Monday, 30 December 2013

Tour de Helvellyn

Well Christmas has been and gone, and TdeH seems a very long time ago, buried under the usual holiday festivities, but here at 'NAV4 Towers' I'm still fettling some stuff from the event and plotting and planning for next year....and been trying to write this.

Team Effort
Firstly, a very big thank you to you all; runners and staff.  It was a tremendous day not least for coping with some pretty grim weather and flooded paths.  An additional and very BIG THANKS to Keith and Pauline Richards, my good friends from Shropshire (Mercia Fell Runners) who were the mainstay of the Registration / Results and Cakes / All Things Kitchen departments respectively.   These two remarkable people do actually cover the work of a small team of people each.
Track from/to Side Farm - Patterdale CP2 and 7
There was also about a dozen other people out on the course or helping out at varous times, too many to mention at this stage ... but you will have all appreciated the massive contribution that Stuart Smith makes, not least up at Swart Beck (CP3).

(photo of Stu)

One other super hero to mention at this stage is Clare Holdcroft who pulled out early (wise move!) retreated to base under her own steam, and then spent much of the afternoon washing up.

Busy registration - Jill with young helpers

Linz, Keith and Pauline sweeping and mopping the hall...on Sunday Morning. (Yep, Day 4 as an organiser)

TdeH is programmed to be gnarly ... and it certainly was.   There are some great photos out there, and video footage of the flooded track to Side Farm. Trust me, it looked even worse at 0130 hrs on Saturday morning, but I knew our competent runners would manage the situation OK. We don't claim to be the toughest, nor do we promote our events widely, but believe word of mouth and our reputation are important factors. 

CP3 Swart Beck, Jim helping Stu's photography
CP3 Swart Beck - Moving well
CP3 - Bleak Moonscape

There was some impressive times being recorded at the sharp end and a very competitive 'race' evolved (results at the Sportident website of course) but from an operational point of view our energeries most go into make sure everyone is safe and looking after all runners.   So, well done to Ed and Tracey for their respective wins, and record in Ed's case, but equally so to everyone for completing the route. Or for using 'SMJ' (Sound Mountain Judgement) 'calling it a day', and short routing themselves or opting out rather than putting themselves and our team at risk.

Tougher than the Lakeland 50
We have a high success rate; even though it's 'tougher than the Lakeland 50' ...or ...'this is tougher than any ultra I've done'. Our high success rate is due to the high calibre of entrants who exhibit good self reliance skills. We don't nanny entrants and it is great to hear such compliments such as this.
'The best post race food EVER' - Pauline's cake display
Indeed, feedback suggests that the self-reliance element is what makes our events special. Or is it the Soup and Cake?

Our TdeH Soup is legendary - at all NAV4 Adventure events

Mistakes runners make? Don't play the 'Klitlistits game - trying to under cut the Kit List rules, and losing sight of what really matters, is a mistake at any time of year. The main objective is event completion, not a 'DNF' due to being cold, or creating an unsafe situation.
'You Were Right About Those Overtrousers' 

The vast majority of our entrants respect the nature of the event, terrain and conditions, and have no problem passing through our kit check.  Our kit check is real and good humoured, but we take it seriously.  All our checking team are very experienced runners and mountain leaders.  I've drawn up our Kit List after a great deal of thought based on my own experience of 35 years of events as a runner, kit checker and organiser.  I take the perspective of a runner and walker and that of a responsible organiser, without being 'jobs worthy' or OTT with the requirements.  The quote above was one of the most pleasing compliments I had all day!

Our NAV4 Adventure kit list does not change in the run-up to the event. It has always featured a Survival Bag as a requirement as a emergency blanket does not work on a windy rainy hillside. Please take a look at the fine selection from Needlesports, consider their views and buy yourself one now.   Other retailers are available of course...!  

Of course, the vast majority of runners (95% are well equipped) but it does get a bit galling when the fourth or five person tells me that there Pertex overtrousers are waterproof!  Don't get me wrong:  Pertex is a wonderful fabric, I spend most of my days, working outdoors in a pertex based jacket, and add a waterproof jacket only when I need too. In the right conditions pertex overtrousers are blissful; but there are not waterproof!

Equally, we had a few map 'offences' with regards to maps.   An electronic device is not a map - Simple. Secondly, a normal OS Outdoor Leisure Sheet is not waterproof, (prestine and fresh from the shop completely without any form of protection). So to stand on the start line, having declared yourself as a competent navigator with either of these items smacks of inexperience, lack of preparation or maybe down right rudeness.

Despite our excellent kit check and having a well equipped bunch of runners, we did treat a small number of people for mild hypothermia at the finish.  Hypothermia is the condition of having a low body temperature, induces by cold and wet conditions.  I'll be posting a further article on Hypothermia soon. .

It's not uncommon at many races to see a few people shivering with cold after they've finished. Usually, it's a case of just getting changed into warm dry clothes; hence it's the down jacket and woolly hat time sat with your mates in the pub.   At TdeH we witnessed several people finish the event and appear Ok, but then start to suffer as they didn't take immediate action to look after themselves. The mistake is to sit there and chill off, allowing the body and mind to switch off. After all, you've been working hard to keep warm for an hour or two (at least) and so now your in the nice warm hall you'll be Ok! Wrong - sitting it damp clothes is the worst you can do... I'd suggest that if you don't start warming up normally then you've probably been out too long, in too little clothes, and eaten too little.  No worries; it happens, is scary for you and your mates, but you'll learn from it.

First Aid Kit
Ok, Small rant nearly over, and whilst were are currently reviewing the event, we are considering whether there should be a First Aid kit on the list. So, if you have some constructive comments regarding this please let me know by email, or take a look at the NAV4 Adventure facebook page and post a comment.  First aid kits are a very personal thing, and you don't 'need' one ....until you need one. A bit like waterproof overtrousers!

Green is Good ...
NAV4 Adventure take a very green and ethical approach to all aspects of TdeH, from our 'No Plastic Cups at CPs' through through to the compostable soup bowls at the end. 

Photo: Brew and Go ... TdeH was a bit wet underfoot in parts!
Tea on The Go ... Bring a mug, drink on the move; good skills!
Even our choice of start / finish at Askham is a conscious choice to keep parked cars out of the central Lakes, and to boost the economy of the peripheral villages rather than the honeypots of Ambleside or Patterdale. 

A second car load of equipment going home.
In the great clear-up during Sunday morning I spent a wee while sorting out some rubbish bags, hence reducing landfill and increasing the amount of recyclables.

Have a think about this below?  You bring it all the way from a (urban) Tescos, then carry it around much of the course. So please drink it, or at least drain it away, then squash it, so I can recycle it appropriately?

Happy People
TdeH is a happy event, we keep it small, compact and friendly.  We like to keep it as a mountain runners event and shy away from much of the gloss of many ultras or trail races. Indeed, I don't like to use either of those words as certainly it isn't a 'trail run'. Well, not at that time of year!   Stuart also took a ruck of photos while up at Swart Beck CP3 so we'll have a sort through those before we post them on facebook.

Our Next Big Event - Lakes Mountain 42 - Sat 5th April 2014
Just a quick reminder that our next event in 2014 is the quietly spoken 'Lakes Mountain 42'.  This will be the second year of LM42, and runners enjoyed remarkable Spring conditions last year of stunning blue skies and snow capped fells.  This year the entry limit is just 100 runners with a discount available during January.  LM42 does require a light bit more navigational ability than TdeH, but only a bit, so one of our courses may be all you need to give you the confidence to enter.

