Tuesday 24 August 2010

The forgotten land of Blacktoft and Laxton

Several years ago I discovered a vast empty land. Almost cut off and bypassed from civilisation by the M62 in and out of Hull. Those who know a bit about East Yorks will know the A63 dual-carriageway leaves Hull, passes close to several large villages, becomes the M62 and then bolts on passed Goole towards junctions with the M18 - to go south - A1 - to go north or south - and further afield the M1 and Leeds...... I could go on.... but it would be dull!

So what lies around the barron stretch of M62 I'd zoom along at 69mph between the West Hull villages and Goole. Well north there are serveral small villages and the intetesting small hills and dry dales of the Wolds as well as the plain of York and York. South?...... the river Humber as per near Hull?..... not quite. Actually miles of land that makes the Netherlands look rather bumpy. Not a place I'd visit running, but ideal for my new forced CV workout on the bicycle.

On the past warm Sunday I made a break down the foreshore path to the next village out, moved inland and followed some steadily-busy roads, even taking in a small hill. Passed Brough I turned with the Transpennine trail down south to Ellerker, through the corner of sleepy Ellerker I then left the typical roads of the outskirts and ventured onto single track, potholed tarmac or loose gravel affairs. After a mile or so you cross the main train line out of Hull and hit Broomfleet. Unlike villages in the lakes, moors, dales, peaks which are quiet due to the hills that cut them off, this village is just quiet because it is part way down a couple of single track roads to nowhere. The M62 passes you by out of site and this is the biggest settlement in the area. There is a slightly different-era feel to this place and the pub looks distinctly shut.

The TP trail then detours down a loose stone path for several miles which eventually brings you out at the river Humber. Stunning vista's of the river towards the south bank on a sunny day?..... well, I couldn't confirm or deny. Reason being that this path and eventually several riverbank side roads run in the half-shadow of a tidal embankment, I told you this place was flat! and no doubt evidence of reclaimed land from river or marsh.

Beyond a crossing of a canal and the hamlet of Faxfleet where the Humber becomes the Trent at my side, comes the ride highlight for me - Blacktoft. If Brromfleet was another era, this is almost another world and smacks of a simpler way of life. Not really that much here but there is a good pub where you can sit down and look over the river Ouse towards the confluences with the Trent and Humber in quick sucession. This hamlet also gives its name to the the civil parish, the four local villages within make up a population of just just 321 at last census. The pub must be kept going by many a cyclist like myself and sunday driving, day-trippers. There is also a nature reserve if that floats your Kite.

On I push to Laxton where I head back. Next stop would be Howden, a small town, but thats far enough for today. Laxton is much like a combination of every nearly one-road hamlet I've passed through in the last 45 minutes - dominated by dated-looking farm architecture, many of the buildings look deserted, the pub looks shut and is up for let. I've done 21 miles and my back aches from this unaccustomed form of cardio-vascular exercise. The hardest thing out was cycling into the wind as I headed west on land with no natural geographical wind break. So now I fly along back through the hamlet trail I've just passed. Through Yokefleet, Blacktoft - that pub looks tempting..... another day though - Faxfleet, Broomfleet and back to the fringes of 21st century life. I arrive home having weaved my way back to Hull's outskirts and covered a quite pleasing 41 miles.

So my back ached, the scenery was flat and somehwat uninspiring for the most part, this should be everything I'd hate and never blog. But it was a nice, sunny, Sunday afternoon and I hope you've got something from this slightly different to the norm report as I did the ride. A good stretch of hard-pedalled, quiet road in an area that is enjoyable, just because it was different and probably wouldn't be in my trail/fell-running mode. Who wants to be a one-trick pony afterall?

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Temporary setback

I'm getting more of it at work than from running, but I'm assured a stress fracture is actually related to overuse ;¬)

I finished LTOB with an aching right lower shin, very painful the following few days with a pronounced limp and need for Ibuprofen. The swelling and pain settled with a week without running, but a brief plod on Tuesday morning confirmed all was not still right. The physio is as sure as he can be without a CT scan that it is a stress fracture.

So its a break from impact exercise for me. Good job I have a bike ;¬)

Thursday 12 August 2010

Ultra Tour Mont Bradwell

Following my last entry I felt I was back - ready to resume long trail running. After 104 miles, 31 should be a doddle shouldn't it? Well the organisers have gone to great lengths to assure this is not the case and this was an exciting, varied and most of all HILLY course.

The initial climb, through the cement works, through Pin dale onto a rocky moor road and then down Cave dale (slippery when wet). Castleton intervenes for a mile of flat and some supporters on route (the only ones). The 2nd climb which goes upto Hollins Cross and straight down the other side is where the hard work starts.

A brief respite on the road to Edale, but then its up the zig-zag path to Ringing Roger, into low cloud and right onto the high moor on Kinder, the 'dib' being at the Druids stone. The emphasis on being a tough challenge is then further enforced with an initial scramble down heather and rock, before grassy paths which were slightly too steep for comfortable running on knee's that are suddenley exposed as not being quite as recovered as I though they were. Back across to the ridge of rock in the centre of the Hope valley and this time up Back Tor and to the summit of Lose Hill.

