Sunday 28 February 2010

Animal Instinct

Buzzing on a large Latte and post-hangover drunken euphoria, driving along the featureless M62 back towards Hull and singing out loud to various songs from Queen Greatest Hits 2  - I started to think about yesterdays run and decide that I am in fact a two-legged camel....????

Yesterday I tried out another excellent, low-profile, LDWA challenge, the Myrtle Meander. I'm guessing the name is derived from its starting point and the fact you can't run/walk it very fast as your climbing up and down large lumps of hill most of the way. Not exactly a fell run, but it did work out at 25m and nearly 4000ft up and down.

To summarise, I started steady behind the walkers as the the opening times for CP were about 12 min/miling. Not many runners and I caught up with a fair number of them by halfway. Good snacks, homemade cookies and sandwiches at CPs. I needn't have worried about being too fast as it was a tricky route in places, especailly as manouvering into and out of the Haworth valley. i also got lost once or twice, probably adding about half a mile to official distance. Highlights were the lightly snow-covered moorland section along Bronte way approaching Oxenhope and the forest section approaching Harden. Food was also good at end, yorkie puds and turkey stew (lovely) then chocolatey cake with chocolatey custard to top it off.

Running-wise I seemed to stop and start. I'm coming off heavy - for me - mileage in the last two months and looking forward to a taper for Hardmoors. What this, and last years, training has given me seems to be a "metaphorical" camels hump. Even on unwilling legs I can raid my reserves to get bursts of energy even after 20m - whereas a year ago I would be coming to a halt. Another example of this, one guy burst past me after I'd overtaken him minutes earlier before CP3 (9 miles), haring off at a pace beyond mine, looked like a strong hill runner and I didn't think i'd see him again. He then slowed to a walk again soon after the next CP - obviously more of a Cheetah or Leopard. I didn't see him again.

Being a camel ain't glamourous, like a thoroughbred horse or a greyhound in gallop, but I wouldn't swap this newfound animal ability. So - anybody reading this - what animal are you? prize for the best answer.

That was the Wheeldale Tandem that wasn't

Last Saturday, after a 4:30 start and a drive into increasingly wintry conditions, it struck the four of us in the car that this event may be in jeopardy as we turned off the main Whitby road onto the undulating, twisty and snow-covered road to Goathland. Rumours spread around the hall at the start that it would be cancelled - again. This was originally scheduled for mid-Jan, but the conditions at that time meant this was cancelled about 3 days in advance. This time there was less warning, the snow had fallen the previous evening and/or overnight. 15m away there was no sign of the stuff and the main roads were clear. However the marshalls were unable to get to all the CP's and one car had slipped into a ditch trying!

So at about 8:10 the event was cancelled. Many headed out and ran it anyway. A few from my club and I decided to get back on the main road in case the snow restarted and this wasn't possible later. We covered over a dozen miles from the Hole of Horcum - pic above - to Stape - being the first to break the news to the marshalls there the event was cancelled - then over moorland to Goathland. It was a wonderful run, crisp snow underfoot, clear, windless and sunny and good company. Pic right shows us crossing the North York moors Railway line - no danger in this as it doesn't run again till about April. Once back in Goathland there was the small matter of running back along roads to the car, including the main Whitby to Malton road. I'm not so keen on this and I reckon there would have been a cross country route, but in the event we all played safe.

All good fun and 18.5m covered. Must admit I didn't finish it feeling another 10m would be "coasting". Possibly the effect of the non-stop 5-6m of undulating road at the end, when my body was in stop/start off-road mode. But, the next day following a fish and chip feast I was up and at it again....

I woke to a thin carpet of unexpected, fresh, snow. I just had to leave a few tracks. 15.5m of edge of wolds. Big smile on my face. My estimation of distance from map was way off, looking beforehand I'd estimated 13-14. Quite tired by end as after the hills at start I hit the flat Humber-side path. Nice at first running on a low bank between river and a watersports lake. Then gets a bit grizzly and hard work on a section where the path has collapsed into the muddy beach getting my nice snow cleaned trainers very durty.