The LM42 route is based from Askham, but climbs up the High Street ridge via Load Pot Hill to High Street itself, before descending to Patterdale. A run up Grisedale and around to Wythburn Church 'for lunch' ... (as someone remarked last year) preceeds a beauty of a climb up to Helvellyn summit.  Now,  the descent of Helvellyn is liable to change as we won't be using Swirrals Edge of the cornices are as big as last year, but whichever way you may go, 'afternoon tea and tiffin' will be served back in Patterdale, followed by the climb of Place Fell and a return via Martindale Church.  Tested and measured at 42 imperial Lake District miles, it is 'Do-able in the Day', and certainly for last orders, if not 'Dawn to Dusk'.   Entries are open now, with a limit of just 100 runners, so don't miss out.  Incidently, we'd previously run a 'Dawn to Dusk 100km' in late June 2012 but decided that the course wasn't as we'd like it so we re-vamped the route and date and LM42 was born instead!

NAV4 Adventure - Navigation and Hillskills Courses
We run a number of different navigation and 'hillskills' based courses, and offer One-One or small group tuition and coaching.  Full details of these are on the NAV4 Adventure website.  The most frequent is our One-Day 'Mountain Running Skills' course covering all you need to know to venture off the easier trails and into wilder terrain.  Our 'Mountain Running Essentials' is the original mountain marathon course, developed and refined over the past fifteen years.  It's a vitally important course for mountain marathon and Expedition Adventure Racers.   There is currently a 20% discount if you book a pair of places on 'MRS', and early discount on 'MRE' if you book before 1st Feb.

More soon ...  watch out for our new Swaledale event in September, too.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Spine Race Preparation

I had an interesting time at The Spine Race training weekend, where I presented a short session on 'The Skillset'.  In a mixed programmme including a general intro from Scott as organiser,  and Stu Westfield talking about navigation skills, my session was the general stuff which makes for a successful ultra or expedition race. Two time Spine Race finisher, Gary Morrison, spoke about his gear choices, and there hs been much discussion on t'web about equipment and other race stuff.

Rather than get into specifics my presentation  was about skills rather than gear, although certain techniques cross-over into this.   As the weekend progressed,  and a thread developed on facebook, it has become apparent to many that the skills of an 'expeditioner' are essential for the 'The Race'.

Is this a trail race or an expedition?

Core Skill 1)  - Manage your Physical / Mental / Emotional state

Surely, your objective is to move steadily northwards along the Pennine Way, so that you reach the end? How fast you do this is somewhat irrelevant.  'To Finish First ...First you have to Finish'

We are not machines.  If you just aim to run as fast as you can then good luck to you!  Equally, I'm not going to tell you how to train, or give you any magic stuff about schedules, etc. But, you must pace it right; not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.

If you don't believe in yourself, if you can't picture getting to The End, then you aren't going to do it.  Others may be more qualified than me in talking psychology, but in my long career as an ultra runner and expedition adventure racer, I've learnt that the most important part of my body, and the most powerful, is my head.

Spine Race Day Three - A66 - Note the icy and frozen bottle. Cold, minus -6, with windchill, much much more. What will the weather be like in 2014/ If it's a normal British winter of wet and windy, it will be just as hard.


The first session was presented by Stu Westfield, who talked about Navigation skills.  Naturally navigation is a core skill for anyone entering The Spine, and I can not stress too highly how important it is. In terms of skillset, then good, confident (and relatively) basic skills should see you through most of it.  Navigation isn't rocket science ... but contours are crucial and an understanding of these is paramount to navigation.

I'm not anti-GPS, but I don't know any good trail runners who use one as their primary tool.  They are not as quick, or as accurate as you think. Certainly, in terms of mountain running they are slow and alienate you from your surroundings. Who wants to 'run' 270 miles watching an arrow on a little screen? 

But, they do have their uses; they are a useful back-up tool and a six figure grid reference will put you within a 100m square, subject to an accuracy of around 85%.  Thus, the other features that you deduce from the map and the terrain remain important.

Compasses should not be feared.  I have never fathomed out why so many of us are fearful of them. I guess it's long boring lessons with crumbly geography teachers*, scout leaders or 'DofE' that turned many off and hence they decided 'they just can't do it'.  Magnetic variation seems to be the real culprit, the mystical art of navigation that only the scientist can master. And we seem to be building a generation who can't equate to a map due to Sat-Nav and google mapping systems ...the every day need isn't there anymore.

(* of course, not all geography teachers are crumbly; mine were great.  And my brother is all three of the above and is an excellent tutor)

For much of the time, the trail runner / mountain runner can forget about magnetic variation (which is now only two degrees, rather than the eight it was when I was a kid!) so what's a potential error of 2-4 degree when you've got a map and so much other info to use instead?  So for general route finding, trail following, mile munching (macro) navigation a quick/rough bearing is all you need.  Yes, at times - thick foggy conditions on open fell tops - greater accuracy can be needed. But don't fear the compass....!

If you want to improve your navigation skills, providea range of course, including a specific Spine Race Recce / Training day, on Sunday 15th December.  The day will 'run' from Dufton to Alston, and over the high, wild and remote Crossfell.  Check out the link and get booked asap.  Other days / sessions can be arranged.

Core Skill 3) - 'Run?'  - Pace it, to finish it.

My great team mate, John Allen, alledgedly coined the phrase 'Start Steady ... and Taper-off!!'. The NAV4 Adventure team had developed a reputation for finishing strongly in Exped Adventure Races with this mantraWhat it means in realitity was that if John felt he was going too slowly in the first day of a race (as other people left us behind) then it was the correct pace and we'd overtake many teams during Day Two, Day Three, Day Four ...etc.  This will be so true in January at The Spine Race.

'Run?' - don't be afraid to walk. It's a marathon, not a sprint.... blah, blah.

Early in my long distance racing career, a very experienced marathon runner once told me that you 'should jog the first third, run the second third and race the last third' .  A negative split would be even more impressive.

Core Skill 4) - Sleep Strategy

I've fronted many questions about 'tents v. bivis' ... and there is no straight answer!  The skill of the user is a big factor in this, as does your whereabouts, and the gear you are able to afford.

When to sleep is a big question.  In expedition racing, I'd strongly suggest getting a minimum of three hours sleep between midnight and 5am each night.    Sleep deprevation is a very dangerous issue if not managed correctly.  You will make mistakes, you will probably get lost, and to carry on in some sort of macho, 'I can go for forty hours before I need sleep' is just going to impact later on in your race.

Where to sleep, given the distance splits between CP1 and CP2 is the subject of much debate.  If you are racing The Challenger, then your strategy will be different than those in The Spine Race.  Note the use of the words 'racing' and 'Spine'. .... they are not in the same sentence.

Tent v. Bivi?  It's your choice but a flexible approach might be better.

Finally, in Exped Racing, we try not to sleep in Checkpoints, simply because they are too noisy.  Just an idea...!

Core Skill 4) - Equipment Choice

'Every gram counts!'   

Ok, so what do we mean? The weight of your rucsac is crucial and every gram counts. Weigh everything, look for lighter alternatives, cut out the unneccesary clutter ...but BE SAFE. Do not skimp on survival gear.

Your gear must work for you, it should have many different layers that you can vary dependent upon conditions. I've long been a user of Montane clothing and this Krypton jacket is my standard choice in all conditions. I simply layer it up with different thicknesses of thermal base layers underneath, and then choice which waterproof to wear over it,  if it starts raining. To wear a waterprrof shell when it is not raining is wrong; you will sweat regardless of how expense it is, and, more importantly, you won't adjust your layers once it does rain, but carry on and after lots of rain you inevitably get cold.  Trust me ... I know!

