjoy the warmth inside and was back in Chester for dinner as planned. A generally friendly and well-run event but I'm not sure the running surface is really my thing, it's doubtful if I'll go again. I'm writing this a week later after returning from one of the Lakeland 100 recces yesterday, from Coniston to Buttermere, 27 miles and around 7000ft of ascent; tougher ground and slower, but more to my taste these days.

No comments: