Friday 25 February 2011

February - part 1 of 2.... or maybe just 1 if I'm too busy/lazy

The months started hot on Tuseday 1st when I did the my club's 2.9m handicap league race. I put plenty in, keeping just shy of a "blow-up" pace, but keeping close to 6min/miles on garmin for the first downhill mile. Mile 1 ends on a short uphill I blasted through, already catching people. Mile 2 also feels downhill with a steady descent for much of it with just a bit back up, still close to 6's. Last mile is tough, with a along, but steady climb or flat most of the way. I kept my foot down as long as possible as my knees started to splay sideways, but achieved what I've never before on the undulating circuit. Sub 18, in fact 17:49 officially, inside last month by 37seconds and I really went hard then. My best ever time by 14secs. Really pleased with that, the endurance training with just one long speed/tempo sesh per week is obviously doing me good at all distances. Whoever said long slow running makes a long slow runner (though this is all relative as I am still v.slow to some).

The first long event of the month 4 days later saw me return to Guiseley for the LDWA event that started the whole long distance, off-road, love affair for me - the Rombalds Stride. I've been a constant participant since 2007. Towards the shorter end of the scale as challenge events go at 22m and the hill profile isn't the nastiest either. However, the X Factor - sorry! - of this one is the effect the weather has. Not just on the runner/walker on the day, but also what it has done to the ground. Incorporating a massive, horseshoe shaped mooland section for about mile 4 to 17 there has usually been some challenge thrown up each year. Sometimes it is thick snow, ice, other times wind, rain, and last year we had thick fog - to make me doubt route choices on a route I know pretty well.

This year the snow of November, December in the east was seemingly unmatched in West Yorkshire. And there seemingly hadn't been a big dump of it since. This doesn't necessarily make things easier. Warmer conditions and some rain just means the mud-baths, which account for paths aren't "firmed up" at all. Would you rather slog through snow or slog through deep mud? its a personal preference, but neither is easy.

As it happens I may be a 'mud' man. Ran a strong run over the middling long moorland section. Despite bringing up gallons of gunk from my nose and mouth, which appears to be a failed cold, i.e. never slowed me down, but outwardly sounded crap and was stuffed up. Through the villages and towns post-moor and pre-Chevin - a nice steep sting in tail hands-on-knees climb I seized a bit in the legs, but the pace was good if not fast. After an energetic march up the Chevin - catching tiring others as wasthe pattern of the last few miles - I even found pace for the final mile or so downhill run to the finish. A good start to the month.... and year - 3:53, my first sub-4 here and route best by 15mins or so.

The next week saw something completly different a road run at a set distance of half marathon. Not an obscure 2.9ish miles, or 20 something miles off-road, but 13.1m, a chance for a PB at a distance a road runner would recognise and understand. This was the Liversedge Half Marathon, run amongst the bumps and lumps of West Yorkshire near Huddersfield. After watching and being slightly inspired by the pros at the UKA indoor Championships in Sheffield on the Saturday I had prepared well with a Vindaloo-strength curry the night before and a fry up for breakfast, just the ticket!

Anyway, after a first mile where I held back amongst the sub-6 min/mile "cavalry charge" of those around me down the initial hills, I soon settled into a pace close to 7's. I maintained this until biting nearly 10secs a mile back just before halfway on a long 1/6 downhill where I played to my descending strengths. I also made good account on the courses own "hill from hell" barely a mile later. A short attack of the hill we'd just descended on another road, but not long, a mere bump compared to some of the hills I've tackled in the past year or two. My up and downhill running both gave me strength over those around me, who I'd hold on the flat and move away from on hill.

I expected the slowdown, energy drain, but it never really came. I maintained a similar pace most of the way, only loosing slightly on uphills. I even bought back a few more seconds during mile 11, but mile 12 and 13 didn't have many easy seconds. In fact 13 seemed uphill most the way. This could be considered cruel for a road race, but I wasn't bothered.... the PB was on..... and I held pace to finish in about 1:31:55. I was dead chuffed with this, 25secs inside the PB set at a faster Liversedge course back in March 2009. More evidence that big miles at suitable pace with limited, but quality long speedwork sessions will improve race times at all distances. The 'less injury potential route' than doing several speedwork sessions per week, which I seemed to have fizzled out at following a series of similar results in 10ks around the 41/42 min mark.

The next weekend saw something completley different still - no running. Well 2.5m to be exact. After nearly 40m midweek I was tired so I went out on Friday night and drank a fair bit, had a good time and then slept in. I ran the aforeentioned 2.5m, with slightly tender tum, early saturday afternoon in the brief window between clearing the friends from my house/squat and the other half coming around. I didn't fancy doing more that day anyway. On Sunday I laid in again and then attended a family do which went on late. So no running again... back to it next week. Maybe I needed the rest, my left calve had been pulling a bit during speedwork on Thursday after 5 days straight running, the first day being that half. I'd even turned down an invitation to take part in the National XC's from club, due to my concern.