Montane Krypton - soooo adaptable!
'Less is More'

Ok, every gram counts on your back, but it also applies to your Checkpoint kit bag.   Race rules allow a 60 litre / 22kg bag that is transported between each CP.  I'd suggest 30% of this will be food.  Another 30% is probably a second sleeping bag and mat for checkpoint use, add in the essential flip flops or Crocs, and you are looking at not much space!  So your spare gear, your additional clothing choices have to be chosen carefully.  Ok, six pairs of socks are a given.  As are heavy weight thermal running leggings / tights, and a couple of good mid-layers and fullweight 'Mountain Waterproof' for the wild northern sections. I doubt you'll have space for five sets of clothing. Plastic bags for dirty socks, etc. and a sealable 'laundry bag' for items confined to washing machine. 

You really need to sort this out sooner rather than later and make sure you weigh your bag, and can do up the zip easily.  A burst zip will not help you or the event staff.

Core Skill 5) - Food and Drink
Expedition Race Food ... if your counting gels're in the wrong race!
Eat plenty

'I'll eat 'owt, me!'    said team-mate Dave, when questioned about our secret race nutrition plan...!

A varied and balanced diet is key.  There are limitations to what you can carry, and very limited opportunities to buy stuff en-route, so you need to think this all through. Savoury food is very good, and obviously you will get essential proteins and carbohydrates.  You need to be a bit creative, for example frozen pizza slices keep well in CP Duffle Bags and make a great change to the huge range of chewy, flapjack and cereal bars.

Core Skill 6)   - Footwear

When you cover a long distance your feet tend to swell...
When you cover a long distance you might get blisters or sore toes...
Sore toes like roomy shoes.

Footcare is essential, and your CP Duffle Bag needs a few items to enable this

Good foot care is essential - self taping is a core skill.
Footwear choice is a matter of personal preference.  Last year, whilst helping out for five days in the latter stages of The Spine, I noticed that many people had already moved into boots rather than shoes, which they bought along ...'just in case'.  The Inov-8 boot seems to be very well worth considering.

A more substantial 'approach' style shoe or lightweight boot might be better for some people. 

Weather you try the dry feet regime, by using Seal Skin Socks, or someother water-resistant sock is worth experimenting with.  Sweat will remain an issue no matter what water proof status your footwear.

Core Skill 7) - Time Never Stops

Monitor the time at Checkpoints .. have a plan ... and an alarm clock!

Moving steadily and efficiently one trail is a key skill.  Moving swiftly through checkpoints is also something tend to forget, as they end of chatting away and deciding whether change a layer or move some gear around.  Cut the faff: anything you can do on the move, eat, navigate, etc, you should do so.

Triathletes call 'transitions' the fourth discipline, and experienced racers are very effective in checkpoints.  You should have a plan, and stick to it. If footcare is to be done, get your shoes off and your Crocs, on asap, in orde rto dry and air your feet.  Change clothes, witha dry base layer going next to the skin, even if you put the sweaty layers back on top! Eat, pack your gear for the next stage ... then sleep ready to go as soon as you wake up.  Re-packing your sac when you've just woken up and you are dis-orinentated is tough!

Get some sleep - staring into space in a checkpoint acheives nothing. Learn to switch-off mentally (hence gear is ready to go, etc)  and set the alarm for 3-4hours of quality sleep.  Any less than this and it's false ecomomy.

Core Skill 8) - Remain in The Bubble

Buy yourself a simple 'Numpty' Race Phone, and leave your smart phone at home, or sealed in your CP Duffle Bag just for use at The End.   There are various reasons for this, but primarily weight saving prolonging battery life, and ultimately your own life.

Smart phone versus 'Race Phone'

The battery on a simple £10 'Race Phone' will probably last the week if used just for basic texts.  It is also less than half the weight of the typical Smart phone and a lot less vulnerable to damage or loss.

In a worst case scenario, one of quite possibly life-or-death, you will need yourRace phone to have a full charged battery.  If you, or one of your race mates, need Mountain Rescue then having a flat or weak battery will be a major disadvantage to the search procedure.

Your 'Race Phone' should be loaded with credit and the key phone numbers of the race organisation as well as some of your family and friends. However, I suggest you do not import all your contacts and you do not use it for anything but a daily text check, or two contact the race organisers as requested.

The other aspect of not carrying and using your everyday 'Smart' phone is that it enables you stay 'in the bubble'.  Phoning home when your are suffering badly and simply having a 'downer' usually results in a strong emotional draw back home, and probably result in initiating your DNF.  You need to remain focused on 'your' race ... and not that of your nearest and dearest.  It might sound harsh, but your focus will be broken by daily chat and trivia.  Save the Smart phone for the end, or maybe a Checkpoint.

Core Skill 9) - Waste Management
Dispose of litter in the proper place ... and not on the trail.

I shouldn't need to be said but dropping litter anywhere in the outdoors must never happen.  More importantly, if you see any litter, especially if it has come from a competitor in the race, you should pick it up.

Human Waste 

The disposal of human waste is an even more important issue and a growing problem in the outdoor environment.   There are simply more people active outdoors,  and a greater percentage of those do not seem to have been educated, or learnt 'How to Shit in the Woods'  There was an excellent book of this title published many years ago I suggest we all read it.  With 150 + people travelling 270 miles over seven days we must take a responsible approach to this problem.

Breifly, if you need to 'go' on the trail, it is essential to find a location that is well away from a water source, and well away from the trail.  Ask yourself; 'what if someone uncovers this rock?'  'Where does this gateway lead to?'   'Whose land is this?'  And it applies to liquids as well as solids.

All human faeces should be buried, and buried as deep as possible, and you should practise this finding a spot where you can at least kick a hole in the turf with your heel, and recover the matter so that it will not be discovered or cause offence.

'Nuff said ....!
Finally, just apply a little common sense ... have fun out there, and be safe. And close the gates, please.

If you have any questions or comments arising form this blog I'd be pleased to hear them, either by email - or via facebook - NAV4 Adventure.  If you'd like to book a place on the Dufton - Crossfell - Alston Training / Recce Day on Sun 15th Dec, please email me to secure your place.  If I can help in any other way please let me know.

Monday, 21 October 2013

The Humble Plastic Cup

I really like helping as a marshal at various races, as it's great fun, (but often tough long days!) but great to be able to put something back into the as well as help people achieve goals  ... AND HAVE FUN!

We all enjoy getting out to wonderful places, and taking in some great scenery but I'd wish some racers would think more about their use of the humble plastic cup.  No - this isn't a rant about litter - but just a 'Heads Up' to think about how you use plastic cups as you fly by drinks stations, AND more importantly what happens once you've gone.

Ok - it might be acceptable to grab a cup or two, drink some water, throw some on over your head - then drop to on the floor in a road race, but not on the Trail. And certainly not in the mountains.

We really must think more about limiting our use and the proper disposal of them

All of us have a duty to dispose of them efficiently. I suggest Trail Runners need to use just One (or none at all if they are using bottles or a drinks bladder).  And race organsiers have a duty to recycle plastic cups (and other litter where possible)

Helping at events is great fun, and so many runners are very cheery and grateful ... but marshalls are not there to go chasing after your wind borne cups.  One of the thankless and unseen task of any event organiser is clearing away bags and bags of rubbish.  Infact, pre and post-race work is not glamorous and hard work!

Ok, so it's not about the cost of the cup, but clearing away and managing a dozen or so sticky bin bags, full of half sucked Gels, banana skins, someone elses left over sandwiches, discarded socks.. and a lot worse sometimes.  By sorting that rubbish with The Hunble Plastic Cups stacked neatly, plastic bottles crushed, real rubbish separated, the volume is is sort into perhaps 10% of the original mess, and the majority of it can be recycled quickly and very easily. Naturally, there is a cost saving to use all here too!

This was actually a 100km Commonwealth drinks station ... not really typical of what I mean
The bit about sorting generally and stacking cups, crushing cans, etc really does work.  I often come home after my events or others I've worked on, with just one small bag of genuine proper rubbish and two or three bags of ready sorted cans and plastic, which can be taken straight to any recycling centre.  The alternative is a dozen stick big bins that go into landfill, often at an additional expense.

It's a culture thing - Road races litter with cups. A well managed trail race drinks station with limited cups.  Or a fell race with a photo of a stream - You choose!

So - Please just remember this - If you using a cup, use just ONE - then stack with the empties

I can feel a full article / blog on this:  eco friendly trail and mountain running.

No Worries,


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

C2C Adventure Race - 'A Baptism of Fire'

Pete Keron undertook his first Adventure Race, teaming up with the experienced pairing of Jill Eccleston and Sharon McDonald, in the NAV4 Adventure Race Team. Pete is a very experienced elite 'paddler'.. with some interesting observations during his 'Baptism of Fire':

My first experience of adventure racing was a bit of a baptism of fire for someone who has specialised in short (20-40 minute) time trials. Jill asked me if I would be part of the team for the coast to coast race and it sounded like it could be fun, although as the start of the race approached, it seemed less and less so! I was daunted by the combinations of events; the transition between running & cycling is physically hard but the transition from canoeing to running (and vice versa) can be excruciating. It is really easy for legs to go to sleep in the boat and trying to run on sleepy legs is only funny for anyone watching. 

As the event approached the ladies impressed upon me more and more forcefully how it was a short, fast event…. the word ‘Sprint’ was even used. This was amusing to me because anything over 2 minutes is generally regarded at predominantly aerobic, but Jill and Sharon were dead serious and I had to ‘gulp’ hard when I realised the extent of the commitment they were expecting on each of the stages. My trump card (my only trump card) was that I was an experienced paddler and a bit of a rarity in the world of adventure racing. The girls put faith in my ability to paddle fast and make good tactical decisions about boat choice and racing strategy. 

Unfortunately the very first leg was a paddling leg and turned out to be a tactical disaster! We used a marathon racing K2 for the paddling sections and although this is exceptionally fast on flat water, it is extremely unstable. We paddled quite easily away from most of the field off the start line, but as the waves got bigger, I was gripping the paddles harder and harder. The waves got bigger and the narrow bow of the boat was burying with almost every wave. Each crest was coming over our decks and before long we took on water, after which point a capsize was almost inevitable. We managed to save it a few times but in the end we fell in about 2 minutes shy of the finish line and 100m from the shore. I remember thinking that it wasn’t such a bad swim, but I am quite used to swimming and only afterwards did it occur to me how traumatic it must have been for Jill who put her faith entirely in me and had to suffer the unfamiliar feeling of battling against wind and waves just to get to the shore. 

Jill and Sharon set off on the next bike leg and I had time to regroup, empty the boat and get ready for the next paddling leg. The girls rolled quickly into the second transition and we set off up Crummock Water. The waves were straight and small here and although the field had started to string out, we did manage to pass a few crews. Especially on the portage between lakes, where we easily shouldered our 14kg boat and trotted past a couple of teams struggling with heavy boats and tired arms. The run over Robinson, Dale Head and Cat Bells was hard work but incredibly enjoyable, and aside from the constant feeling of impending cramp, the swim across the cool lake was an absolute joy after so much heat and stress. If ever there was a better recipe for cramp than a 2.5 hour fell run followed by a dip into a cold lake then I would like to know - we must have looked like a right bunch, as one after another the competitors seized up, clutching hamstrings or groaning in agony falling victim to the cramp monster. 

Up until this point I had scarcely noticed the support team, but once we had finished their contributions suddenly became really obvious. Graham and Joe had calmly given us absolutely everything we had needed exactly when we had needed it all day and once we finished they were on hand for food, rehydration, results analysis, moral support and advice, not to mention the pitching of tents! The sign of a strong support team must be exactly that - unnoticed during the race and dependable after it. The fact that our transition times were consistently around (or under) three minutes is a testament to their skill, knowledge and organisation. 

Day Two was probably the hardest day for me (or so I thought!) as I had a back to back paddle along thirlmere, run over Helvellyn and then paddle along Ullswater. But it turned out to be by far the most enjoyable, easing along a placid lake, running through the mist over a beautiful hill (and loving the steep and challenging descent down Swirral edge) and then gliding along Ullswater. In fact by the time we got to Ullswater I was starting to feel rather jaded, but Jill was pushing the boat forward and we overtook the whole field (including the overall leaders!) which gave us a great feeling and so we were the first team out of the lake and the girls set off on their bikes to Kirkby Stephen. 

More moral support arrived at Kirkby Stephen as Craig, Edie and Connie came to cheer Jill on and Jules and Bram arrived in style in the caravan to look after me, and how gratefully received was their company after the brutal practicality of tactical advice, nutritional instructions and clock watching of Joe and Graham! First thing on day three was a run over the nine standards where Sharon clearly had ghosts to lay to rest from 2011 when she got lost. The conditions couldn’t have been more challenging with the clag down, indistinct paths and intricate navigation, but Sharon was right on the money as we charged over and down to the transition without so much as a moment’s indecision. 

Day Three was a relatively easy day with only three stages, but the final one was nearly the undoing of me! Jill and I set off on a 28 mile road cycle into Northallerton. With Jill having done the previous cycle leg, it made sense for me to do some towing (being on a road bike and having fresh bike legs) but having never done this before I was unable to anticipate the ‘husky dog’ response that towing seemed to trigger in me! for almost all of the 28 miles I seemed to be grafting and working and flaying myself down to the bone, and by the time day three ended, I was in pieces. 

Day Four proved rather pointedly that the exhaustion was not due to the towing but the accumulated fatigue! Jill had removed the tow because it was actually rather stressful to hang on (travelling at 30mph only 18 inches from my back wheel) but I hadn’t realised it was no longer there and so when it felt like I was towing, but in actual fact I was just a bit weak and struggling up the hills into the wind I had a road to damascus moment where I realised that yesterday the towing effect had been minimal and in actual fact Jill was whipping along just nicely without it! 

Next came a hilly run over Carlton Bank with Sharon and she was on form again, running strongly on both hills and the flat. in anticipation of the long bike leg coming up (and because I was knackered) she even towed me up some of the hills… past several other teams, one of whom commented on the comical scene (the 6ft tall 35 year old man, with his hand on the bum bag of the 40+ year old, 5 ft 6 woman) “...hang on a minute, I thought he was pushing you, but actually you’re dragging him along!”. This moment fairly typified the teams performance and competing with two women and one man competitively against formally sponsored teams with two men and one woman shows the strength and outright performance of Jill and Sharon. 

The penultimate leg of the race was a long bike ride incorporating a fast off road section and then a road section. Jill opted for knobbly tyres on her mountain bike and I rode landcruisers on my cross bike. To my utter amazement, even on the road sections, Jill rode hard and strong all the way and I rarely had to even look up to check she was there! Even on the road sections where the bike was probably 50% heavier than mine and the tyres must have made it feel like treacle, she was still tapping along at 16-18 mph, which considering the preceding three days was a very humbling thought. 

At the end of this leg I felt no fatigue, just incredible satisfaction at an arduous race completed and a great sense of camaraderie with my new teammates and the other competitors I had got to know over the course of the three days. Jill on the other hand had to get out and complete the final leg of a 10 (ahem) km run along the coastal path to Robin Hoods Bay with Sharon. a particularly brutal stage to end with, for anyone who has experienced the unending undulations and been surprised by an unexpectedly hot and sunny day! 

The girls finished after scything through the field and ending the race on a very strong note, and only a minute behind the team in front. Normally this would have been a frustrating gap but on the occasion the enjoyment of the race and the overall performance of the team left me feeling nothing but achievement. 

A great event brilliantly thought through and run. A great team to race with and some fantastic support from Joe, Graham, Craig, Jules and all the children. Thanks to everyone for their support and I hope everyones experience was as positive as mine!