Pic above-left show whiteover on the edge of the Wolds - looking at this featureless section actually hurts the eyes a bit when there's snow on the ground and sun in the sky. Right, another pic of Welton dale, my spiritual home.

Monday 15 February 2010

Wolds Wanderer

I had a day off work Monday 8th. The original plan had been to recce the Wheeldale Tandem, which is run this coming Sunday and I'm part of a team for this with a faster runner. I don't usually recce, but thought it polite so as not to keep my partner waiting too long at the meet up point of the two routes 20m in. Rules dictate that he can't start the last few miles until I arrive and we have to finish together. Its supposed to be a tricky one to navigate and takes in some inhospitable parts of the North York Moors.

But, the logistics of this seemed too tricky to do alone so I decided I'll bluff it round on the day. Plan B was a long run along the Wolds Way from Hessle where it starts along a long stretch to another town from where I could bus it back. But I layed in a bit long so figured on route that by time I got there I'd be taking buses in rush hour in smelly running clothes. Not appealing when its two buses and over a one hour journey (even without rush hour delays).

I was already on route when I ditched plan B and decided on plan C, follow the route mostly along Wolds Way as per B, but turn back after so many miles. As this was to be my longest VLSR before the Hardmoors this would be tough whatever I did, so covering the same ground twice shouldn't be a reason not to - mental discipline isn't my fortay. Also, on these country long runs there is always something new to see or something you haven't noticed before. An early highlight was geese flying in V formation low over the humber then turning inland just in front of me, nearly brushing the low trees, superb.

So I plodded onwards on mostly good trail ground with a thin mud coating, rarely horrifically deep or wet meaning I fell into a steady pace between 10-11min/mile. Not to say it isn't hilly though. There are several steady foot hills that are runnable as you venture a few miles from the riverbank into the edge of the wolds. These each rise and fall upto a few hundred feet at a time until you get to Elloughton Dale. Now temporarily off the Wolds way, here there is a steep drop and rise in the space of half a mile - fun in the winter mud - before a steady climb onto the top of the Wolds. Here follows another drop down into Brantingham Dale and terrain that will be familiar to Rudolph Romp-er's. I then followed the Wolds way along the dale road towards further hills and South Cave - run in the opposite direction at end of the Romp. To my surprise in the early miles it started to snow, in a few very weak showers. This refreshed the air but cooled my face enough for the hat to come out. In fact the hat and gloves were to come in and out quite a lot. I remember thinking at the end I probably had a hat, glove or both transition in every mile; I'd warm up in the valleys, cool into the North-easterly wind or on the hills, I'd also usually warm in tree cover - except if exposed to that wind.

With future, unsupported events in mind I was drinking every 45mins and taking on solid food - sandwich and malt loaf - every 90 - almost metronomically, just doing a few mins early or late if I could do it when walking up a hill to minimise slowdown. Climbing out of Brantingham Dale this route shows its teeth with two short, but steep climbs and a drop inbetween. The first takes you up to the top of Ellerker North Wold (see left - taken on a past and warmer venture), a feast for the eyes on clear days with views south east over the flat Humber and Trent estuaries, and down into the tree-lined mini dale that is Woo Dale (see below - picture from I was out of Woo Dale again in the space of a few minutes, with a climb up Mt Airey which it isn't sensible to run even when your not running so long. At the top I crossed between the farm and grass airfield. In the summer there is a barking sheepdog here, as well as a giant friendly pet pig, which trots upto you as you pass - moments like these make my day. Today it was cold and both were conspicuously absent, probably indoors/barns. This is the highest point of the route so far, only 400ft, but remember I'm running from about sea-level.

In keeping with the geography so far there is soon another drop to the edge of South Cave. The winding road up to this farm also services about two other houses. It is tarmac these days but very much single track. I hadn't noticed before but suspect the highways agency may have adopted it or something. It now has give way markings and a proper street sign. I suspect it was discussed on a Friday morning as people were anxious to get out for a liquid lunch.
"What shall we call this road going up to a steep hill to Mt Airey farm in South Cave"
"Steep Hill"

"Seconded, now who's getting the first round in??"