Already I was seeing myself suffering on descents withn inner knee niggles so I wasn't really letting go on grassy trail descents that are a million time kinder than the rock paths I gotsed to in the Lakes. The terrain so far was not unfamiliar to me from the excellent Hope Moors and Tors and a long run I ran in this area during easter. Making use of the classic steep climbs of the compact valley around Hope, the central ridge linking Mam Tor, Hollins Cross and Lose Hill and then the High Peak district area of Kinder to the north. Throw in the good quality runnable paths and this is an excellent adventure playground for short and long trail and fell runs that I don't visit enough.

Skirting Hope it was now new territory for me, rounding Win Hill through woods and then dropping to Ladybower reservoir (pic above) and the following an old railway line path towards Bamford and the toughest climb of the day from here up a steep hard track referred to in the route description as "the Escalator". There was then a bit of roadwork before the climb up onto Stanage Edge (left). We followed the boulder-strewn edge path for a good few miles. The sun had started to peak out and the wind up here was very slight comapared to the usual on this ridge. It was reasonably flat so we mostly ran this bit. And maintaining a run was starting to feel hard work. After much dodging of walkers and passing hundreds of rock climbers we arrived at the CP - tantalisingly close to an Ice Cream van.

From here we dropped into a small valley gradually downhill for a few miles of quite good, soft footing to Toads Mouth Bridge. Obscurely the dib control was down quite a steep bank actually hanging over the river - I wonder if anybody fell in?

The majority of the remaining miles were undulating rather than long climbs and descents. This took in more river valleys and quite a lot of forest which is always pleasent. After nearly 8 hours we appeared on a path heading down to Bradwell and the looming cement works. I was quite pleased to get thye picture, right, not only a view but some flying action in there too. This captures the outdoor pursuit nature of the area perfectly for me. Mark and I finally dragged into the cricket field in 8hrs and 6 minutes - also having covered 34 miles. As we didn't get lost very much I suspect the 31m advertised is way out! A pint and a pizzza later finished of the day nicely. Bodily I'm not quite intact writing this now though. The sore knees eased pretty quickly. But I have a slightly worrying swelling and pain on my right-lower shin. Impact bothers it as does pointing my toes out. A bit of rest and non impact exercise is on the cards for a week or so.

Friday 6 August 2010

The BIG ONE - Ultra Tour Lake District (conclusion)

Howtown to Mardale Head - 8.6m, 2421ft asc, 2152 desc, 3h32m

The Mardale Head CP was like an asteroid field. With a few lumbering, comet-like 100'ers doing their best not to be struck by the fast moving, every second counts, from all directions, 50'ers, who even seemed to be talking in a fast pace language disimilar to what I thought was my own. But then these guys and gals would probably be in the top third of the field. Mark and I saught refuge behind the treat table and a few other 100'ers hid away from the frantic action in the millhouse. 

We moved off at our own steady pace treading the boggy fields on the way up to the next big climb to a pass at the highest point of the course. As we moved away from the gill, on the narrow path upwards the relentless stream of 50'ers tried to get past slowed a bit. Which was good as I was fed up of feeling obliged to run near the side of the path to let people through and keep looking back over my shoulder. I tried not to show my current grumpiness, but felt a bit justified in being so. Mark must have been feeling the same and we agreed to make no spectacular efforts to let people through. This was a big hill, we were doing people a favour in steadying them whilst they found a way past. Despite this Steve passed me about this point, still full of life and on the way to a good 50m time - he was gone in the blink of any eye.

I think this was the single longest climb, possibly taking us up a large chunk of that 2440ft. As far as a false summit near Gowk Hill. Moving on slowly across the wet moorland plateau the stream of 50'ers behind were now less reluctant to overtake. One last push up to the pass between Wether Hill and Red Crag, hardly a pass it was nearly as high as the peaks! On top we ran into low level cloud on the moorland. Rain droplets were distinctly chilling me more now then on the less exposed journey up. We ran for a while on this high plateau passing the highest point of our journey at near 2200ft. I was glad of the descent, a further chance to move at speed and downhill, a double warmth bonus as we moved closer to lake level. Dave and Charlie passed on a parallel path, but was gone before I got chance for a chat. I may have been a pace-match to the 50'ers around me on the ascent, but on flat and descent, freshness won out for most.

It was a slightly technical descent to the shore path of Haweswater. Despite the wet ground I was still able on the technical downhill paths I thrive on. Despite Hawesater being a reservoir the seemingly undisturbed and innaccesable nature of this valley made it a highlight for me on the recce. I remembered that warm day as I ambled on the often hard going shoreside path to the south of the lake that goes on, and on, and on.... The people around us now were more scarce and often had the yellow numbers of the 100 mile event. The 50'ers tend to overtake and be gone. You may notice I was slightly envious of this freshness on this section. Quite a long time later we approached the end of the lake and the weather turned, hard, lakeland style. Heavy rain was unleashed and despite being less than half a mile from the CP I didn't wait for then to pull out the waterproof smock. A long section, the growing tiredness being reflected in our first three hour plus time on this hard section.

