Monday 31 May 2010

Reality bites! what a fellsman does next

Strange, but I wonder if I think doing things such as the Fellsman will lead me forever changed for the better. Tougher, more grounded and solid and with a steely-eyed determination that would make me unflappable in dealing with lifes surprise challenges?

Of course this is all bull.... what it does is makes you consider the next challenge. Its like some surreal - and some might say sadistic - shopping list of gradually more extreme challenges that I must tick off. I know the next few, but as with any christmas shopping list there are always the "awkward to buy for"  where its just a case of trying to find the right fit. Some days it seems that any of these are possible, others I feel in over my head..... proof that I'm no mentally tougher than before.

This isn't to say it is not worthwhile, I'm more aware of my physical and mental limitations and whilst I know I can't overcome them overnight I think I can nibble away at them and see where I end up. Anyway, enough of the deep s**t ;¬)

1 week later

Never being one thats happy so sit around letting reality tie me down I was back at a club hard session by the Thursday post-fellsman. After a gentle, undulating near loop of lovely Welton Dale our run leader decided on 1km downhill reps. With my knee in an improvised ill-fitting knee support I knew this may not be wise, but dedcided to tough out what I could. 4 reps later I made my excuses, I wasn't in agony but that was enough of the hard work and the knee wasn't right. The next day I visited the Physio and he suspected a bit of irritation of the ITB where it attaches below the knee. Odd thing was it had felt fin and improved since last nights session so I felt confident to pick up the training again.

On Sunday I joined Mark for a run on some of the gentle hills of the Wolds from Huggate to the deserted medieval village of Wharram Percy and back via gawjus Thixendale (above). Problem was that my leg hurt from within 5 miles. Maybe stupidly, I persisted and completed the run, nearly 21 miles, sometimes the pain was awful, as bad as I've tried to run with in years. At times I could barely run, then it would be almost alright again. By the end, with pint in hand sat in the Wolds Inn I wasn't sure what had bothered me so much.

2 weeks later

By the next Sunday I had convinced myself I could run a 10k PB in the inaugural Hull 10k run for all. A hill reps session - this time uphill - on Thursday then un-convinced me as I sweated uphill, with my cardio-vascular system seemingly not coping well with shorter hard effort and a knee pain that reappeared after 7 or so miles. By Sunday though, having sunbathed and chill-axed all of Saturday I was ready to give it a good effort.

I didn't warm-up as being in the corporate challenge I was left indoors with hundreds of others until last minute and then pretty much penned up so no useful running warm-up was possible. Then I tried not to scowl as the tannoy was passed over to somebody to lead a "jump up and down, hands in the air"-type, nonsense warmup. In fact it was so hot I was already very warm, but there is a difference between a warm core-body temperature and a proper warm-up that gets key joints and muscles up to a safe operating temperature so your "good to go" come the race starting.

The first km or two felt stiff and slow as I meandered through hundreds of already slowing runners within the Victoria dock village. Still I was soon up to near 4:15 min/km which I wasn't totally convinced I coul maintain. As the race went on we were offered slim respite from the warm air temperature from short periods of cooling river breeze. Into what would be the scenery highlight of the race, the marina, and I was surprised to still be holding pace. I already felt I couldn't increase the pace and to let myself off the hook would be the start of a steady decline.

The city-centre streets of Hull which often seem quite long and wide all of a sudden seemed quite shrunken as I twisted an turned through the final few miles of the run, disapointed by any turn which didn't progress me towards the end. I raised a quite limited faster final k or two as I picked up the pace to cross the line in 42:30 something.

Whilst disappointed that was over a minute off a PB I tried to dwell on the positives. Almost dangerous heat for a full-on 10k and I wasn't a million miles from what I think my previous best form would have given me on such a day. Lead me to think that I will revisit my quest for that ellusive sub-40 sometime in the future. Also, unusually, it was quite nice to get some praise in the office for running exploits. Many in my dept had run who don't run and couldn't quite understand how times like mine were possible having done it. They though the winners 34:something was sub-human - I didn't try to explain that most races are won by a time nearer 30 and even that would get you lapped on a top-level track 10k. Also, the knee didn't feel a thing

3 weeks later

Which is now. A promising hill rep triangle session midweek saw me run some good steep uphill, some near as good as I'm capable of downhill and even held my own against others I train with on the flat for the first time in weeks. Even before this I had run Monday and Tuesday following the Sunday 10k. I've drawn up one of the most thorough training plans I've ever done and this really helped me get out. Took it easy on Monday and then on Tuesday the plan was to run the undulating 5m at 7:45 pace. Easier said than done two days post-10k and not far off a race effort.