I now left the semi-comfort of well trodden trails near villages/towns. All there was from now until I - hopefully - came back this way in a couple of hours were farm houses and a few road crossings. Don't get me wrong, its not exactly wilderness, but its worth not forgetting on a long run if your energy stores deplete unexpectedly early or you suffer "digestive discomfort", your reduced to walking and the weather worsens - which would't take much as it was already cold enough for snow with an ice-cold breeze - you need an escape route! I was ever concious of this as this would be my longest unsupported run to date.

I try not to dwell on the above negativity and look at the positives, I still felt fresh at the steady pace and I was now hitting countryside I see less often giving me a sensory uplift to distract from the cold facts. First the climb through Little Wold Plantation, a sedate dog-walkers paradise. Then from Coomber Dale a drop into the deeper Weedley dale, once a home of the railway. Then follows the longest wooded section of the day, heading into Drewton woods, initially on a flat path but towards the end the climb steepens to necessitate a walk as the wooded walls of East Dale (see left - from rise before spitting you out into a field. The next way marker after a following a field edge and a short section of single track road, is the old fashioned style High Hunsley Beacon - erected for Golden Jubilee celebrations. This marks todays highpoint at, a not exactly dizzying, 550ft above my starting point.  But the regular elevetion gain and losses so far do mean I've run LSRs in the southern Peak district and Yorkshire Dales that weren't much hillier.

Onwards towards Swindale, another change in scenery, being a shallower sided grassy dale, and the start in a trend of long, steady undulations and climbs for the miles towards Market Weighton. Ironically my planned mileage will turn me back at the top of the last significant climb.
Back to Swindale, having quickly dropped a fair bit of height to around 200ft, I consider slowing down for my 3 hour food stop I see two runners coming towards me at hard pace. In front, driving on, a short, strong, determined runner who I think I recognise as one of the local "hard men" of running - supposedly he runs the 24.5m Rudolph's Romp route weekly in training. I didn't recognise the guy hanging 10 metres back, though he looked more to be "hanging on" than driving on. I said hello in passing but refrained from saying, "only 5m to go mate", figuring any attempts at encouragement - or sarcasm - may not be helpful. With them out of site I slowed to a walk for my 3 hour treat - my reward for progress.

The valley had been warm out of the wind, even the back of my hands had warmed up without gloves. But, I was soon climbing again and taking the bitter wind either face or side on. Up a few muddy paths between road sections and I hit another marked trig point at about 500ft A few hundred yards later I decided it was time to head back. Though I knew I'd been running a fair old time, it didn't feel like it in my legs, but I had in fact run just over 18 miles. I turned around for what turned out to be a good few miles of downhill, flat or very steady climbs, taking me up to the mid-twenties. The journey back through Swindale, East Dale and Drewton Woods right to Weedley Dale was all runnable and overall downhill. I made a very slight variation before the climb out of Swindale, not cutting the corner as when I dropped in, instead running right to the end for a shorter climb out. This is the true route of the Wolds Way but Rompers cut the corner. I think I may know why....

..... Mole hills everywhere..... hundreds..... Ohh my god!!.... had I strayed into the Valley of the Death Moles?! Or is just my imagination giving me a temporary distraction? Either way I wouldn't come down here at night.

The descent back into East Dale was hazardously muddy and steep as always. At least the mud may have offered my quads some protection. I made good progress through the woods, again warming up for some time protected by nature from the elements. As I ran parallel to the old railway track route back up Weedley Dale - Hull-Barnsley line my father believes (though it seems an odd direction) - the first of the many bigger climbs on the return swallows me in its cold shadow. In fact the next few miles contain a succession of walk uphill and painfully quick, run downhill sections. Hard enough on the way out, on the way back this starts to really exact its punishment. Though, frequent "system checks" verify these are good pains - hard-work endured achey and stiff legs, swollen feet - not  the bad pains - potential or actual injuries. You have to differentiate the two or your minds over-active safety mecahanism defeats your body. I've learned the longer you run the more you need to conquer the "demons" in your own mind. Of course training helps to make the miles pass easier, but your mind also needs to cope with hardships both real and products of imagination. I hope I can be strong enough to cope with some of the long day, and night, runs I plan this year.

