Monday, 3 June 2019

DBR - CoMo and Marginal Losses

Dragon's Back Race 

The Dragon's Back Race starts inside Conwy Castle, and participants 'run' along the castle walls before heading up onto the Snowdonia mountains.  The Welsh Male Voice choir added to the atmosphere, and prior to the start I drifted to the back, feeling unattached and struggled to get involved. Big crowds and ceremony aren't my style, and I just wanted to get started.

I didn't enjoy the morning of Day One.  It's a long steady drag up onto the Carnedd massif, although higher up, the cloud and clag, and running a section with my friend Mel lifted my spirits. I started to pass many people on the descent to Ogwen, and went quickly through the CP without access to my drop-bag.  The rocky ground of the Glyders suits me but, I was struggling for 'CoMo'  ...Commitment and Momentum a mantra I use when Mountain Biking over technical ground and in many ways very lacking this week.

Something needed to change so I stopped for a cup of Earl Grey at the Pen-y-Pass YHA checkpoint. I enjoyed it so much, I had a second one ( well why not?) and then set off afresh for the scrambling climb of Crib Goch.

'Ok, let's see if I can pass ten people on the long descent off Snowdon.' All went well and I enjoyed the company of 'Basil' on the climb up Lliwedd. I descended well, relaxed and easy and finished Day One comfortably.  Good food and sleep was my priority, that and to avoid the early start queues.
I had a good stretch and massage on my old school 9mm 'Karrimat' and then went to lay out my Thermarest.  'Where is it, Oh no...left in the car.  No worries, let's get some more dinner....'

A good hour spent eating and chatting then off to bed.  I pull out my Down quilt, ready to settle down, massage my feet, and let them breath,  only to discover I've packed my Rab Top Bag, rather than the quilt.  Little thing's but each very annoying - let's call them Marginal Losses, and added to the forgotten trekking poles.

I did sleep well, which was a bonus and decided on a relatively late start.

CoMo and Marginal Losses

Day Two had begun with what only can be described as a comedy of numpty errors, failing the kit check mis-packing my map, breaking safety pins, and even once started being called back by tent mate Oli as he found my phone stashed in our tent.   The compensation of a later start is a peaceful warm up over the Moelwyns and I found finally found my Dragon's Back rhythm ascending out of Maentrwog, enjoying the next few miles with Peter, a first timer who had previously volunteered in the Ourea events team.

Pushing on comfortably towards the mid-day Checkpoint, I was starting to pass those who were suffering and who would be tight up against the CP cut-off time. I was moving well, feeling much better and actually running racing lines towards Cwm Bychan.    By cutting corners off the snaking 'DBR trod', I was passing small groups of suffering Dragonettes, (sadly including Sarah Fuller, who'd 'had an horrendous morning if weapons grade suffering' )

With twenty five minutes to cut-off I was moving well - walking and running on firmer ground and bed rock. I was really starting to enjoy myself but conscious I need to bear left and drop into the valley.  Glancing left I'd lost sight of the DBR snaking peleton and a quick glance at the compass confirmed I need to keep going left.

'No Worries, time is Ok' I thought and continued, inspired by the terrain and with adrenaline rising.  Then things got worse; more rough ground, thick heather, vicious gorse and big boulders and all on slope gentle facing the wrong aspect.  I stopped on a large boulder. Map out, reading glasses out, compass...accurately locate myself.   Oh shit, I'm actually nearly 1km right of the penultimate CP, at the right height, but that ground looks hard!  I gave it another five minutes of effort, on equally slow and ground and jumped up onto another large flat boulder... looking back I'd only covered about 300 metres.

'Game Over' I said out loud.  Only a miracle would have me making the cut-off and I just didn't have the fight for that.  A slight sense of numbness and shock quickly subsided as I navigated and ran well, heading intentionally rightwards to the road and enjoying being back in control.

Cwm Bychan is a tranquil place, accessible only by a narrow gated road. I use to come here quite often as a teenage as it's the road end access point to the Rhinogs if you come by the West coast train.  Llyn Cwm Bychan is beautiful, still and peaceful and I thought about taking a swim, but thought anyone who might be watching my tracker might get a bit worried, or laugh maybe?