Mardale Head to Kentmere - 5.9m, 1657ft asc, 1945 desc, 2h52m

The results show that 14 people dropped out at Mardale Head, only two of them from the 100. That may seem backwards, but thinking about it if I'd gone this far and wanted to pull out I might have my mind changed by the current downpour, at an outdoor CP, in a remote area where it could take hours to get a lift back from. Keep moving and warm if you still can. Maybe the inexperiance of some 50'ers led them to a premature decision? Just an opinion. I had some soup here - starting to appreciate how great hot soup and a roll is on a long run - and for the first time ever decided to don the waterproof trousers for the first time on an event.

The ascent after Howtown was long and high, but the ascent here felt harder work. So steep it had switchbacks up to Gatesgarth Pass. The higher we got the stronger the wind and the lashing with rain. Apart from my face I was completely waterproofed, but this was only a small mercy right now. Things didn't improve on the descent that followed. It was very steep and rocky at first, which was starting to really bother my feet again. Couple this with the fact my cheap, impulse purchase, "I'll probably never need use", waterproof trousers were too long and were getting under my feet when I ran. Eventually a smidgeon of ingenuity grasped me and I rolled them up at the elasticated waist-band, giving me sufficient 'ground clearence' while not quite garrotting my 'gentlemans bits'. I still wasn't breaking speed records though. After often setting the pace on downhills I wass now struggling to keep up with Mark on the punishing rocky path.

I was lifted for a moment when Claire passed. Nice to see another familiar face. She had not had it easy, falling twice and breaking her garmin.... gutted! The interlude was soon over though and Claire and her 3 girl team were gone. The section dragged on without highlight with just a slight lessening of the rain and wind at lower level. It was good to get to the Kentmere Institute and the third major food CP. It had been another slow going section. I was hoping for improvementy now as the trckiest sections were behind us.

Kentmere to Ambleside - 7.1m, 1594ft asc, 1936 desc, 3h23m

Kentmere was a-buzzin, tiring runners slumped on chairs all over, many taking opportunity to remove wet layers. The same pasta and rice pudding were on offer here as previous major foodpoints. However, this time there was delicious fruit smoothy as well... mmmmmm. A nice zing to it, a treat for the palate and I hoped maybe it could give my legs some zing too. I saw Claire for the second to last time on the run here. Nick also entered here not long after me and Mark. He seemed to be 'dibbing in' sometime in the 10mins behind us all the time up to this stage of the second half.

Mark and I headed out again, the gloom of the weather and low cloud now further emphasized by the hastening of darkness. To mimic the pattern of the last three second half stages we had a slow climb over an high pass to start with. Thankfully this one was shorter and less exposed than the previous two. A little ray of light entered my conciousness, "all downhill to Lakesrunner in Ambleside now, then just three short stages" - the highs and lows were coming thick and fast now. There was a long and pleasently less rocky than the previous stage descent  to Troutbeck next. And after Troutbeck, just one ascent and longer descent to Ambleside. Project Ambleside was going quite well. Even the rain had stopped.

Just before Troutbeck the headtorches were necessary again. My feet were hurting more and more now. It felt like the bandages - my saviours since Dalemain - were now rubbing against my soles at the front and the balls of my feet were also very sore on every impact. Ambleside would be my saviour, touch up my feet there and that'll see me through! Not much memory remains of the end of this section, one climb and some undulating farmland and very stoney and slippery woodlan descents (ouch, ouch, ouch). I kept dropping of the pace of Mark and the small group that we were with now. My energy levels were barely depleting, I was being limited by the stiff short strides I was taking to limit foot impact. We descended into a fairly sedate Ambleside, not many revellers walking about considering it was a Saturday night in summer - though it was now twenty to midnight. The 30-35 hour pace was slipping away fast! In fact I was ten minutes over 30 hours when I dibbed in.

Ambleside to Chapel Stile - 4.8m, 804ft asc, 659 desc, 2h43m

The shoes came off at Ambleside assuring a long stop. In the 30-40 minutes here I made what turned out to be very inneffectual repairs. Fortoying the bandage with more zinc oxide tape and putting on some padded plasters. I was also down to my last Ibuprofen, having only packed a mostly used pack containing three strong ones and forgetting the extras from my drop bag at Dalemain.

When we got off again I could tell instantly my repairs had brough no respite. It was a dagger through my heart! Hobbling painfully up the moor ascent I convinced Mark to push on ahead as he was noticably moving better than me and had nearly fallen asleep at the last CP whilst I dithered with my smashed 'plates of meat'. It wasn't fair to slow him further and he wouldn't have left me had I not asked. His torchligh soon disappeared over the brow of the hill.

The stony path off the moor was awful and I was moving in geological time until I could find smooth path again. Thankfully this section had very modest ascent and descent, mostly over at the start. I perked up a bit as I ran through parkland on the super smooth Cumbria Way footpath past Elter Water - the lake - and through Elterwater - the village. I maintained efforts of fast walk/slow jog along bits of this section. Another short woodland track and I was onto the road near Wainwrights in - very much closed for the night - and down the road to the CP at the school.