Miles pass without distraction from man or beast, my 4.5hr food stop has been and gone climbing Coomber Dale and I now know my plan is working as I have food for the one last stop that I will need. I'm not fearing the final few miles or counting down, this is good, though definately getting harder. I keep walking up, running flat or down and my pace holds fairly steady, just slowing a bit towards the end. After my last food stop I get a boost running through the plantation down to Ferriby. Is this a sign of things to come or just a temporary boost from the food and the nice steady downward angle of the hill. As with many runs its not the hills I fear now. When I leave Ferriby for the final stretch along the foreshore to Hessle I know its near another 3m - 2 of which are flat and will see me taunted by the monolithic Humber Bridge, which only grows right at the last minute.

I stop and walk on the flat a bit whilst I sup a bit of energy drink - I'm a bit narked that i have loads left so could have been taking more energy on. Not that it matters, I'm here afterall. My flat pace is now the same as my overall pace. Which is as good as I could have hoped for. No horrific burnout on a remote hill - not today. I pass under the humber bridge, its like a magnificent finishing gantry, a short hill from home now. I get to my front door, stopping the clock on 6hrs and 55mins, a distance of 36.9m, the ascent and descent is in the region of 4800ft, which is quite a lot in an area with no monster hills to speak of. Its a definate confidence booster, this was the condition I set myself on the way towards Hardmoors, if I can do 66% distance ok, I can grind out the rest.

In the closing miles I promised myself a burger and chips as reward. This turns out to be a disappointment, guess I've used up my quota of good fortune already today.

Sunday 7 February 2010

Taking Rombald's in my stride

I did the Rombald's Stride yesterday. Long story short it was a muddy affair, particularly on the long moorland section and the omni-present fog made you doubt your wayfinding skills. But, if it weren't muddy it would be snow covered, snowing, raining or windy - so all things considered this wasn't a bad year to be doing this event, perfect conditions on this course at this time of year must be a rare thing. I figure the factors required would be a dry January, a freeze a few days before to harden the ground up, followed by clear, windless and near freezing conditions in the day - any betters? I'll happily take your cash ;¬)

It's a 22m hills, moorland, agricultural land navigation taking in a large chunk of Rombalds Moor south of Ilkley. Also takes in the odd road section and even passes through some built-up areas. Its about 3300ft up and down - so I'm told - and I was quite pleased to knock another 10mins of last years PB to clock a 4:07. I've had my eye on a 4 here since after my first attempt in 2007. Thing is, since that year the conditions have either been worse - like today - or worse still - like last years thick snow on the moors, ice on the roads or 2008's blizzards on route.

This year could have been the year as Mark and I attacked the course. Pushing hard through the muddy moorland miles (try saying that when your drunk). However, I reckon we lost some time in crowds at the start - too laid back to get to the front and rush off - and then further stoppages after the "Rocky Valley" as we headed back from midway, as we weren't sure we'd made the right route choice in the fog. Turned out we probably did, maybe not the official route, but we did the same route as last year clocking bang on 22m. Officially it could be longer?

I knew as we walked up the Otley Chevin that I had something left in reserve. Rather than finding it a slog, I felt my energy returning as I was walking up and could have run from halfway. Managed a fast last mile down into Guisely, felt like the end of a 10k! Cheers to the organisers, good organisation and grub as always.

Finally, just a word of warning and a timely reminder that the upmost care needs to be taken during these kind of events, even for those of us who have done dozens (or even hundreds before). A friend of mine had a nasty fall on the way down off the Moor to the Ilkley checkpoint at about 12m. Fell down, gashed leg and knee badly on rocks. She felt naucious and even briefly passed out. Ok afterwards but did have to pull out and lost a fair bit of blood.