I walked the 1km up the road to the CP.  I wondered how I was, what did I feel, not doubt I would be asked a few times today, possibly with a camera in front of me. I simply felt Calm and Content.

So, they you have it folks .....Dragon's Back No.5 was not to be.  I messed up, perhaps under prepared and certainly not on form.

Time to Go Home

With a brew in hand, thanks to Captain Cowie, I heard that Mel had made it through the cut-off and was in good spirits.  Then Sarah arrived missing the cut-off.  We both had tried, there were tears of sadness, effort  and relief.

Then another runner was seen coming back down from the Rhinogs. This was Mel, she was Ok, but was sore, and felt that she'd be slow over the second half of the route, be late and more importantly chasing darkness and didn't want to be a liability to herself or others.  A brave decision. Well Done, Mel.

After the unexpected, but strangely enjoyable bus drive round the Camp Two, (thank you Emily)  I had a quiet evening in camp, keeping out of the way and doing my best to support my tent mates, all of which were going well.  No half days for me; I was going home in the morning.  Lying in your tent in racing gear, no longer in 'the game' you are aware of the smell, stickiness and ache of your body and stupidity of my sleeping bag and mat combo mistakes were annoying.   I also didn't have any proper trousers.

Beautiful Blaenau 

So, an early bus to Blaenau Ffestiniog, a couple of hours in the community cafe, excellent customer service,  including a free coffee and finding me a charging lead, then banter and breakfast. Another scenic bus trip over to Conwy and I was home for 4pm.  The dirty washing was in the machine and DBR washed away by 6pm.

There was lots to do at home.  My 'CBA*' attitude at the start of the race was a bit worrying, but I had things to do. DBR was just Week One of a three week road trip: including a trip to my sisters house in Pembrokeshire and then onto Somerset for work with James Thurlow and Open Adventure.

Washed Up?

*CBA - (Can't Be Arsed) I felt somewhat unmotivated and lacking in passion for this year's race.  I was under no illusions as to how tough it is.  2012 was toughest - 2017 tough due to the very hot weather and super dry mountains.  During this year's race the weather forecast steadily improved and I had no desire to repeat the fight to get through the heat of 2017.  

Unbeknown to many I did arrive back in Dragon's Back Camp Four on Thursday evening.  This was to help Sandra and the catering team and indulge in my secret guilty pleasure of washing big pots behind the scenes.  Even on Day One, I was concerned that I was applying my talents and skills in the right places, and knew my efforts were better served up behind the scenes.  I contacted Shane and asked for special permission to return to work with the stunning volunteer team.

There is no doubt I was under par in terms of mental and emotional preparation. My packing and admin showed up some errors and I was maybe complacent.  For example, I realised I'd forgotten my poles and I drive down the M6. I would have used them from Day Two onwards, but thought, 'Oh Well, perhaps they are cheat sticks ...and I'll just have to manage without'.   Maybe I should have made more of an effort to replace them, maybe I wanted the additional challenge. 

Equally so, you can't pull off such big adventures without great commitment and drive. It was simply lacking .... I could only see a sweaty, sunburning sufferfest ahead, and very little enjoyable challenge.

#DragonsBackRace # catering

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

DBR - Sixty days

DBR - Sixty Days

So ...I've decided to do the Dragon's Back Race again.

The past two weekends has seen me out on, and around the mountain of Snowdonia  as well as attend Huw Jack Brassington's excellent 'Fell Running Legends' evening.  I've four days out with Dragonettes, mainly in some challenging weather.  A week in Exmoor where I clocked up 4000m' of ascent on Exmoor, with the highest point being 520metres.  But today was different; third time lucky and we did a super stealth raid on Crib Goch and the Snowdon Horseshoe.

I've spent the winter months trying to find a reason NOT to do the Dragon's Back.  Nope....sorry, still can't.  It's suits me. It's my Welsh Spring week's holiday....I hope it's not too hot, again!


Sunday, 9 September 2018

Joe's Joss Naylor Challenge

Chasing the 12 hour time of a fifty year old was never going to happen; too fast for me?
But come last summer, I told Hilary Barber that I was thinking of a 15 hour Joss. Hilary, and then Ros  Blackmore, said they wanted to do it, as well.  So they're to blame ... although neither looks old enough.