A weekend off running followed as I helped celebrate a friends birthday with consecutive nights out in Newcastle and Sunderland. The way my guts feel I would have much rather done the Fellsman again.

What does this mean? Is Drunken-Euphoria dead..... did I do im in and bury him on some bleak, fog-covered, rain-blasted moor..... No I would never do such a thing, but he's lost out there somewhere away from neon-lights, cheap pints and happy hours. Maybe getting a taster of how much more satisfying a post-long run pint or two is than getting hammered?

Wednesday 26 May 2010

The Fellsman (Night)

We skipped out of Fleet Moss minutes before the 19:30 compulsary grouping. We could now push on to Cray with just the rather large obstacle of Fleet Moss in our way. I'm still undecided as to whether our approach to Fleet Moss was sensible or just a gamble which played out ok. Using GPS we tried to plow as the crow flies across Fleet Moss rather than the detour round which has some ok sections of path. I don't think this would have worked any other year, but it was dry enough that the giant mud pools were quite solid. I'd mostly get a spongy surface on foot down and leave little more than a deep footprint. So the only challenge was the large mounds and peat hags to be climbed over - which is tiring even without the leg-swallowing mud.

Another group of runners appeared to our side run-walking closer to the fence on possibly better surface. Whether it was or not we finally arrived at the Middle Tongue CP in fading light as this large group did. Heading back across the rough stuff we made a straight line towards the next CP and eventually we were guided in by the powerful lights of a 4x4 to Hell gap where we picked up a road. Running down the stony road in near darkness wasn't fun, but I was sure glad to be across Fleet Moss which had taken on a kind of "Pugatory" image in my mind over the last few months. Each of the last 5-7m (est) from Fleet Moss CP had seemingly dragged on forever.

We were grouped at Cray. Following a good feed and bringing the head torch intop play we were off with a group of lads from Leeds who had been buoyed by the news of Uniteds promotion. I kept quiet about my own football loyalties. It was now up Buckden Pike a big climb back well over 2000' in a short distance. No choice but to walk, often hands on knees, and I wasn't complaining.

Quite a few strings of headlights surrounded us in the dark night so our group was never quite alone. By the time we had started to descend again three groups had nearly converged homing in on the same pace. This was until the line we descended was not quite right and a large gulley blocked our forward path. One group headed downhill to round it, the other followed, but after some discussion and consultation of map and GPS we decided that we should head back up a bit and cross where we could. I couldn't recall this obstacle from the recce and I'm sure our line up until about 10-15mins ago was the same. We found a shallower descent and ascent to cross about 100yards up and then persisted downhill at what was to become our top speed until Yarnbury of "fast march" - and occasional run form me with my short legs and slow walk. Pleasingly as we approached the CP the headlights of the other group reappeared a few hundred yards back.

We clipped at Top Mere and changed course to round the higher ground towards Park Rash. Memories of this stage are a bit vague, we were basically marching on towards the lights of the next catering tent. Proving how easy it is in the dark, we managed to go about 100 yards off a fairly obvious path and didn't realise till we hit an unclimbable wall. Memories of Park Rash are also vague now, I'm not even sure what I ate and I can usually remember this kind of thing months if not years after any significant challenge I take on. I do recall putting on a second set of thinner gloves underneath my thicker ones. I didn't think it would be this cold at night this time of year and a fast walk obviously doesn't work you quite like even a slow run does.