Chapel Stile to Tilberthwaite - 7.7m, 1319ft asc, 1096 desc, 4h16m

I caught up with Mark and Nick at the school, but let them get along while I fed and watered up. Just this longish section now and then the final section is just a compact if steep ascent and descent. Just got to get through this. I made ok, if slow progress up into Great Langdale. This would be a highlight by day, but tonight it was cloudy, or maybe foggy, at quite low level so even with headtorch I couldn't see that far. It was all going reasonably well along the muddy, and well wettened footpaths, I could walk ok up and on the flat, even if I couldn't run these bits now.

I navigated without issue and was glad to be at the zig-zag ascent up Side Pike pass. A high maybe?..... well if it was the lows were about to get pretty damn low. Past Blea Tarn, there is a rocky, stoney, muddy, rutted but by no means awful path compared to some I'd tackle. But I couldn't run down. Every footstep fired sparks of pain up my body, I tried to ignore it and push along, but this only worked for a few minutes. I was now truly a pedestrian and my ambitions were reevaulated to completion in the 40 hour cut off. It started to get light again and I stopped to remove my headtorch and eat. A group of 50'ers went passed me, I assured them I was ok and just taking a breather. I put my windjacket on, my enforced pace meant I was starting to cool down despite the warmish morning. I set off again a few minutes later, hoping maybe I could try and get into or near the group just passed.

Down a muddy bank - "ahhhh, soft ground" - and through some low vegetation into the little wet valley to thye road. I had brief hopes of catching 'the group' as they'd taken a long route around the wet parts of the valley. This had been near dry on recce day, but a lot of rain had fallen since then. Still my navigation was still doing me proud as I found a feint path that took me over some of the less soggy ground and over the streams at narrow points. The group we just diosappearing around the corner of the road as I got upto it. I'd lost them now, I couldn't run on the hard tarmac descent for very long or at any speed and I was soon lonely again, trudging up a rocky track over a low pass. The descent down to Tilberthwaite was a helping of pain to match the previous few descents and I was realy starting to let it get to me. A few 100'ers started to repass me, which didn't boost my morale.

Coming off the hill. I saw the CP van up ahead along a short tarmac drive to the farm. I'm not usually one for emotion, but I welled up. I was seriously thinking of giving up. I had 2 hours 50 minutes to do 3.5m, but I wasn't sure I even could, I could probably get up there, but the descent would be hideously painful. Approaching the CP I decided I would pull myself together and go on if I could get an Ibuprofen or something to numb the pain or at least offer the placebo effect.

Tilberthwaite to Coniston - 3.5m, 928ft asc, 1236 desc, 2h43m

My composure failed, as I opened my mouth to talk to the lone marshall I started to blub. As I left the CP I felt a bit of a wimp for this, but on the other hand it had been a massive challenge, I was suffering and I hadn't given up. The marshall had no pain pills, but Julia, who I knew from a recce, who had been in the group ahead got me two cocodamol from her friend and running partner who was, ironically, a pharmacist. I don't know if I would have given up there without these, I feel probably not.

I took the pills, had an eat and drink and started up the steep path up between the slate quarries and deep ravine. I'd loved this bit on the recce, it felt like a wonderful short fell race on fresher legs. A big climb, a breather over moorland and then the kind of technical descent I thrive on down. The descent being significantly bigger than the ascent it should be running nirvana. Not so today.... quite the opposite. The night is always darkest just before the dawn is a proverb I don't understand - technically its untrue - but maybe it relates more to struggle. Whatever, it epitomised this section for me. Not exactly like going through hell, but at the time it was deeply unpleasent.

Th cocodamol didn't seem to help much with the pain, if anything the seemed to contribute to oncoming drowsiness as I was getting near the top of the climb. I seemed to drift off and then awaken, try to push as my pace slacked to nothing at these times, but then drift again. I was pretty much asleep on my feet at times on the early partof the moor alongside Crook beck. When at one stage I figured I'd probably moved half a mile in thirty minutes on flat I knew action was needed. I pushed on, concentrating on a fast walk, get to the start of the descent in 30 minutes. It kind of worked, though I took a gel to sharpen up before the rough descent.

As I started to go down the feet were at their worst. I wan't even walking, literally picking my way down the early steep bit, stopping to lower myself down any bits where the path dropped a foot or two over rocks - which it did a lot. More runners from both length events passed me. I felt like I shouldn't be in this position, I'd probably outpaced these fine atheletes for 75 miles, but my fall hadn't been gracious. Still, many were very supportive, especially 50'ers, and I did my best to reciprocate, though it probably sounded like incomprehensible mumbling.

It seemed to take and age to get down the quarry path, one point I stopped and sat down, head in hands, hoping for inspiration and nearly fell asleep again. 1000ft descent can take an eterntity and its something I don't want to repeat. By the bottom I knew if I could have 30 minutes before the timeout I could get home, could I, I really hoped so. I'd hated the way I'd fallen apart, making the 40 hours was all I had left, timeout would be a bitter pill even if I finished the 104 miles!