An infected tick bite and two months of feeling bad put paid to last years attempt, so now it was time to stop procrastinating and get it done. Weekends are busy work time for me, and a mid-week date would give quieter fells and I wanted to keep the run small and informal. I simply told Ros and Hilary they either had to do it with me or pace, so that was sorted.   I'd been busy 'working' in Scotland and the Hebrides, with some slow days in very heavy terrain and wasn't feeling confident at all.  With the summer months passing quickly and a 'iffy' forecast, all the last minute arrangements were made sat on the ferry coming back from Benbecula two days before.

A quick post on facebook for a few willing pacers and all was set.  Berni Gilmartin would lead me off from Pooley, Ros volunteered Neil Bowmer for Leg two, Kirkstone to Dummail and Scott Newburn kindly filled the gap to Styhead where the wimpy Ros and Hilary had been bullied to do the glory leg.

0530 Start

The rumours that Matt Neale and Jim Mann would come for a pre work, and post UTMB recovery jog respectively were true, so four of us set off  'when ready' in calm weather. It's just a shame I hadn't sussed the way out of the fields in the dark.

I was lucky with the weather all day; light NW winds, dry, dry-ish underfoot and good banter. Easy pace to Kirkstone, Berni providing positive time checks and puffing a bit carrying all the gear.  Good Lad, Berni.

First time 'selfie; on the fells.  Leg One...quick let's drop Jimm

I'd taken the 15 hour schedule off the JNC page, added a few minutes to the early leg and hoped to be on schedule by the later stages and gain a little if I could.

Ros had a brew waiting at Kirkstone and Neil loaded himself up with the gear and food. He
was  most upset when I only ate one piece of malt loaf, but Leg Two  is all ups and downs so no flat cruisy ground to eat on.  I can't eat going uphill anymore - too busy breathing!

Dunmail came really easily.  I'd decided that I need to relax and run well on the downs, although it seems any ascent beginning with the letter 's' is a steep sod.

Boss Lady Charmian Heaton was waiting at Dunmail, along with her partner Steve Wathall who'd come along for the remainder.  Scott Newburn was official pacer as far as Bowfell, but we picked up Young Phil Wilkinson on High Raise who'd lead us to Styhead and the dream team of Ros and Hilary.

Dunmail social
Scott peeled off at Stake Pass to run back via the Langdale Pikes and we three, me, The Old Master Steve and the Youngster (Phil is only 30 ....I did a BG before he was born) found Rossett via three slightly different routes, then climbed Bowfell well by the latest 'fastest line'  (Yeah, right!)

Bowfell is a milestone and turning point just as it is on a Bob Graham; you've gained the higher Central fells and head North over Esk Pike and Great End, then Styhead and Gable.  A few spots of rain led to nothing and the forecasted showers never really materialised or at least went around us.

I hadn't specifically reccied any of the lines despite being Lakes based but was confident that we wouldn't get lost.  Phil The Younger was leading OK ( he'll learn ...) and we took the direct line North off Great End, if only because it's what Joss would have wanted.

Styhead - Five Stars on Trip Adviser

Naturally, Ros, Hilary and Neil were ready at Styhead Box with a fine selection of food and replete we four started a very social plod up Gable.

Ninja Mountain Suit - Hilary and Neil's Buffet Box
It's just a month or so since I did this last in the Borrowdale fell race and this time it seemed easy.  We topped out surprisingly quickly and I was by now gaining time on each summit and around 30 minutes up on 14:40 schedule.

One of Hilary's excellent photos

Never taken selfies on a run before.  Reputation ruined!!

The showers held off, and were blessed with good views over Pillar, Scoat and Steeple.  Haycock was a delight and Steve found such a good line off even he was surprised!

Climbing Kirkfell, Gable behind

It really was a stunning evening - Hilary the photographer
The last 'S', Seatallan had me puffing and allowed Ros to finally break out the much offered  sweeties. Looking at my watch properly for the first time,  I thought it would be rude not to push for sub 14 hours with a nice run over to Middlefell and a surprisingly easy descent.

An 'S' summit - Seatallan steepens up to the top.