The relative lack of long, off-road runs this month makes for an odd stat in my running log. My average pace for a run in February thus far, usually 10-min miles and above most months, is quite close to starting with a seven?!

Tuesday 8 February 2011

The Word...

... is Hills!

Whether its lots of little ones around my hometown - like the 10m I did last night running up or down every nearly every road-hill...

Or the bigger ones in the Wolds, further flung Yorkshire countryside and even the Lakes....

If I think hill, run hill, I will get through this years super hilly event schedule. The rough plan to get me to and through the UTMB is....
  • Until March - 40-80m weeks incorporatinmg at least one hilly weekend run, ideally two, and plenty of hills during weeknight runs.
  • Hardmoors 55 - Visiting the hilliest and highest part of the North York Moors. Mostly good paths and tracks.
  • Coast-to-Coast - over 5 days - some of the best countryside in England awaits me, therefore...hills, big and small.
  • Yorkshire Three Peaks race - only 20'odd miles, but three big climbs.
  • The Fellsman - Rougher ground, lots of big hills and navigation, sublime.
  • Lakeland 100 (Ultra Tour Lake District) - Back for more, mixed quality of underfoot, many walk-all-the-way climbs and lots of distance.
  • Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc - Similar distance to Lakeland but with bigger climbs and some hour long descents! I'm hoping all of the above can give me enough strength and resilience to survive these quad-killers!! Only consolation is the paths may be generally more runnable than UTLD and certainly Fellsman.

Friday 4 February 2011

Floods, Sweat and Beers

Bit delayed this.... sorry!

If the week of my last entry was back to business then I guess business is now "booming"! I completed the Wheeldale Tandem the week after that. I won't go into detail, but it appears that the Goathland area of the North York Moors has retained more of its December snowfall than nearly anywhere in England. Still some thick snow and treacherous ice. I fell a few times myself, not injured like some thankfully. Teammate Sarah and I got around nicely under 6hrs30, which I was happy with in the conditions and considering how good I felt almost throughout.

Then the mid-week saw only two runs with the promise of my first serious back-to-backs of 2011 at the weekend. An easy 4 on Tuesday and a Speed session which wasn't easy at all on the Thursday. Mostly my own "friendly" competitiveness being the cause of the latter overindulgence. So on the Saturday I found myself in Scalby, north of Scarborough, for the Scarborough Rock LDWA challenge event. It's an interesting course which takes advantage of Scarbough towns unique landscape for the first 8m or so, before the more familiar countryside off-road in hills, fields and woodland.

Order of the day, be sensible, with a much trickier long run in prospect on Sunday. The route drops you down to the north bay, upto and over the castle headland, down to the south bay and along the beach, then a hands-on-knees scramble up Olvers Mount for the best view in town. Following runners who were obviously more familiar with the course I noticed we'd cut some distance out as we descended and then headed through town to the next climb. From here you ventureout into the countryside through Woodlands to Forge Valley and then the furthest point inland on-route, Broxa. From about this stage I tired a bit and I even had to walk part of the last mile which follows the old railway line route-path back to Scalby from Burniston. I'm not too surprised about the ending as my finishing time of 4:17 for 24 off-road miles isn't that sensible for me.

This quick round did mean that Mark and I had plenty of chance to appreciate the food offering and get a quick change before heading off to stop two, Ambleside. Here we were attending a navigation workshop and talk by a guest speaker, which was included with the price of Sundays organised recce from Coniston to Buttermere - the first 26m, or quarter distance if you will, of the Lakeland 100. We were off by 13:45 which gave us over 3 hours for the journey. We even opted for the more direct route via Wensleydale
. A66 may be quicker on busier days, but about 20m longer and we didn't anticpate getting stuck behind slow-moving caravans in January.

What we hadn't anticipated was the weather. Whilst Scarborough was pretty dry, the West and it seems the area of and around Wensleydale had suffered serious deluge. Vast swathes of the Ure had broken bank and flooded out along the wide bottom of Wensleydale. After being cut off on the main road as it hugged the valley bottom before Hawes, Mark navigated me around via Askrigg back to this road further along. But then as we rounded a corner we witnessed a further flood where water was penned into the road by a bank on the left and drystone wall on the right. An RAC van was onsite trying to restart somebodies damp car. So we were turned back again despite being a good 50ft above the valley floor. Taking another higher road we eventually ran into trouble again near Hawes.

We'd now abandoned hope of making the workshop and just wanted to get to Ambleside for some food and our overnight stop in Buttermere. Our last chance was to take the road over into Swaledale and enter the Lakes via Kirkby Stephen. This presented a new element of challenge. As the road climbed higher and higher, we were all of a sudden shoruded in hill-fog as well as still being pumelled by rain. Then followed a precarious, twisty and bumpy b-road alongside a deep gorge-like valley - made all the more fun by constant standing water and mini-flood sections. even if you don't fly off the road into a ditch or gorge around here, you get a bumpy and sometimes scary ride. Especially as you drive over a hillcrest in darkness, foot tentative on the brake as you don't know where the road goes in the next 30 yards - this seemed to happen every few hundred yards. We finally trailed into Ambleside at around 18:30 - a 4hr45 journey and an extra 40miles added to the desired route (most of these at low speed).