Then Claire appeared, coming up the hill. She'd finished some three hours ago, had seen Mark come in and then decided to run up and find me. It was a massive assistance to have somebody to plod the final mile or so with. Having gone on about how hard it had been to her on as we talked on the way into Coniston I feel quite humbled in that she was running along with an undaignosed broken elbow! and probably had been since a fall last week. That is just super-tough.

Into Coniston, passed the pubs, not quite open yet, and down the road, into the school. I got a massive applause as I headed in. I felt unworthy, but attempted to show my appreciation of the support. 39hours 51minutes. I got weighed in, sat awhile, started to nod off, so decided to head for food, much as I wanted to sleep.


I borrowed Claires stick to walk across the field to the tent. I saw Steve on the way over, he'd had a good sleep and looked as fresh as if he'd been finished for days. I then attempted to have a guinness with Claire and Mark, but couldn't see it through. I need to sleep, but first had to drive my car back over the field as the bowels were kicking back into life. I'd have probably sh*t myself had I walked. Even walking over the gravel road from my parked car to the school was murder on my now unshoed feer. Upon returning to the tent I was out like a light for at least 3 hours and missed the presentation.

I was awake earlay afternoon and removed the bandages and put fresh socks on my feet. I know had huge blisters on the souls of my feet where the bandages were probably being rubbed by my socks. I felt a bit better for the sleep, a few cans of cider and my soft "walk around" trainers. Mark, Nick and I even managed a walk to Coniston for some good grub in a local pub. All washed down with some of the excellent local brews - Bluebird and one called Langdale (I think). Clinical disection of the event was performed between us - the summary being; mega tough but worth it.

I was up early the next day and got back in good time with a snooze break and strong coffee on route. Once home I washed my feet and got to work on the blisters, grazes, broken skin and the loss of a big toenail. The blisters were of suffiecient size that I had to bleed them. Had I jetted all the green-tinged gunk into a shot glass there would have been what looked like a generous shot of some exotic liquer. A week on and the plasters were mostly off, blisters healed or well on the way. I ran the following Saturday, a nice jog around Swinton estate from Masham. Slow, but pleasent on the country road. I was however almost stopped by a stabbing pain inside my right knee whch came on at about 3.5m and remained for the next 1.5m.

Thankfully, even this seems to have receeded and I managed a good hill session with the club yesterday, distinctly steadier than usual, but I finished in one - tired - piece.

Again? Right now I'm thinking I'd like to try and do the 50 and try and finish up the field next year. But I won't rule out the 100. I'm so glad I finished it, not the easiest 100 to start with and it gives me real confidence that I can now take on any physical challenge I set my mind to.

Thursday 5 August 2010

The BIG ONE - Ultra Tour Lake District (part 2)

Buttermere to Braithwaite - 8.6m, 2440ft asc, 2539 desc, 2h17m

This CP gave me the required pickup, it was suprisingly busy for the middle of the night in an event for about 150 people that lasted over 100m. There seemed to be at least 20 here - Buttermere's first rush hour. The warm mushroom soup and roll went down well as well as a few sweeter snacks. I thought for a moment Mark was having and adverse "gut" reaction to the event as he rushed outside following a hot drink. He was ok moments later, probably just drank a couple of hot drinks too fast and overloaded the stomach.

We rolled out of the village hall with a few others to be almost immeadiately called back as we missed the turn off into Ghyll Wood. We followed a small group on the single path forest track, just once having to climb after taking a low path we shouldn't have and getting to a dead-end near the beck. We emerged from the wood and ran along the bottom of a bracken clad hill right and a gill left. The group in front had pulled away a bit and once again missed the turning. Sensing it wouldn't be obvious I had GPS in hand to confirm the narrow left fork through foliage up the hill as I approached. The guys ahead were out of site and earshot but eventually realised their error and tracked back up a steep part of this hill. My navigation strategy was working out better than most, bouying me again.

I was moving well on the countouring narrow paths around Whiteless Breast (titter) and Bleak Rigg. I had a chat with another runner who had been following close. It turned out he knew this section of course well so I figured I'd try and keep close on the next few miles into the unknown. We were run-walking on a gradually upwards path on a mostly slight gradient with peaks to left and drop down bank into beck on right. Other groups joined us as we dropped down to cross several becks and gills. A bit of sub-contious safety in numbers bringing there pace along maybe. Up ahead when not blocked by the hill flank we could see a string of headtorch lights along the valley, climbing gradually higher on this great contouring path that I must revisit in day.

The path was very narrow and I think there were a few stumbles. I think Mark had more than average, he wasn't sure why as we were both moving along at good pace and not too much effort. I chatted to another guy who'd done all sorts of challenges and who seemed to have deemed this his last one... for a while, until a build-up of aches and issues could be sorted. I sure hope he completed it, a fitting peak after many years of adventuring.