Monday, 9 September 2013

Open Adventure C2C Race report from Jill Eccleston

22/8/13 6pm Upon arrival at the sleepy village of Stainton we found TD (team director) Joe Faulkner all ready for action.   


 After a slight lack of nuts situation,  thanks to our team mathematician getting his calculation wrong, the lads soon fettled the kayak carrier with a bit of extra strapping and we headed off to St Bees.  Conditions upon arrival were amazingly mill pond like and I prayed that they would remain so until kick off next day at 10am 

Our non-standard two girls one boy team set off for the first stage to find the atmosphere at the harbor at Whitehaven the next morning was buzzing as teams did their last minute faffing prior to launch.  Lining up on the grid, Pete's tactic of not getting to near the front and setting off steady soon changed as we realized the starting boys were very close together.  So pretty much at the front of the bunch we were off, hoping not to get hit in the early few metres as the teams headed out of the harbor.  The swell seemed relatively calm and we continued to make great progress soon ending up with a certain male solo trailing in our wake.  ‘I bet your glad its as calm as this in that thing’ he commented, trying to relax my butt cheeks but not daring too look back, apart from sideways at the safety boat that also had a camera man on board, ’Smile’??!! I was trying..

Several more miles around the coast line down towards St Bees and the breakers just kept getting bigger and bigger and I could feel the water slapping on my calves as we fought to keep the boat upright.  I had never thought that I could wish for a first stage of a race to be over as much as this one…Then we could see it, the pink transition flag only 500 metres away, we went wider to try and surf in but the river racing machine had taken too much water in, and was impossible to maneuvere so out we popped to see the male solo take the lead.  Arghhh, spray deck lost, must keep hold of the carbon paddle and swim for it…Pete quickly emptied the boat. Soon at the shore which unfortunately consisted of very big barnacly/sea weed covered rocks that you could not see until so had slipped and lacerated yourself on them.  We trotted into transition with badly bleeding shins and lots of salt water in every orifice.  Quick dib in and over to the bikes to get ready for the next bike stage over to Buttermere.  Sharon spent the first half and hr listening to me waffle on in my state of shock about the whole first stage experience and how I would never again paddle in what looked like a calm sea.. Several miles along the disused railway path I had forgotten I was running on slicks and for the 2nd time that morning another slide off on a gravelly bend, lucky for Sharon following close behind she was riding Graham’s new bike with shit hot brakes so she did not park her bike in my accommodating rear!

A great bridleway down past Loweswater and we were into transition ready for my 3rd and final stage of the day.  A paddle across a fairly choppy Buttermere with a very slick portage just carrying the light weight machine on our shoulders was so nice, getting the exit from the lake right this time and overtaking teams who were faffing with trollies.  Crummock did not take long and the batten was handed over to Sharon and Pete for the final 2 stages of day 1.  Consisiting of quick trot over Robinson and Dale Head down Catbells to Derwent for a 400 swim, then last few k trot into Keswick.  Support crew loaded up the boat and gear whilst I got dry kit on and took some time to clean the barnacle rash just in case…I love sudocrem…

Tents pitched at the FC and trainers dropped at the Lake side we waited in the market place anxiously watching the dots.  Pete had dived into Derwentwater and loved the swim but Sharon had got bad cramp in her calf so she held on to his ankle for assistance, good team work and great result, fifth team at the end of day one

Day 2

Sharon and Jill set off on bikes at 8am a steady climb out of Keswick and then onto the dual carriage way down to Thirlmere.  Rushing the exchange of bikes for paddling gear the girls made their worst ever transition so far as Sharon cycled off back to the van with the tracker and mandatory kit bag, luckily only costing us a minute thanks to Joe remembering in time!  The lake was pretty calm so again we made up time only just giving the support crew chance to round to the other end.  In transition we stuffed various bits of food into Pete’s mouth (he was getting used to us know you could tell) as he took of all his wet gear for his 2nd run of the wknd the team looked lively as they headed off up Helvelyn. Plenty of time for support to get round to Patterdale whilst I prayed again for more calm water on Ulswater hopefully allowing a more relaxed paddle stage, still in shock after the sea stage sorry..  Upon arrival we yet again shoved various gels and items of sustenance into Pete’s cake hole for his final paddle of the wknd and stage of the day.  Great, the river was higher than 2011 so we managed to fly all the way down into the lake overtaking several teams along the way, ‘Sally was that you tipping out of your boat, surely now’?  As the end of the lake came into sight Pete said ‘I’m about done’ and I replied ‘you’re not done until we hit that river bank Mr’, only a 5 more minutes nearly there..

A slick transition assisted by all team and support crew (down to sub 3 mins now!) and the girls were off on the final 28 mile stage to Kirby Stephen, first off road to Askham and then picking off the lovely villages one by one. The sign saying 7 miles to go was a big fat porky pie but we pushed onto the market square to finish a great stage and still holding onto 5th place in our category.  The Eccleston support crew arrived to take over from Joe.  We all enjoyed a fine fish and chip supper on the main street and listened to his calming ‘just keep it simple’ philosophy…and a few cheeky ales…oh and yes a glass of help us sleep obviously

Day 3

The clag was down and parrots perched on the chimney stacks of houses in the market square (a but freaky) we waved off Pete and Sharon as they set off over the Nine Standards.  Graham and I soon arrived at a very chilly Ravenseat, hats and gloves on to watch the teams come in and get Sharon’s kit ready for the next off road bike stage to Castle Bolton.  They had clearly overtaken several teams even after some falls in the bogs, doh!  Transition down to nearer 2 minutes now..It took a while for Sharon’s legs to come round and the gels to kick in so I took great pride in being able to tow my teamie, (as this does not happen very often).  Some great riding and great to see Alex, Kerry and the boys along the way.  Turning off after Crackpot, what a great place name, makes me smile after time I whizz past it.  Here we over took the foreign lads who were very amused when Sharon’s pace picked up on the 1 in 4 climb and then realized why when they saw the size of the very chilled out bull to our right…she was off again and no more towing required thank goodness.  Picking off teams quietly away we arrived in Castle Bolton where again the support team changed wheels/shoes and fed me ready for the final 30m road stage of the day.  Pete’s first time to tow and tow he did as we got our heads down on the straight, flat roads into Catterick.  A sharp right soon after took us onto a bridleway where I was glad for my slicks on the MTB and relieved for Pete that his new wheels would bare up under the pressure. Whizzing through the hamlets we arrived in Northallerton to find sunshine and smiles all round.  Another fantastic stage to end the day.  A lovely meal at Pizza Express with the families and now Pete’s support squad Jules and Bram had caught up with us again which was really nice as my girls went into full on mothering mode…