It really is a great descent - you can see Wastwater as you leave Middlefell summit but then the finish kindly comes nearer as you descend towards Greendale, first seeing your supporters cars, then the bridge itself.  It must have been agony for Mandy Goth chasing her 14 hour deadline, but I was lucky with time in hand.

Steve, Hilary, Joss, Joe, Neil, Ros and Phil

My friend Richard had walked out just to make sure we turned right down the beck and didn't get lost then suddenly it's over, I'm at The Bridge with Neil, Phil, Charmian, Carol, Linz and of course Joss.

My friends, Richard and Carol, are near neighbours of Joss and had booked a table at The Strand it was off the the pub for the remainder of a simply brilliant day.  Thank You, everyone, for your help during the day and for our kind donations to 'Fix-the-Fells' via JustGiving

Simply Brilliant.

Joe Faulkner’s JNC Schedule / Time Sheet :  Thurs 6/9/2018

Berni Gilmartin
Matt Neale
Jim Mann
Arthur’s Pike
Loadpot Hill
Wether Hill
Red Crag
Raven Howe
High Raise
Kidsty Pike
Rampsgill Head
High Street
Thornthwaite Beacon
Stony Cove Pike
Pike How
Kirkstone Arr
Red Screes
Neil Bowman
Hart Crag
Seat Sandal
Steel Fell
Scott Newburn
Steve Wathall
High Raise
Rossett Pike
Steve Wathall
Phil Wilkinson
Esk Pike
Great End
Great Gable
Ros Blackmore
Hillary Barber
Steve Wathall
Scoat Fell
Middle Fell
Greendale Bridge


Red Screes and Dunmail road support by Ros Blackmore
Schedule adapted from JNC pdf, with a minute or two added early on based on guesswork.
No time scheduled for breaks at Kirkstone or Dunmail, but  a few minutes taken stand about.


Tuesday, 31 July 2018

NAV4 Mountain Running Skills

Much is being written about GPS use in mountain running right now, with the inevitable debate and discussion on all sides.  The photo was taken just this weekend by our good friend and ace photographer Stephen Wilson (Grand Day Out) during the Kentmere Fell race.

The good thing about it is that the runners have at least stopped and are attempting to navigate.  The bad thing?   Well, it's not exactly epic visibility and why aren't they doing it on the move?

Risk, Responsibility and Adventure

The photo also throws up personal memories for me, as it was this race, in 1994 (then ran in April) that Judith Taylor died of hypothermia having got disorientated in proper poor conditions. I ran in that  that race, got a little 'misplaced' myself and suitably scared, then eventually made my escape to safety.

It wasn't a DNF, but an SMJ. and it changed my perspective greatly,  Richard Askwith's 'Feet in The Clouds' devotes a chapter to it, 'Risk and Responsibilty'  Go and read or re-read it, and think on.

So, Why Learn to Navigate? 

Well, it enhances your overall performance, gets you to the finish quicker, makes you safer, allows you to do more remote and challenging races.  It never ceases to amaze me how much time, energy and money some folk put into the sport and then ignore one of the key basic skills.   We are happy to spend on Personal coaching, flashy shoes, expensive equipment and a small fortune on gym membership and sports nutrition, but 'Navigation Skills'what, me ....I'm hopeless, Me!'

Well trust me, it's #notrocketscience #contoursarecrucial and a little bit of 'DDTT' will help!

And ... ultimately, good navigation skills will save you money and maybe your life.  Ok, let's not dwell on the dark side, but 'navigation races'  ie, fell races tend to be a lot cheaper than marked course races, where a team of people have spent hours, maybe days placing signs and arrows to guide you on your way.  It's pure economics, never mind the ethical debate about littering the fells or countryside and the obtrusion on others enjoyment.

'NAV4 Mountain Running Skills'

'NAV4 MRS' is a our One Day course; a large dose of Navigation tuition wrapped up in all the basics of running in the mountains; Navigation, clothing, footwear, food and drink (that's nutrition and hydration to some)  It's a very good grounding in all things mountain running and suitable for all speeds and abilities.

The course tends to happen once a month, runs with between one and four clients, and is based most often in The Lakes but occasionally South Shropshire and The Dales. Further details can be found on the NAV4 website, with monthly pop-up courses on facebook. All bookings for 'MRS' are by email direct to me, Joe Faulkner

The next 'MRS' course is on Saturday 25th August, from Glenridding, Ullswater.  The cost is just £65 per person, or £110 per pair.  But, if that's you in the photo above you can have a 'BOGOF; offer and book two places for just £65.  Seriously, if you are in the photo, or know someone who is get them told and claim a place.