Up Great Whernside and there were no more difficulties here as, if anything the march got faster and we caught the group ahead briefly. Once again over 2000ft, steeper at first, but we then took  a steady path to the clip on top. Down towards Capplestone Gate and I had to run on the short steeper downhill. One of our group was suffering shin difficulties and couldn't run, but made up for it with a fast walk. It was soon, next stop Yarnbury and we had beacons to guide us towards the walled, hard track and the final CP. Not wthout incident here though as I stopped briefly on a descent for some reason. I then somehow tagged on at the back of another slower moving group I hadn't realised we'd overtaken. I realised about the same time my group did and yelled back. Anxious not to slow anybody down I had a brisk jog to catch up. That group dropped away quickly and must have been struggling badly - selfishly, good for my morale. The walk pace was now almost uncomfortably fast and I was half running to keep up. It seemed to be that one member of our group was really keen to wrap this up.

We ungrouped at Yarnbury, barely even stopping, Mark and I decided to run. Mark was obviously a bit fresher than me - encouraging considering his upcoming 100 - and leapt Gazelle like down the hard-surfaced narrow road down into Grassington. After a slower transition I tried to run this last 2m hard, but all of a sudden my knee was really sore. I tried to run through it, but it felt like the wrong thing to do. So I settled into a very slow jog. Grassington and Threshfield were deadly quiet post 3am on Sunday morning so no late night celebration. I crossed the bridge and tackled the, comparitively, very small hill into Threshfield and turned the corner to see the lights of Threshfield school. Once checked in - 18 hours and 31 minutes - I headed straight to get a cup of tea - having not had one in about 16 hours and that one had been while climbing Gragareth. I also decided to tackle the chilli con carne which seemed a good way to start refuelling before sleep.

Sleep was cruelly short, the lights were back on at about 6:30 (why!!!) and I awoke bleary-eyed, also somewhat sweaty and muddy having not showered. Mark and Stu Blofeld were discussing their repsctive "hike" experiances. There was also no shortage of conversation at breakfast, all of it hike-related or rumour tales of others not so lucky on their hike. I finally got showered at about 10am just before I left, that was good... fantastic and I could have stood under the flowing water forever.

I didn't get far on the way home, I was dozing at the wheel by Bingley so stopped for an energy drink and some food. This sustaned me until the M62 and A1 junction where I pulled into the services, reclined my seat fully and slept for a good one-and-a-half hours. I've only just caught my sleep up since. My usual 5:30 to 7:30 hrs not sustaining me the first two weeks since and leaving me very grumpily rising from my pit of a morning.

A thoroughly enjoyable experiance and at no time during or since have I thought or uttered "never again". The Hardmoors 55 was a hilly, trail 55 miles - this was much more than the sum of its 60 miles with lots of true unpathed countryside and no shying away from the really big hills and I'm so glad I've done it. It wasn't about time, but I'm also pretty pleased with that. Especially as I wasn't in bits at the finish. The knee issue has turned out to be ITBS where the ITB joins the knee. Thankfully, I don't think its too bad, I've been more restricted on mileage since this event. I've also been stretching and doing every exercise I can to try and get myself into a pain free zone prior to upping the miles again in preperation for an even bigger challenge in July.

Friday 21 May 2010

The Fellsman (Day)

I'm not sure why, but I've found it hard to get this report written post Fellsman. I keep thinking that much time has passed already and others have beat me to the punch with excellent reports on their perspective of the event - in truth it has only been a week and a few days. Two other reports I would recommend are Disco Stu's run report and ultraploddernick's behind the scenes look. My effort follows, hopefully I'll feel more enthused once I get into it.

I ended up landing at Threshfield at 9:30pm Friday for a last minute kit check after a fraught week of business travel and unhealthy living finished off with an extended journey due an accident blocking the A63 out of Hull. when this artery is blocked it always means an extended country road detour before you even get going. Pie and peas went down well and somewhat eased the stomach issues I'd had the last few days. Not sure if pre-event nerves or a combo of Wednesdays curry and guinness, Thursdays fish and chips and a gutful or between meal cereal bars and such as part of the worst carb load ever was the issue.

Sleep was fitful and uncomfortable on the hall floor and the 4:30 lights were on in no time and sleep was now impossible. Mark and myself enjoyed a more leisurely start than some with a slow breakfast and drive to the start arriving just after 8. Despite getting our kitcheck in the night before there was still a queue to register, not a complaint but a two queue system could help here.