Day 4 the final push – Pete and I raced out of the town and a quick 10 mile road ride in 41 minutes shaving 6 mins of the 2011 time got us off to a great start.  Quickly dispatched into his running stuff we saw them off and loaded up the van and headed round to Clay Bank. Again they came in front of teams who had gone off before us earlier in the day…others were fading whilst we were just gently injecting the pace knowing only a few hrs of this craziness remained…Edie was in full on transition mode making sure maps, gels, laces bla bla bla were sorted before Pete and I were off up a nasty steep set of gnarly steps for several hundred metres, this where I wished I had a carbon bike!  Then came the fastest most exciting off road ride of my life, not on tow but so focused on staying on Pete’s wheel along the cinder paths and trying not to get grit etc in my mouth…We passed the team in 4th place which felt brill as were only half way into the 30 mile stage.  Then bang 5 minutes later a pinch puncture on the x bike.  The fastest pit stop I have ever done and a result got the friggin gas canister to work for a change, but bugger that team over took us again.  Carefully back onto the road as no more tubes or canisters in stock (school boy error!)  The final 10 miles with some challenging climbs struggling to keep my front wheel down with Pete totally wired yet coming back down to help push me up…then he nearly ended up on a car bonnet..christ I just want to get my running shoes on I said, ’You’re a nutter’ he replied, ‘But I haven’t run all wknd’ I huffed back… Another sub 2 minute transition back into running stuff, hat on as the sun was scorching now.. Seconds later the towing aid was out (will use bungee next time!) and I hooked on.  A mile or so of climb on the road taking a few scalps on the way then onto the coastal path for the final 10k, whoever said that was definitely fibbing more like 14!  On and on and on, ‘you’re not talking to me are you ok’,’ I’ll tell you if I am not!!…’Easy’ through the kissing gates with the tow or we might have too snog!  The yellow jersey was getting ever nearer but surely she would arrive at the finish before us?…No way!! You could still see the dots heading round the coastline further on.  @Were coming through Sally on your right!! ‘Go Girls’  well go Sharon, like a freight train…’why is that lady towing that lady mummy’ we heard the kids on the path ask. Just keep picking your feet up a face plant on tow could be messy and then a diversion omg can’t manage much more of this, and then at last the end of the path and Pete ready to run the final few hundred yards with us down to the finish…we had made it to Robin hoods bay, what a journey, what a team for our first event together and what a place to end up.  Photos, medals and a brief wobbly moment as I nearly fell down the banking and took the scaffolding with me…Finally a gentle stroll down to the sea with the kids and support crew for a sensible recovery paddle (not in a boat again don’t worry) stage.

For anyone who has not tried this type of adventure race it is a great way to get into the sport.  If you get a decent support crew lined up and recce the runs, that’s all you need to do prior to setting off.  One chap who entered this year after seeing the 2011 event on TV was fundraising for his daughter with diabetes and was out for 12hr days now that what I call value for money, good on you mate!!

Looking forward to racing with Pete again, just hope Sharon and I haven’t put him off too much with being shall we say a tad bossy??!!

Huge thanks again to Joe Faulkner for helping keep us calm and washing our duds for us at the end of day 2 now that’s what I call support.!!.  Also to our respective partners and family for coming along to the finish is was even more special to have you all there.  Who’s on for 2015 then?!


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Lessons Learnt - Lakeland 100 postscript

Short and succcinct, this posting, following on from Lakeland 100 Parts One & Two....

Lessons Learnt:

1) Complacency - You are only as good as your recent training. Road Bike mileage is no substitute for time out on your feet.  Unfortunately, the heatwave conditions of the preceeding few weeks led me to getting out and riding some epic rides ... which was great fun but didn't do much for my running legs. Hence, the cramps and early stiffening.  No excuses here, just pure fact.

Having said that, skills and experience got me to the end in reasonable shape and time. 

2) Speed Kills - I've said it countless times, but this time I (intentionally) pushed the speed just a little too fast and it proved that this is very true.  Correct pacing is paramount in any race, whatever the length.

It was a good experience 'running' with Sharon for 70 miles, and knowing I was pushing my pace out a wee bit, but don't try and keep up with her ... she's one tough cookie! But, I'll be fit to keep up with her for Dark Mountains.

3) Ultra Running is 50% mental, 25% physical and 25% all you can eat.... 'nuff said.  I could probably have done with a couple more bits of pizza or one of Sharon's excellent Massive Tuna Mayo Baps in the first half.  Once we'd picked up our half way drop bags, with the forementioned goodies, I was much happier.

4) Hillskills are essential for successful completion, especially in poor weather.  Recce-ing of the course is very useful but to dis-regard 'Hillskills' - navigation, hillcraft, nutrition, gear selection, use and application is a core skill.    

4) My gear worked marvellously (with the exception of the stinky drinks bottle!)  Many have asked for my gear list so here goes:

Shoes - La Sportiva Raptor. A vastly under-rated shoe
Much of my running is done in Inov-8 315's but for an event of such length and with such hard trails a big heavy runner like me needs so more support/protection and cushioning. Hence, the Raptor has served me well for the past few years.

 Inov-8 15, (20 has side pockets), Raptors and Platypus.

Socks - Smartwool 'Outdoor' - Thick woolly ones.

Sac - Inov-8 Race 20 - Light and simple, no gimmicks. Hipbelt pockets, side zip pocket for medium sized bottle, or folded up 1litre platypus.  Plenty big enough for such an event.

Waterproof - Montane Atomic - Midweight and properly waterproof / durable jacket.  Proper peaked hood and 'features', including two massive pockets for goodies, map, torch. pizza, water bottle.

Overtrousers - Montane Minimus - Light and a good fit. Not often worn, but when they are needed they are good enough. Fearful that they will wear quickly being so light.

Headtorch - Petzl Myo RXP - must be market leader. Does all you need, batteries will last all night on low/medium.  Or use 'High' when needed, and carry AND USE spare Lithiums to maintain maximum output. I'm actually currently using / testing a Petzl Nao, and will report on this very clever torch soon.

Shirt - White Endura 'Humvee' Cycle shirt due to the heat.  Rear pockets useful too! White colour very beneficial.

Base Layer - Helly Hansen Lifa, long sleeved and well proven.

Base Legs - Helly Hansen Lifa ..... ditto.  Just don't tell the fashion police ... Do I care?

Warm Layer - Haglofs microfleece gilet - very warm for it's weight due to a good fit. Would be needed if I was incapacitated.

Gloves - in good weather, Berghaus Power-Stretchlite.

Hat - Buff for cold, Peak Inov-8 cap for sun and rain protection.

On the matter of clothing I finished at 2.00am in heavy ran wearing shorts and cycle shirt, and the Montane Atomic jacket. There had been no need to put on extra layers until I finished.

Drinks Bottle - Platypus 1 litre collapsible bottle with a sports cap
I've used these (1 litre, 1/2 litre and even 2 litre) for most of my running, mountaineering adventures.  The fact that they fold down and can be squashed into any shape means you don't get any slushing about.  And, 'Yes', you can get a Nuun tablet or similar in my breaking it in half.  Powders are a bit more tricky, but a small funnel helps in stage races.  Pre-loading a number of these with powder can work very well, too.

Compass - Silva - Field 7

Emergency / First Aid / Misc
First aid is very personal, and I won't go into detail.  My emergency kit includes a Petzl e+Lite emergency mini-strobe lamp, a Adventure Medical Foil Survival Bag, a 'Simple Phone' - Nokia 100 PAYG - so much lighter than a smart phone and with amazing battery life for when you need it in an emergency. .

Ok that's enough gear geeking.  I could write much more on how to use this stuff but that could from another blog post.  Furthemore, just having the gear is no substitute for good 'hillskills', so please do think carefully about what you carry and why, along with the skills you have.  Please consider investing a bit of time, money and headspace on upgrading  your skills for safe, effective and an improved performance on the trails and in the mountains. Take a look at NAV4 Adventure or our facebook page for more info.

And finally, Have fun, be safe ... and enjoy our wonderful mountains.
Rewards / Recovery !


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Lakeland 100 - Part Two

One week on a few things have changed and life moves on from Lakeland 100 Part One

This last week consisted of only a couple of days rest and TLC before being out on the fells again working on Mountain Leader Assessment Expedition.  My blisters are healing nicely (plenty of old skin 'exfoliating' nicely) and the knee I managed to hyper-extend gave me some grief on rough and gnarly ground, expecially in the dark.

Thanks for all the feedback and comments; I'm sorry if Part One was a bit blunt, but people seem to appreciate my honesty, and races don't always go well and result in happy-clappy blogs.

'So, How was The Lakes 100?'