The continuous accent eventually ran dry as we climbed out of the valley via Sail Pass (deja vu?) and then started to descend contouring around the other side. Initially steeply with a terrifying drop to the right to warn off any overexuberence. We down-dulated along awhile, but the stage highlights were mostly done now. The group we were in didn't believe me when I speculated that the settlement of lights ahead was probably Braithwaite. In truth, it did seem too soon after the slow progress I'd adjusted to on the previous stage. But then we descended onto road, a footpath and then the silent, centre of Braithwaite and our first major food stop - early breakfast. 33.9m - 9h41m

Braithwaite to Blencathra centre - 8.2m, 1548ft asc, 905 desc, 2h39m

Pasta with tomato sauce, rice pudding, coca-cola, hot drinks, cakes, sandwiches and pringles were all on offer here in the comfortable and well lit Church hall. After a good fill Mark and I were off into the warm night again. I'd felt pretty rough when I'd recce'd the route starting here on one of the hottest days of the summer not so long ago. I already felt better today, the smooth tarmac outa town a nice change and some "money in the (pace) bank". I could even turn my headtorch off along the well lit A66.

We then skirted Keswick before heading north-east up Spoony Green Lane, following good paths uphill through small woods on the "highway" up towards Skiddaw. The headtorches came off here as the sunlight appeared beyond Blencathra. We jinked right of the path up and rounded rough paths contouring Lonscale Fell. The next 3m or so horseshoed around between high peaks on a mid-level path high above a beck. It was quite novel to look across the valley andsee other runners several miles, initially ahead, then behind. We eventually rounded Blease Fell. 

We didn't run that much on this section, losing pace on other groups. I think I was now having a bad patch as my feet were already paining me on footfall. As we descended to  the Blencathra centre it was time my first loo-nnn-gg stop.

Blencathra centre to Dockray - 7.7m, 1440ft asc, 1027 desc, 2h24m

I filled my water bottle, topped up my energy drink and grabbed some food as was customary and necessary at these CPs. Then I began the slow process of removing my shoes and socks. It already didn't look good, sore and cracked soles and some blistering. During the week after the Wasdale race I'd noticed how my feet had dried and cracked up. Not sure why, I'd began attempts to soften and heal the skin in the week that followed. They seemed near ok before the event, but here at just over 40m in I suspected anything less than my less than 100% intact feet beforehand might exagerate and quicken any wear and tear and might be my downfall. I was going to have to earn this completion the hard way.

Plastered, padded and mummified in zinc oxide tape, my feet took me out of the door nearly 40 mins after arriving. I felt a bit guilty for delaying Mark and we'd been passed by several others including Britnick. Still better to take the time and play the long game. At least I wasn't like the poor, shivering withdrawal we left behind at the Centre. On paper a money in the bank section lay ahead, downhill and then lost of flat and very subtly undulating stuff pretty much to the end. In reality I'd learned from recceing that the long section of Moor road was the bleakest part of the entire route and may well be an ordeal for the suffering.

My feet felt slightly comfier in their new padding so we pushed on down the hill towards the old railway track. then along here we started catching people up with a sustained run. by the time of the the sections only hard climb up the boggy moor things were looking up with serveral overtakes inflating my confidence bubble again. The moor road turned out not to be hell as on the hot recce day, when I was running quite dehyrdrated. We pushed along, challenging ourselves to run most of the flat, all of the downhill and picking spots partially up the short ascents to run to before a walk break.

This worked and we soon came off the road, passed the wood and arrived at the CP in the Car Park. Allowing for nearly 40mins of time lost static at the start of the stage I was pretty pleased with knocking out nearly 8m in considerably less than 2 hours. Was the worst passed?

Dockray to Dalemain - 9.8m, 1168ft asc, 2040 desc, 2h56m

The longest section lay ahead and the fare on offer to the runners at the CP vehicle wasn't as tempting as the smell of the marshalls fry up, so we didn't hang around. There was quite a substantial downhill to start off with. Near 1m to Dockway village on road - ching, ching - then a steadier descent on woodland trail down to Aira Force and nearly Ullswater. But we turned west to contour around Gowbarrow Fell.

It was a bit of a trudge up, feeling like we'd gained the stages claimed 1168ft of climb in about 2m. But this was another highlight. The green and wooded banks Ullswater curling around beneath us to the right, Gowbarrow fell towering to our left, classic trail running! However, it couldn't quite take my mind off my feet, mostly forgotten during the previous, fast stage. Now reawakened to pain following the big descent. We came off the round-fell path and headed into the woods. A brief stop to nibble on some trail mix - how appropriate - perked me up for the final pull to Dalemain. I replied postively to a text from Claire which asked how our night had gone. There was now another descent through fields, then more ascent (how?) and we eventually had a rather long road section to progress along.

We were nearly run down by an inconsiderate farm worker who plowed past us in tractor at full speed on a very narrow road. He stopped up ahead and there was a slightly ugly scene that I will not dwell upon. Long story short I think the guy had got out of the wrong side of his bed. Through Dacre village and past the seemingly out of place Dacre Castle, it was now just a 2km road to our stop. I seemed to be working overly hard to run on these flat sections and was glad to get to the marquee at Dalemain. I needed a pick-me-up BAD. 59.7m - 17h39m - real time: 11:09

Dalemain to Howtown -  6.8m, 935ft asc, 827 desc, 2h43m

It was great to be greeted by Claire at this CP. With less than an hour until the start of the 50 mile event she selflessy looked after Mark and I and chatted for as long as possible before she went to line up. Pasta and tomato sauce was the order of the day, along with a few cups of cola and numerous other snacks I can't recall. the CP staff we great as ever, doing as much for us as they could. I even visited the medical team. the doc took a look at my feet and ordered I should be put down..... no not really! He did a proper job of wrapping my feet in a sticky padded bandaging that felt great combined with clean socks from my drop bag.

I also made an impromptu apperarence in a documentary about the event. Voicing my thoughts and experiances and showing off my battered feet (pre bandaging). In fact the film crew seemed most interested in peoples feet. Many feet on show had the pale, swollen look of feet that had spent a lot of time in damp and wet conditions. Back to the documentary, wonder if I'll make the final cut?

It was a long stop, nearly 50mins as we made tracks just before the 50 kicked off. Soon to join us following its 4m loop of the grounds. I munched on a ginsters steak slice from my drop bag as I walked away from the CP, culinary treat of the day I think.

After a few flat fields and a riverside path in a flat and most un-lake district area physically, we passed through Pooley Bridge. That was the last major civilisation for now, up the tarmac road and then a path up onto the moor. The long stop, foot aid and company of all the 50'ers had really picked me up - I think Mark too. We had a game of guess how long after the start the lead 50'ers will pass us? My guess of 70minutes was somewhat out even with the extra 4m they covered. The lead group of three bounded past us at real pace well within an hour.

This made for quite a fun and refreshing stage of the run. With fast 50'ers passing us regularly, often very supportive, even praiseworthy in their comments of the 100'ers despite the probable gulf in "class" between their pace and ours. I tried to be supportive back, but they didn't really need it at this stage. We were soon off the moor and turned off the path into Howtown. 66.4m - 20h23m * considering I was at 33.9m in 9hr41m the pace is still pretty good for a finish between 30 and 35 hours ;¬)


Tuesday 3 August 2010

The BIG ONE - Ultra Tour Lake District

I started this little blogging journey to report my preperation for the Atlantic Coast Challenge nearly a year ago. Back then three trail marathons in three days seemed a massive challenge. Since the ACC I've surfed a wave of momentum which has brought me through a 50miler and the Fellsman and deposited me at the mercy of another awesome challenge. All in much less than 12 months, which seems fast, but maybe it was just the kick up the arse I needed after about ten years of running incorporating lots of road racing from 5k to marathons which was starting to feel a bit "same old....".

Moving along, following the reality check at the Wasdale race I basically spent the next 2 weeks trying to be as innactive as possible barring a short run every few days to keep the legs turning over. I also ate well, but not irresponsibly and drank plenty of non-dehydrating  fluids and a reduction in the dehyrdrating kind.

I perhaps had my least stressful organisation, packing and journey. I'd done a trial run with my backpack fully-loaded the week before and was happy with the weight and comfort. So the rest got packed fairly stress-lessly the day before. I had a good sleep the night before but still woke at 7:30 and took a leisurely breakfast and drive to Coniston. Arriving at just after midday I could now take a leisurely 5 hours to kit check, eat and prepare for the start.

Mark was already in the field of Coniston school and I was just in time to help complete putting up the tent. We were soon able to head up to the school and get our "weigh in" and kit check out of the way before the possibility of queues. I left the hall after a succesful kit check. Now with two tyvex strips on my right wrist, one with my weight printed on, another to strap the dibber on. I also had my Montane Lakeland 100 running top, waterproof map and roadbook. It all felt very organised and thought out. Exactly the reassurance you need before such a long event.

There was now plenty of time to take a leisurely lunch in Coniston with mark and Claire. Claire taunted me and Mark having a beer, as her event started tomorrow. But I was happy not to and enjoyed a healthy but filling jacket potato with cheese. I pointed out that we might look rather odd to others sat outside the pub. The three of us sat here with tags around our wrists with the dibber device may look like we were out on day release from the asylum.

The next few hours consisted of a few toilet visits, a bit more hydration and some last minute snacking to try and get as comfortable as possible before the start. There was also the compulsary briefing with a guest appearence by no less than Joss Naylor, fell-running legend.

Fast forward to just a few minutes to go before the start and the sun comes out for about the first time today and the heat is raised just a notch. I could do without this. but at least I know its now early evening and it won't last.

Coniston to Seathwaite - 6.4m, 2106ft asc, 1949 desc, 1h30m

5:30 and we were off, up the slight hill to the main road into Coniston. No question of walking this small slope. We then disturbed the traffic on the main road for a moment and gave the people outside the pubs something to talk about - "Thats the slowest race I've ever seen", "Whats with the backpacks?". We were soon off the main road and heading up the first real hill. I was sweating and walking halfway up this one due to the recently reappeared sun and the need to get rid of some excess heat via sweat quickly. It was then off roads altogether onto a trail and a half loop around the grand Old Man of Coniston with great views up on the right and down to the lake left.

The good path then steadily undulated for a few miles before the big climb of the stage over Walna Scar pass. It was a walker, but didn't last long and we soon topped out for a long descent. The descent was tricky as for most of the way down it was sufficiently steep to let go and not try and hold back, but on the other hand it was so early in a such a long event. We then hit a road to run down to the first CP in the village hall what seemed like no time at all.