NAV4: MRS - OMM Special

In September, our monthly 'NAV4 MRS' course has a distinctive OMM flavour to it, to prepare people for the forthcoming OMM in October.  The day's programme is based on the 'MRS' format but is an extended  day, with added to time to look at Mountain Marathon gear and techniques. The day is based at Askham, near Penrith, so easy access to the M6 and Penrith Station. Naturally, we have a great training area right on the doorstep.

Bookings for NAV4:OMM Mountain Marathon Skills are available online.  Currently there is a discount offer of 20% using code OMM20, for the first ten bookings.

Why NAV4

I believe I was the first to offer a Navigation for Runners course, and indeed our link with the OMM (formerly KIMM) goes back over twenty years, when two very well respected but little known outdoor guru's asked me to present a course as the 'young blood.. and legs.'  Roll on to 2008 and NAV4 Adventure was launched at the infamous OMM 2008, the one washed away in the floods of October that year.  Why 'NAV4'?  Well, I believe navigation skills enhance any adventure, and it could be argued that without it your not really having an adventure.

I personally have a lifelong connection with the fells running and racing, a background in training and education, and a qualified and experienced Mountain Instructor.  Our small and highly experienced tutor team and first and foremost excellent professional tutors, each with vast running and outdoor activity experience. No sponsored heros or legends, here. Read more about us on the website.

Ok, that's it no hard sell.  You either wan to to do it you on won't; it will be the best £65 you spend on your mountain running.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

#SMJ - Risk and Responsibility

It's been a busy Spring season; somewhat disjointed with the varieties of weather including some big dollops of snow.  Through March we had NAV4: Navigation & Mountain Running Skills courses running on three weekends, plus two events The DaffyDo and Lakes Mountain 42. The differences in weather conditions could not have been more pronounced with glorious sunny weather on March 25th followed by 'epic blizzard conditions' ( well not quite, but hey-ho it sounds awesome ) just six days later.  For the first time in 20+ years, I invoked an bad weather or shortened course at one of our major events. 

I also cancelled some 'Winter Skills' days, due to too much snow!  There was no way you'd be learning how to use and ice axe and crampons - a snow plough, snow shovel and maybe and avalanche probe, Yes, but simply driving to The Lakes required an #SMJ - Sound Motoring Judgement.

Our next big event is the Pennine 39 or 24 - I wonder what the weather will do this year after last year's sun and the previous year's chilly wind.  It's a glorious route taking in the most scenic section of the Pennine Way, including the River Tees, High Force, Cauldron's Snout and High Cup Nick, all in the first 20 miles or so.  The second half of the Pennine 39 route climbs steadily onto the Crossfell massif, the highest hills in England outside of the Lakes.  Crossfell is just 60 feet below the magical 3000' line.  Imagine if it was over 3000 feet - Lakes 4x 3000 would become Cumbrian 5 x 3000 footers.  The great thing about P39 and the Crossfell traverse is that it gets high and stays high giving glorious mountain trail running for many miles above the 2500 feet contour.  If the weather is bad, good skills, good gear is called for ....but it will be safe to those with the knowledge.  Plan B will be to choose Pennine 24, which splits at Cauldron's and heads North on the East side of Crossfell on easier and less remote paths and trails.  Pennine 24 is ideal for those wishing and unmarked trail run in wilder terrain, but with relatively easy navigation.  The route follows the Pennine Way and South Tyne Trail for much of it's twenty four miles.   And get the same NAV4 'Soup+' and cake as the P39'ers!

Training, Coaching ... Learning 

This past week, we have delivered some very rewarding training to a highly motivated and competent group of event planners.  Two days were spent in Shropshire discovering 'Navigation, Hill Skills and Event Safety'.  It's worthy of a full blogpost, maybe....but a quick dash home, gear sort and then a  long weekend trip to Arran, working with RAW Adventures to provide Mountain Safety cover for the Ultra Tour of Arran followed, so a few motorway miles and ferry time to reflect and contemplate, 'What is #SMJ?'

