Monday, 10 September 2018

Deadwater













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.


Deadwater?

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.

Overnight Camp














Preparations

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.


Day 2 "The Pennine Way"   Haltwhistle to Dufton 36 miles    5158ft ascent





















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.


Day 3 "The Wild Boar"  Dufton to Horton-in-Ribblesdale      46 miles  5526 ft ascent





















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.


Day 4 "The Long Stage" Horton-in-Ribblesdale to Littleborough  59 miles 9030 ft ascent



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.


Day 5 "Canal Hell"  Littleborough to Warrington  31 miles  1325 ft ascent






















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



















Bit of a break by the 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


Day 6 "Rush to the Castle" Warrington to Chester 30 miles 1913 ft ascent





















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)

1 comment:

John Kynaston said...

Superb report Andy and congratulations on another excellent finish. I look forward to hearing more about it on our next Dragon's Back Recce!