Demolishing a hot curry, rice and naan at the Tandoori restaraunt perked me up nicely for the next leg of the journey - Ambleside out to the wilds of Buttermere. Another eventful journey when we cam across a string of parked cars and what looked like a deeply flooded road. Mark inspected, getting soggy feet in the process, deciding it wasn't too deep and we then decided to go for it. Turns out these were cars belonging to locals who park and walk on from here when they suspect roads will flood and they will be stuck! It floods so regularly that they have flood depth markers on the side of the road.

Eventually we reached the Buttermere YH and it was a little piece of heaven after this long day out. Comfy accomodation and once we settled in we decided to explore the bar facility :¬) Excellent bottle conditioned beer from the Hesket Newmarket Brewery - the Haystacks ale was particularly good. I slept soundly through to the alarm.

After a quick pack-up and sort of my backpack it was down for breakfast. Really good, the fried option being tasty and non greasy. With a long day in prospect I proceeded this with cereal and also chomped down toast and a croissant. The winds and rain had died down in the last few hours and as we walked out to the bus the only challenge that seemed apparant was fairly low cloud. The bus then took a veeerrrrryyy long time to get us to Coniston, what with the two quickest routes from here being over passes not suitable for such a long-vehicle. I suspect the route more than doubled our 26m more direct path - going via Bassenthwaite Lake in the north-west lakes!

I think Mark and I were both a bit creaky out the blocks from Coniston, no bad thing as I'm sure some of the first-timers who moved off faster would probably regret this later in the day. Just as we approached the path going up to the foot of and around the 'Old Man' the rain came down and Mark acted quickly in digging out the waterproof jacket. I hesitated briefly and followed suit with the smock. Good choice as it turned out. As we rounded the corner and turned west up towards Walna Scar Pass we seemed to face increasing wind and rain the higher we got. Even despite the warmish day the wet and wind had started to chill my hands and exposed bits of face - the ronhill Tracksters were feeling pretty wet through too. As we approached the top at over 2000ft many around us would be getting their first taste of the weather aspect of this massive challenge and may have been having second thoughts!

I beat a good pace on the descent down towards Seathwaite, wanting to warm-up and get to less exposed ground. About this time it was like a switch was flicked, the rain stopped and we didn't experiance such strong wind for the rest of the day. Time now for an enjoyable long day out. Thoughts now turned to navigation as we headed on towards Boot via some very wet underfoot via forests and the odd bit of lower farmland.

My navigational over-confidence was exposed towards, what would be on the day, CP2. Not reading the roadbook or looking at the map, Mark and I led a group of first-timers to the Eskdale church as per the route. However, we were looking at it and Terry's 4x4/check/food point from accross the swollen Esk. Crossing here would not be an option today and we had to head back up the river to cross at the bridge. Ironically we didn't get this wrong on first visit on event day in 2010.

After an overdue and more substantial foodstop - there was no food at CP1 on this recce day - we headed through delightful Boot and onto Eskdale Moor. Here Mark realised he'd broke a shoelace and had to effect a repair before his shoe was sucked off in mud or marshy ground - lesson for the day, bring spare laces. This is a bit of a gimme section after a trudge to the plateau, its all muddy, grassy track running in a northely direction to pass Burnmoor Tarn and eventually descend into, imposing, Wasdale.

It was pleasent to reach Wasdale in light, unlike on the day last year. This made the hour long ascent to Black Sail pass quite a pleasent experiance. Being steep in places there isn't much running here, but after topping out we were able to descend at deecent pace the rocky trail alongside Sail Beck. We also had a level of navigational confidence we hadn't had here in 2010.

Light was fading as we ascended again at Scarth Gap, but we got to the rocky and technical descent angling across the face of Buttermere fell and was again able to descend with confidence (except on the slippier bits). This wasn't a bit I was looking forward to following my first pass in 2010, but it seemed much quicker and easier this time around. We did have to don headtorches as we crept towards the lake, just so we could fid the path diversion around some erosion. Followoing this it was just a skip along a good quality path through the wooded area south of the lake and a path to and through the town to the end. A good 26m in about the same time as we had done on the day in 2010, 7hrs30'ish.

It was nearly 6 as we munched on some of the recce organisers final CP food supply, so it was straight to the car, a quick change and home. Learning our lessons from Saturday we took the shorter (if scarier) Newlands pass road to Keswick and then bombed eastbound along the A66, to reach the A66 very quickly.

Back at Marks gaff we enjoyed pizza, good bottled beer and chips. A great end to the weekend. This even made the 5:30am Monday rise to drive the remaining 70m home more bearable than I expected - arriving at my desk at 8am. I love weekends like this.