Hot weather is 'Bad Weather' too?

Sound Mountain Judgement

There is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing ....( or wrong choice of activity)

Hence a climber goes canoeing when it rains, or a MTB rider sticks to hard packed trails or tarmac when the trails are saturated. And a hill walker or runner changes their route and clothing to suit. 

In terms of Lakes Mountain 42, that meant cutting out the summit of Helvellyn due to really hard frozen old snow and ice, plus a fresh dusting of snow hiding the previously visible green and brown grippy terrain, PLUS  a very high chance of poor visibility on the event.  

Everyone was glad to see John Bamber at CP3 Lakes Mountain 42

One of my own reference points when making decisions is the excellently written up in Chapter 21 (?) in Feet in the Clouds - 'Risk and Responsibility'. Read it, or re-read it.  I vividly remember that day at the Kentmere Fell race.  I found myself climbing well and running strongly behind Helene D and Jon Broxap; John kitted out in full length thermodress legs and a Goretex cycle smock (I think?)  We had a head wind behind us to the summit of High Street then.... Bang! The full force of a fairly horrid wet and windy and sleety weather front made progress tough and communication non-existent.

Suffice to say I ran hard and fast, head down towards Nan Bield Pass, but the pass didn't arrive out of the mist despite me knowing the area very well and I found myself on some steep rocky loose and slow ground somewhere to the South of High Street and totally unrecognisable.  Stressful and scary map and compass relocation ensued and a decision was made to contour leftwards.  Steady work brought me to the marshals huddling in the shelter and Nan Bield. ' Well Done're ninth runner '

I've never been top ten in any fell race.  Shit this is serious. I'm cold, I've been misplaced...and other people are having a worse time than me.  I thanked them, and headed straight down the path to Kentmere and safer ground, rather than up Harter Fell.  Time to GTF out of here.  I rain hard and fast in effort to keep warm, on the three miles to the finish, checked in and assured the team that I was Ok, then continued on to run to my car and another couple of miles away.  The sense of doom was impending.  Unfortunately the weather claimed a life.

Judith Taylor was a friend of a friend and a regular on the fell race scene;  strong experienced and well equipped.  No Blame, just powerful learning for us all.

I spend a lot of my time managing events.  Kit-checks to me are nearly as disgruntling as plastic lids on take away coffee cups. If you need a plastic lid - don't go in the mountains?   

Technical Skills x Experience = Competency

NAV4 Training

Really, these should call these 'learning days' as that is what happens! The NAV4 ethos is give you the skills to go further and learn and improve your all round performance   The vast majority of us learn by doing, not by reading or watching.

Through all our training and facilitation, be it one day, weekend or One-One bespoke days, the re-occurring themes are 'Confidence, Compasses, Contours ...and Confidence'  There are three key 'C's  or five if you include cake and complacency. 
Our mantra: 'contoursarecrucial' and #itsnotrocketscience and I've become fascinated at breaking down the navigation mystic to one and all.   

Basic Navigation for Runners - Parts One & Two

I've just scheduled some new dates for our Summer evening courses, in June and July.  Each course consists of a Monday and Thursday evening based local to Keswick and near the M6.

June - Monday 11th & Thursday 14th - 6;30pm - 8:30pm 
July - Monday 9th & Thursday 12th - 6:30pm - 8:30pm

These courses first ran last year and due to the many requests from runners who 'just can't navigate' . The aim is make the sessions as accessible and affordable as possible, and to give you the opportunity to kick-start your navigational abilities as an off-road runner.  It is also very suitable for those fell runners who might sheepishly follow the pack, in constant fear of getting lost. This course may even save your life will definitely save some  embarrassing 'DNF's or dodgy route choices.

The NAV4 Adventure website gives a fill flavour of what we can offer, including our one day 'NAV4: Mountain Running Skills' day, which is generally monthly. There is also our iconic 'Mountain Running Essentials' weekend course which happens Spring and Autumn but bespoke One-One custom days are increasingly popular with individuals, couples, pairs and small groups, especially mid-week. 

Please take a look and keep an eye on social media, too - @navadventure and NAV4 Adventure on facebook.  Email - or the old jellybone 07749364248 works too!