Post-briefing at 9:05 we were off. The long slog up Ingleborough worried me slightly in that the wind was strong at the top and were it to remain like this all day it may start to wear my resolve. On the steep descent the hazards of the course became all too clear as a small rock was dislodged and bounced down the hill about 50ft, not stopping till it hit one poor ladies leg. As I say not a big rock, but the impact made me wince and apparentley the bruising was massive - I do believe she completed the event though.

There was a pleasent plod along paths and fields to Whernside in a reverse of the 3 Peaks race route. The climb up Whernside was also long and a section of two way traffic gave us a glimpse of those upto twenty minutes ahead belting back down. These included Chris and Martin who I'd recce'd Fleet Moss with over a month earlier. The Fellsman claimed its second victim - that I knew about - on the way down from the trig. One unlucky fella detoured from the rocky path to round walkers onto a trickier path and fell hard face first. A few people Immeadiately assured he was ok - I believe he suffered a broken nose and nothing worse.

A rare steady downhill to flat on spring grass followed. Before a misplaced temporary style caused all kinds of havoc with people streaming downhill the wrong side of a barb wire-topped wall. This led to a third grizzly injury as somebody caught their face on wire somewhere around here. You'll be glad to know I heard of no more nasty injuries during the rest of the day. The first "cooked food" stop at Dent was still about 10m away but the CP at the bottom of this hill offered welcome flapjack. The wind was also reducing and some coming out so the sweat-dampened windjacket was stashed away in the hope the weather wouldn't revert to earlier.

Mark and I agreed that Gragareth - the next climb - was a fantastic name for a hill. Sounding almost biblical and it conjured images of a Moses-like character descending with stone tablets listing the "10 commandments" of the Fellsman rules (which are strictly adhered due to the nature of the event). "Thou shalt not degroup after dark", "Thou shalt carry waterproof top/bottoms, survival bag, emergency rations, warm top, hat, gloves, compass, cup and fork at all times", etc.... Anyway, we were soon up high again and at the trig CP, the section that followed was the hardest work in the opening half for me. It was a long undulating drag over a few miles to Great Coum, nothing tough, ok underfoot bar a few muddy bits, mostly runnable, but into the teeth of the wind and I think I was needing the "feed ya face" at Dent as I couldn't keep up a constant run.comfortably. Once this drag was finally complete there was a long descent to enjoy as we dropped from over 2000' to nearly 500' in a few short miles. Some nice grassy hill descents, tracks and then a loose, large stone leg killer for the final painful mile. With the rugged, looming hills around it Dent looked like a pleasent green, sunswept valley. All I could think of at the time was "Greendale" in Postman Pat (which is meant to be in this Cumbria/North Yorks border sort of area did you know? - I didn't, just an ironic fact learnt from the link).

Down in Dent the - apparently an annual feature - hard working "hippy"-like CP food tent staff dished out welcome hot food. A sandwich and cheese' n' onion pasty gave me an immeadiate boost as we plodded on along the valley about 10-15mins later. Because of the sizable descent to Dent the following ascent climbed uk Blea Moor for what seemed like miles and hours. we didn't push it and mostly walked. Our first navigation followed as we cut off the path to continue straight over tussocky moorland. Good line and found the CP at top of the ridge. Another good downhill followed off the hill, through woodland and alongside a dried up stream to the Stonehouse food point. A false dawn occured as we passed somebody firing up a bbq road side, I suspect a walker doing a fry-up for his mates. Good job as energy levels were a bit low, I could feel the stomach tightening as if stepping up fat burning. But overall, ~30m and all's well.

Shock horror! A compulsary for all kit check, I believe this could be a first. Typically all the stuff they needed to see - waterproof trousers, survival bag, emergency rations.... - were stuffed right at the bottom of my bag. Action for next time buy a tough internal bag for all contents so stuff can be slipped in and out easily. After that distraction came the food point I'd most been waiting for. I was not disappointed! Pasta, tomato sauce and cheese, pretty much my standard carb load so I had no problems digesting this stuff and it also feels like my optimum fuel.