Well, I set off nice and steadily with Sharon McDonald running her first 100. The route climbs steadily for the first four miles, and with a strategy of 'not running up any hills' we quickly slipped towards the back of the field, but I was happy with this on a warm and very humid evening.  We we had good company with Ant Cooper and Sally Ozanne, both very experienced adventure racers, with some epic events under their belts.

So, over Walna Scar and steadily on down to Seathwaite where I made a quick stop to scoop up some stream water in my bottle. Unfortunately, this proved to be the first little problem; as soon as I removed the cap a strong musty smell belched out and despite rinsing it thoroughly the after taste was to stay with me for 60 miles.  Bit if a school boy error. Incidently, I tend to use Platypus collapsible bottles with sports caps and have half litre and one litre sizes; this one litre size hadn't been used for a while. These are excellent 'bottles' that can be folded away small or folded into a pocket of any size, and the contents don't slosh about.

A quick 'in and out' at Seathwaite - Checkpoint One, avoiding the temptation to stop and eat too much, but why was the 'dibber' buried at the back of the small crowded hall? Out across the fields and with the first real flat section everyone starts to settle into a rhythm. After another steady climb then undulating terrain around underneath Harter Fell we start to pass a few fast starters and still have good banter with Ant and Sally.  Every opportunity to walk, rather then run is taken in an effort to conserve the legs.
On the rough and tricky descent into Eskdale we gain a few more places past people not quite as used to The Lakes as ourselves but still keep the pace steady.  A flat couple of kms along Eskdale means that I'm obliged to jog along with Sharon close behind and a pied piper trail of a dozen or so others behind.  I feel a little bit like a marked man and many people say 'hello' but that could just be that we all have our name printed below our race numbers on the back of our sacs.

My ex-employers sponsor the event and the Eskdale checkpoint is staffed by ex-colleagues, so after a bit of 'fat boy banter' I start to relish the long easy climb over Burnmoor towards Wasdale. Again it's an easy steady pace and I smile inwardly at those who seem to be 'racing' and keen to gain a few seconds by upping their efforts, knowing that we probably will be passing most of them a bit later on.

Perhaps I should say a bit more about our schedule and expectations. I was aiming for sub-30hrs, having done 30:30 in 2011 and finished really strongly.  Just a few days before Sharon had been talking about a 28 hour target and so I had roughed out a 29hour plan.

Now I like Sharon, and I like schedules but I'm also experienced enough to know when I'm going fast enough.  But, I'm also happy to accept that I'm a bit lazy and appreciated Sharon's attempt to get me to race harder and faster.  So, strangely, knowing that we were ahead of the 2011 splits and feeling the pace was just about right I was happy to let The Captain handle the schedule, especially as she was well prepared with a small laminated copy tucked in a pocket.

Darkness fell as we reached Wasdale and the surreal 1970's disco themed checkpoint. Another quick 'transition' - no time tasted and a quick word with 'Mrs Sportident', the very experienced Debbie Thompson, as she carefully watched over the dibber box.

With hands full of food a drink, head torches already set prior to the checkpoint, I was ready for another big steep climb up to Black Sail Pass. Again we'd passed 10-12 people in the checkpoint (why do people run fast the stand still and waste time?) and was looking forward to gaining more time on the climbs and descents over to Buttermere. And so it was; our legs are definitely hill fit and we coped with the rough dark terrain much better than many who obviously lacked experience and confidence on rough Lakeland fells.

After another few flat runnable kilometres along Buttermere, Sharon was beginning to stretch the invisible elastic a wee bit, interpreting 'flat' and 'up' differently to me.  Ant and Sally both had need of some preventative foot taping so they pushed on to the checkpoint as well.  There was more jolly japes at Buttermere as 'The Chuckle Brothers' Charlie Sproson and Mr Burton were running a slick checkpoint.

Sharon and myself were away again quickly looking forward to another big climb. This one, over Sail Pass is actually a lot bigger than Black Sail but the terrain is less rocky and the climb more gradual. Again a steady pace took us passed one or two people and gains a few minutes despite me feeling a but wobbly just before the final steep pull, and resorting unusually to a 'gel.' Sadly, we seemed to have dropped Ant and Sally as they hadn't caught up. On dropping steeply towards Braithwaite and then jogging the log rough track towards outer side, I suffered my first twinge of cramp but it was short lived.

Early Breakfast - Pasta?

Braithwaite is the first checkpoint that does 'real food', meaning pasta and sauce, and as I much prefer savoury than sweet food, and we've done a third of the route with a big chunk of climbing a few minutes of stationary eating was time well spent.

'Beware the Chair' is a sound bite I heard a few years ago, referring to sitting down at checkpoints and the nullifying effect it has on momentum and pace, and it was very evident here as we stood and stuffed our faces. Once again we left quickly having past another dozen or so people enjoying an over-leisurely food stop.

More flat kms and I feel I'm moving OK but twinges of cramp in the quads are a worrying sign. I took a bit of a tumble on the flat, but dark railway path, which resulted in a comedy tumble before getting up and starting to run the wrong way. Fortunately The Captain was there to sort me out.

The route up Spinney Green Lane is familiar to all Bob Graham runners, and the easy climb leads to a great run around the Glenderterra valley. Dawn started to break around here which was a little worrying as I'd hoped to be further along, and past the Blencathra Checkpoint before daylight. Not too worry, we are still ahead of schedule and moving OK.  The long stretch from here to Dalemain is not without interest but I find it a drag despite the very good views from the Gowbarrow traverse path. All these sections I know very well, and, with hindsight it's actually 27 miles from Braithwaite to Dalemain, much more than it feels from my local knowledge.

Our underlying aim, and that of many Lakes100 'runners' is to get through Dalemain before the 50 runners start along the same course. We certainly achieved that arriving just after 9:30 and leaving by 9:45, so two hours or so head start on the 11:30am '50' start. Consequently, we'd be over Whether Hill before the lead runners would pass us and the field would be strung out by then.  My friend Marcus Scotney was running in the '50' with high expectation so I was keen to keep a look out for him.

One of my dislikes of the event is how the '50' route parachutes it self onto the main 100 route even after a their four mile loop around the fields of Dalemain. I can't imagine what it must be like being wrapped up into those crowds, but I am a bit of a cynical old crock and like my own space!

Dalemain (at 59 miles) is where you have access to your 'Drop Bag' so it was a quick sock change for both of us, great service from Laura ( with tea and drinks, etc. Sharon made good work if patching her quite badly battered feet, I picked up a pre-cooked and partially frozen pizza for later and we both devoured a large juicy Tuna Mayo roll.  All good food ...great fuel.

Homeward Bound

So ... into the second half; well last 45 miles.  Time to start counting down rather than up, and keep an eye on the rising temperature. The route drags on through Pooley Bridge and it's tourists and up to The Cockpit Stone Circle. I climbed well but had been struggling with water intake due to the musty smell and after taste in my Platypus.  Fortunately, Sharon had collect a 'FGS' Shake at Dalemain, so I was able to use the empty bottle for water, once we'd drunk it's Chocolately contents. Again on very familar ground, from there down to Howtown is one of  best MTB trails in the Lakes, and so suitably frustrating with sore and tired quads. It was also becoming evident that Sharon had more running in her legs than mine! 

We had been lucky with the weather; there was some minor cloud cover and a bit of a breeze, so even in the shelter of the valley the temperature was OK.  The Howtown Checkpoint marks the start of the last big climb; up Fusedale and over Whether Hill - a total climb of 530m on quite open lakeland fells. It's certainly got a tough reputation and coming after 67 miles is not easy.  But it's a good steady climb on nice small 'trods'.   Towards the top, just as it steeped for the last time, I needed to keep the pace steady and once I stopped for a pee.  From here, Sharon started to draw ahead and once over the top she was a soon a couple of hundred metres ahead and wanting to run fast, where as I was struggling to get the downhill legs going at all.  It was with some regret but much relief that I watched Sharon run effortlessly on the long descent towards Haweswater, but having lost touch with Sharon I enjoyed the company of Max Howard for a while.