Seathwaite to Boot - 6.7m, 1165ft asc, 1345 desc, 1h47m

On paper this could have been another 1:30 section. Little further than the last and a lot less climb. In reality, after some woodland trail running on a slightly boggy path we were running valley bottom trails, farmland and plantations - all of which were pretty boggy going with the recent rains.The plantation section took quite a while on very liquid footpaths and a slight upward gradient. A descent followed and a shock as I nearly ran over the body of a recently deceased sheep! My mind was telling me we were near the section end.

In reality the section dragged on quite a bit longer. Through a stream valley, around a farm on permissive paths before another woodland trail. The run into Boot was downhill on a track and then road. Its a shame the name of this place is likely to be blighted forever by recent events as it looks a cracking small village. A scattering of pubs with atmospheric beer gardens, the pleasent low, green valley backdrop. The unusual CP location at the corn mill on the north flank of Eskdale was like a trip back in time inside with dim lighting and bygone era decoration and tools scattered around. It was cooling a bit now as the light dimmed, but the end of day weather was a sign of the night to come.

Boot to Wasdale Head - 5.4m, 906ft asc, 817 desc, 1h24m

In planning I'd regarded this section and the previous as "money in the bank", not much climb and quite short. The last section hadn't quite panned out that way, at first this one didn't seem to be either. An initial uphil trudge led us onto Eskdale Moor, whish saw a low gradient climb on sometimes wet and technical path/trail so we didn't run much here. Onto the moor and it flattened out a bit. Quite a green grass, good going sort of moor comapaired to some of the tussocky swamps I've run. In the failing light mountains loomed in the distance. Despite the clear skies one or two were even shrowded in cloud..... yep, that would be Wasdale then.

A slight descent to the tarn and then some wet foot crossings stream crossings and boggy grass near the tarn head. We undulated slighty uphill before appearing in the gap between Illgill head and the foot-slopes of Scafell. Navigation suddenly became very easy as we descended the rocky path towards the NT campsite in the opposite direction of the start of the Wasdale race. Even in the near darkness the views of Wasdale's menacing peaks were as good as any we'd seen on the race day two weeks ago. The lack of wind and rain also saw the lake millpond-esque.

We had a good jog down the road through Wasdale head where the pub was seeing good trade from its captive audience of campers and the odd local (there can't be many). In a barn behind the pub the busy CP saw numerous people pulling out headtorches - myself included, filling water carriers and enjoying the extra-bonus of soup on offer from this CP. I was already appreciating any change I could get from sugary carbs that were making me nauseous.

Wasdale Head to Buttermere - 6.8m, 2437ft asc, 2306 desc, 2h43m

After the challenging climb of section 1 we'd had a comparitive lack of climb. This was our escalation. Two stages I hadn't recce'd that on paper looked to be the toughest back-to-back, it was also now dark. I felt quite good on the lower slope paths heading towards Black Sail pass, a bit of a buzz to have got to at least Wasdale without headtorch and in good time against my rough plan of 4mph Friday PM daytime sections. The same rough plan just required 3mph overnight. My only slight irritation was my headtorch pressing against my forehead giving me slight discomfort. I'd never noticed this previously as I'd only worn it in in more wintry conditions over a hat.

As we rounded Kirk Fell the only way was up and it was time for hard walking again. Ahead we could see lights gradually climbing the blackened hillside in a spread out pattern. So no issues with directions around here? But then after crossing the rampaging Gatherstone Beck the path seemed to disappear. The GPS track and slight recollection from descending here during our aborted Wasdale Fell race meant we headed up the steep grass bank, tempting as it was to follow a few people just ahead who kept low to the the beck assuming a steep climb later. Just as the calves started to moan the path crossed me and I shouted down to Mark. The aforementioned people just in front would rejoin the path near us 5-minutes or so later after a much longer ascent up the steep bank.

Much climbing later we found the reassuring broken metal gate at the top of Black Sail pass and moved onto the stoney zig-zag down the slope. The lights up ahead had now disappeared from view, probably somewhere on this descent obscurred from our view my ridges and undulations. After a brief detour we got our navigational heads on and tracked back to stick close to the on-off trail alongside the fast-falling waters of Sail beck. Though only about twenty miles in this kind of descent was feeling hard on the quads and knees as they were forced to break momentum skipping over large rocks that halted the flow of the trail.

Across the River Liza, passed the remote Black Sail hut YHA and it was up again. Seemingly our first double whammy of big climbs in a single stage. Through Scarth Gap at the top and we emerged onto whatbvthe raod book describes as "very rocky, rocky, cairned path". Any doubling of a word like rocky - or steep - in this book means not to be taken lightly. The descent went on for what felt like miles of picking our way through jagged, loose, large rocks contouring around High Crag down towards Buttermere. Again we navigated better than some as we saw lights well down below who had dropped too far too early and had to run a path along a river bank. We joined this large group at the true bottom of the descent. The relief was not exaggerated as we finally got to Buttermere Village hall CP via a forested lakeside path. I reckon this section would have been stunning in daylight and must revisit the past two valleys north of Wasdale.