Suprise, suprise, out of Stonehouse came a long climb as we reascended above 2000ft to get to the Great Knoutberry CP. A real picture postcard shot as we climbed the path beneath a high viaduct on the Settle-Carlisle railway. Mark and I made a brisk walk up the hill talking to one of many a far flung fellsman I met that weekend - this one from South of London. Almost no time passed before we were descending to another foodpoint. From here a climb up Dodd Fell. Luckily as we grew more tired we seemed to be losing less height before the next ascent. Now past the mid afternoon heat which had been quite warm over 5m back in Stonehouse a kit change was necesitated as the wind started to cool me down fast. On came the wind jacket and a few miles later at Fleet Moss it was time to don Full evening /night gear. For me a warmer base layer, gloves and hat - which I never would have thought I'd still need anywhere in May, its a strange life I lead.

Sunday 2 May 2010

3 Peaks..... but a flat performance

Despite the title I'll keep try and the negativity to a minimum. In a perhaps inadvisible exercise I had a brithday meal the night before this event + beer and a couple of glasses of wine. I was up earlyish for the near 2 hour journey to one of North Yorkshires most remote outposts. I arrived at Horton-in-Ribblesdale to a carnival atmosphere of cars and tough looking, lean, runners and families preparing for the big run around the large marquee centrepiece under a warming sun just prior to the 10am start.

The 700 hundred or so runners were off at the gun and idled through the streets till we hit a stoney track which eventually hit a path up Pen-y-ghent. This climb seemed ok on fresh legs but I walked any bit that got a bit steep. I had dibbed at the lunar-esque peak well within an hour and was heading back down. As per the A class fell race norm I seemed to be wussing out on the downhill as I shod places like sweat from my warming brow. I never quite understand this as I'm no conservative downhiller in the majority of events - I guess there were lots of experianced nutters out there.

The long run to Whernside didn't seem that hard at first, undulating dry grassy trails that some may consider too easy for a fell race. However, approaching the Ribblehead viaduct I felt that I was tightening up a bit. I tried not to let the looming prospect of Whernside intimidate me. If anything this resulted in me putting too much into the climb. After several steepening fields I finally hit the final scrambling ascent that had been visible for miles. Often ascending on all fours now up the rutted steep approach which I believe is just used for this race. I was definately tired at the top, I'd overtaken quite a few people climbing up and wondered if others felt the same as I tried to get into a stride. The initial descent wasn't easy, lots of rocky footpaths, requiring concentration and fast feet. When I hit the flat approaching Hill Inn I was struggling, without gravity to assist running was difficult and slow as I shod more positions gained on the last ascent.

Ingleborough was thankfully close and I was happy to be stuck in a walking procession on the lower slopes. The expected scramble up the side followed - hard as it was it was at least direct and over quickly. After bagging my third peak I really died on th long, drawn out descent to Horton. Anytime I tried to pick up the pace beyond a meander my stomach area would tighten, making breathing difficult and feeling mildly painful. I've had this before and I can only assume I'd crossed the line into full on fat burning mode, I can still go but only firing on 3 cyclinders. I frustratingly trod on loosing dozens more places and only keeping up with a guys who kept pulling up with cramp and another guy seemingly having the same issue as me.

I eventually dropped into the village and tried to not look wasted as I ran through the finishing field in front of a few hundred spectators and other runners. It was quite nice to do a slightly bigger field event again. With 700 participants this was big time for me in the scheme of LDWA challenges and small field ultra events.

It was nice to finish, I don't like finishing a race in this way. It was a really nice event and its a shame when an underpar performance and tough second half dulls the enjoyment a bit. Positives a many though, great atmosphere, good setup, good beer tent with live music and even good enough weather to give me a vest mark where the back of the shoulders experianced 4 hours and 51 minutes of race day sunshine.

The post-race, summer party, vibe was continued by Mark and I as we hit a few of Ripons finest pubs and the curry house to replace a few thousand burnt cals. We even managed an 11m+ run the next morning around Ripon, Fountains abbey and surrounding countryside. But boy did my quads feel stiff on Monday. This race was now over a week ago and the plan ever since has been run easy and eat well as the Fellsman is fast approaching. This time next week I'll have hopefully completed it!!