The descent is actually quite easy and grassy, before dropping steeply through thick bracken to the Lakeside path.  The path starts off easily enough but becoes narrow, rocky and very undulating and the breeze had dropped to compound the hot temperature.  Marcus did coming screaming past us here, with at least a ten minute lead over second and third placed runners, and then a total of around a dozen more before Mardale Head.  There was very little running water in streams we crossed but I did manage to scoop a few half bottles as well as dunk my cap in before placing in back on my head.

Mardale Haven

The Mardale Head Checkpoint - staffed by Delamere Spartans - was very well run.  They seemed very well organised and empathetic to the runners' needs; no gimmicks, no unnecessary fuss.  Bear in mind here, that they have both '100' and '50' runners coming through each with quite diverse needs.  I stood quietly in the shade by the water bouser, drinking tea and a quick (*warm) tea and munching on my cold pizza whilst Nick filled my water bottle with Coke.  (* warm is good - not point giving us boiling hot tea)

'Oh, its nice to sit down for a while' said one runner - 'Beware The Chair' - was very evident here!
I might have been hallucinating here, but I'm sure I saw Charlie Sproson come into the Checkpoint on the '50' route. Charlie had been our host at the Buttermere Checkpoint - good effort Charlie!

Gatesgarth Pass is yet another easy / steady climb and it passed without incident. The descent into Longsleddale is quite 'boney' with large cobbled sets on much of the ancient by-way.  So, I was well aware that I'd be losing time but not running well down here and the passing of '50' runners shows just how slowly you are going.  Pushing on as best I could, I felt I was climbing well but losing time on the descents.  Bizarrely, I didn't feel the need to consult my schedule preferring to carry on based on gut feeling.  With hinsight, I was still on schedule for a 30hr finish here, if only I could move well down hill and on the flat. Sadly the blisters were starting to creep around the front of by 'pads' and on the side of my right heel just like it had done at The Dragon's Back Race last September.  The heel blister only causes pain when twisting and turning but the 'pads' (around the front edge of the ball of your foot) is a liitle more disabling.

The Kentmere checkpoint appeared chaotic (busy with too many people including a very beautiful young lady in a stunning dress bearing a supporters sticker - Ying and Yang)  so I quietly got what I need and marched on. Garburn Pass is rocky, but not so warm; more 'supporters' (who shouldn't be there) I found irriating, but that's my problem not theirs, so I quickly forgot about them.

The route from here is very 'runnable' if you are fit and without sore feet.  On the final tarmac descent into Ambleside my rright 'pad' blisters nearly erupted and I decided that I should look after them and avoid them popping.  I'd just made the decision to stop at Ambleside and take a look at them, when the heavens opened with torrential rain. It was very welcome at first but with only a few hundred metres to the Checkpoint I was saturated and the road was awash with running water.  Consequently, inside the checkpoint was busy and the floor wet and there was little chance of treating the blister with any success.

The Long March of Doom

The was nothing to be gained by staying - so out I went into the rain. The first part of the route is sheltered by trees and the rain was still a welcome relief.  Higher on the slopes of Loughrigg I needed to but my jacket on and strode on keeping plenty warm enough in shorts, T-shirt and good mid-weight waterproof smock.
The descent off Loughrigg was painful and slow.  The Cumbria Way (that the route follows up Langdale) is very fast, quite smooth and runnable and I managed to maintain a good 3mph on the flat section to the Langdale Checkpoint.

The very experienced 'Team Howard' host the Langdale checkpoint and I had a quick chat with a very busy Ross Howard (brother of Max who would be along shortly)  Standing once again (Beware The Sofa, here, not chair!) I had some excellent soup and bread, before pushing on with The March,  knowing that I'd be out a few more hours yet and a racing finish was dwindling away. I smiled quietly as a few '50' runners passed me for a second time, having taken a longer break.

Darkness began to fall towards the top of Langdale, sort of opposite the New Dungeon Ghyll pub.  It's great to hear the noise from the pub as you slip quietly by, climbing up towards Side Pass.  The '50' runners were comng past now in pairs and small groups, many of which were very complimentary and good company, but I must admit it is hard being past by those who you wish you could keep up with.   Last year I was able to keep pace with some of those passing me.

On the very rough ground around Blea Tarn it became very dark and wet.  The '50' runners seemed to come through in very gregarious gaggles; some very lightly dressed and still without waterproofs on.  The path is easy to lose but I stayed high and true to the instructions to arrive at the extra unmanned control at the bottom of Wrynose Pass.  Looking back there was many people not taking such a good or efficient line.

'Just one more climb' one of the passing '50' runners said as they ran down the tarmac.  'Well, not really!' I thought ...'There's a little lump between here and Tilberthwaite before the last climb.  'Just One More Climb' passed me again and as I started the climb; I'm not sure where they had been.

Strangely, it went very quiet on the next section with no-one passing me for a long while.  I was very conscious that I was working hard physically and mentally, and momentarily worried that I'd drifted off onto the wrong route.  Around the same time I spied a half eaten '9Bar' still in it's wrapper on the track, so stabbed it with my walking pole (I'm not adverse to clearing litter or gaining additional sustainence!)  Luckily I missed as the '9Bar' quickly jumped away and revealed itself to be a frog - same sort of colourings but not as tasty I assume.  After that I saw many frogs and at least I knew I wasn't hallucinating.and another couple of runners came past just as we reached the descent to Tilberthwaite ... er, just by the bit that usually wipes me out on my mountain bike!

The Final Count

My most vivid memory of the Tilberthwaite checkpoint was having a great cup of tea (with a top-up of cold water) with my hood up closed tightly around my face, whilst watching a runner being treated for mild hyperthermia.  He was sat in a deck chair with a foil blanket wrapped around his shoulders, topped by a tarten blanket and appeared to be dressed in just shorts and shirt.    I spoke quietly with the checkpoint marshal, mainly to prove I was very awake and quite normal, but suggested the runner put some spare clothes on. Apparently, he had none ...

The Steps mark the start of the last climb and 3.5 miles to the end.   I knew it was now past midnight as I'd asked if it was Sunday yet. Since we started this event on Friday ... it was turning out to be a long plod.  I don't know why I hadn't been looking at my schedule since Sharon had headed off, but new I'd missed my 30 hr target. Once again, I climbed really strongly, only stepping aside off the track when a train of '50' runners came past and even then they weren't going much better than me.  Simply finishing was the game now; conditions were deteriorating and the humid rain had become cold and persistent.  I was still comfortable in shorts, cycle shirt and mid-weight waterproof as I climbed and psyched myself up for a fast and painful descent.

 A stiff breeze heralded the top of the climb and arrival at the subtle col before the final descent.  It's rocky and wild and I was prepared to burst blisters if needed and run the final descent on painful quads.  The first few minutes went OK, but then I slipped and hyper-extended my right knee, bending it backwards in a sickening bout of pain.  I sat for a few seconds thinking that this might be a '999' call, but the pain subsided and I grounded my walking poles more vehemently than before.

It was a long slow descent.  I finally sunk below the glow of some skylights meaning I'd reached the houses in valley bottom and there would only be a couple of km down the rough valley road. The rain was coming down as heavy as ever and I was chilling rapidly. I tried just once to run, but without success.  I finished in a very 'flat' mood.  No elation or sense of acheivement, just a small glow of satisfaction that it was over. Once I'd put my dry spare based layer on, topped by the correct race T-shirt ('Yes, I've done the 100!') I soon warmed up, and felt OK. After what can only be described as very average pasta meal, I was way to my bed.

No beer for me this year ...

Lessons Learnt: