Friday 13 November 2015

Why can't I ... run 70m in the mountains?

It was rain when I arrived in Chamonix on the Monday before the Wednesday event, but that was gone by Tuesday morning and as the forecast had suggested it was going to be a cloudless and hot day for the run. It could be quite different to 2012 where I'd run in awful dull, wet and cold weather.

I started fairly far back in the 1800 or so starters so I wouldn't suffer from too much over-exuberance early on, as the trails would be crowded. Usual "UTMB-family emotive" start and moody music to see us off through Courmeyeaur (1220m). Then up the switchback track to Col Checrouit (1959m). "Clack-clack-clack" go the poles of over a thousand runners (I figure over 90% must use them in this event). At the checkpoint (CP) some nice honey on toast to start - yum!

It took quite awhile to be free of the crowds, as after this path was single track along the valley of glaciers which was stunning on a really clear and sunny day. So amazingly different to 2012 and I feel I experienced an entirely new dimension of the event in 2015. We reversed UTMB route for awhile now taking our first high point at Arete du Mont Favre (2409m).

Classic trail descent to Lac Combal CP and first full food/drink point. Some refilling of bottles here as already warming up. Steep in places and switchbacks over Col Chavenne (2584m), single file and still quite slow up here due to numbers on the trail. But then got a chance to move more freely on the long wide track descending steadily, following the Vallon de Chavenne. And by time of the climbs to the Italian/French Border at Col du Petit St Bernard (2188m)and CP I was relatively free to run at my own pace. And also feeling 36km of near constant ascent and descent.

Next came a long descent down to the low point of race at Bourg St Maurice (816m) and it was now really hotting up! I took every opportunity I could to splash some water on face or wet my buff. Some kids towards the bottom of valley really were getting into the spirit of things running to greet runners, offering to wet peoples hats/buffs for them, running off at full speed and wetting the garment by time the runner passed to collect. Through B-St-M and spent a bit of time under the shade and getting plenty of liquid down.

More help from the French general public at start of the monster ascent up to the Forts. Kids with hoses, stalls with water laid out, etc,,,,, I was going well up climb at first passing many people who were stopped for a break. But maybe halfway up I started to grind to a halt. My stomach was really playing hell and my energy supply had been cut off, it seemed to take me an age to get between the lower fort (truc) and higher (la platte - 1976m). I stopped numerous times for a rest or to try and kick start myself in the last 500m and had I not been a long way up already may have tracked back to B-St-M. Almost vomited trying to take some tablets, whilst around me several people were vomiting like gooduns! It was a pretty low moment and not even halfway.

I got to la platte with my aspirations of 24hrs for the course looking distinctly in tatters.

Time to problem solve and dig in

I needed to stop the nausea and re-establish my energy supply a bit. Runners will know how difficult this is when the stomach can no longer accept sweet food and generally isn't keen on ingesting anything.

Go for broke time and despite no official food at the check up here inside the fort some locals were offering canned or bottled drinks and food at a charge of 5e (I don't begrudge them this as its not exactly an accessible spot). Not feeling like solid food or sweet stuff or even a beer.... I opted for a bottle of coke (old style curvy bottle and all). Like many a runner I know it seems to me its mysterious sugars are tolerable even when the stomach has gone on sugar strike. I took about ten minutes to drink this and opted not to use the squat toilet, which looked to have not been refurbed in all the years the fort had been there (though it made me chuckle to find a goat getting shade in the room next to it).

I kind of got going again and eventually was making not a bad pace again on the overall uphill - but distinctly rocky in places and undulating section - which delivered us to the foot of the steep climb of Passeur de Pralagnon. Thankfully it was cooling into the evening and up high as I topped out over 2546m. A steep, rocky climb down and then quite a flat track to the - just over - midway control at Cormet de Roselend (1976m). Didn't fancy much to eat still but had a good dig into the supplied pasta meal and a few other bits. A change of socks and t-shirt from dropbag was also welcome and I stopped longer here to check how feet were doing (just one blister worth covering).

It was dark on leaving here and another tough section to the next full indoor check with two big climbs a big descent and numerous smaller ones and some semi-to-technical terrain in places. I remember lots of mud and technical going for awhile from my 2012 experience. Col de la Sauce (~2300m) was muddy on the way up per most peoples experience I've heard of, but not half as bad as 2012. The long descent afterwards is interesting on varied terrain to La Gitte at 1665m and I made places I think. I felt increasingly sleepy on long climb to Col est de la Gitte so took a caffeine gel. This worked for awhile but after slow going on the rocky and undulating section with some short steep climbs that took us to Col du Joly (1989m) I was getting really sleepy again and struggling to concentrate. Also starting to feel that nausea again

A longer stop would be needed at this control too. Despite the banging music (which could be heard km away) a few were asleep head down on tables inside the tent and I figured I'd try this. No beds were free and possibly a good thing as I'd lay down on one of these in 2012 any that had been it. This time I got a coffee and some broth'n'bread as well as trying to pick other energy sources that I could tolerate. I took a gamble on a bit of an overstims energy bar provided inside tent and that was good. Changed batteries in headtorch (new barely used headtorch and batteries had dropped to barely usable level after La Gitte leaving me faffing to get reserve torch out by side of track).

Then the head went down on the table.....

.....I awoke

- not refreshed but having rested enough to go again - I hoped - after some 10-20mins fit-ful rest. I finished my soup and coffee to hopefully complete the battle against drowsiness. I'd given up here in 2012, probably in worse state, but I would now consider not having done everything I could have done to try and complete. So I was going to do my best to make up for that this time.

Now it was 9k to Les Contamines and the best part of 800m downhill. I was quite surprised how many people I overtook downhill, my downhill legs seemingly as good as anybody's I encountered during this stage and running a lot more than most. Per the leaving of Cormet I left Joly in my jacket and thin gloves after cooling whilst stopped, but they were soon off again as I figured 30s lost removing them would be made up by being able to move more comfortably on a warm night.

Coming into the Les Contamines control at 95km and 1170m it would be easy to think the hard work was done, but I've heard said the last climb of this one is somewhat of a sting in the tail. And they aren't wrong, it was near enough hands on knees climb straight out of town on road, then track, through woods and back on track. Oddly there is then a descent, but at this stage you know there is plenty of climb to come as headlights are dotted really steeply up a hillside about a km away. Crossing the river I was going well on the last ascent and descent but I'm glad I still had something left for Col du Tricot as it was steeper than the last climb even with switchbacks to help and the going was rougher too. It took quite awhile to top this 2126m beastie!

But by the top, day was dawning and the night had been seen off. Much as finishing in 24hrs had seemed a real tough target, I know thought of how it would now be nice to finish in daylight and with more people up and about. After some fast and slightly rocky descent I was confused when the route levelled off and started climbing again after the rope bridge. I'd completely forgot about Bellvue control. And now there was quite a lot of descent in a few short km, mostly pounding roads as we arrived in Les Houches (111km - 1019m).

I'd got into an unspoken semi-race with another brit on the descent and we continued after the control. He'd taken the initiative out of the control barely spending a minute there (I spent barely more just toping up water to wash down a potent caffeine gel). This section is mildly undulating and often flat and my legs were ready to give me some energy saved for running on flat. I passed my competition on a descent with about 5km to go convinced I could run the rest of way barring any steeper climbs (only a few and very short). I passed quite a few on this leg and ran my way up to the highest position I'd been all race for the finish, breaking into the top 500 with a last 8k done in under an hour..

After passing through the dragging outskirts of Cham I was into town, up a hill and then onto the main shopping strip, plenty of people out clapping and cheering runners in. I crossed the line, my adventure was complete and I was pretty happy with having recorded just over 27hrs after earlier troubles. It was just passed 9am and warming up already. I made some emotional calls to family back home, got my prized finishers gillet and got a beer from the finish food table (otherwise it was the same fayre of cheese/meat/cake that had been on offer throughout the race) - the beer was good!

Again..... or the UTMB, or PTL? Afterwards I thought I wouldn't fancy another 30m or more. But having finished strongly I obviously could have gone further. So I won't rule it out, but the crowded nature of early miles is a bit off-putting in these events. I'm a bit more of a one man and his dog kind of runner and may look for other challenges home or abroad for the next few years.

And then, I must have been confident as I entered a longer event just a few months later....

Next - Why can't I ... run 125 miles?

* I'll revisit this post and add some pictures soon

Why can't I?

"How can I run 100 miles?" if you asked me this in 2010 I seemed to have the answer. After doing an ultra-or-two a year for a few years I committed to the challenge. Lots of off-road training and events building up through the Hardmoors 55, Fellsman (60' odd hard miles) to have miles in legs and guts out a completion of the Lakeland 100.

But in years since the answer has been more elusive:
  • In 2011 I dropped out of two - difficult - 100m+ events in mountainous regions (Lakeland 100 and the UTMB (Alps).
  • In 2012 I didn't attempt a 100 but wiped out in the tough sister challenge of the UTMB, the 'Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie' 70m+ mountain trail event in the Alps.
  • In 2013 I made it further in a 100m+ than since 2010, eventually calling it quits around 70m into the Hardmoors 110.
  • In 2014 I DNF'd very early in the Hardmoors 55, my shortest and earliest event DNF to date.
I dropped out of the Lakeland 100m "a bit tamely" at 60m in 2011 started too fast, too tired to run further and very slow), but wasn't too concerned as I had the UTMB barely a month later and could focus on that. As it was the UTMB was much tougher than I'd given it credit for and I made about the same distance and arguably wouldn't have got much further with knee pain, tired and close to cut-offs.

So in 2012 I figured I'd done 100, maybe I just try a different challenge for now. The TDS with its reputation for more brutish paths than the UTMB, but 30m shorter offered a tantalising challenge and I put in some of the best focused training I'd ever done. I not only expected to finish, but wanted the self-proclaimed glory of a sub 24-hour finish. And things looked good for that as I stormed around the Lakeland 50 a month prior.

As it was the mountains had plans to make things difficult. After watching the competitors battling through hot conditions and up the mysterious and exciting Col de Youlaz and suchlike in the 2011 event DVD I'd run midday and early afternoon on many summer days trying to condition myself to hot weather running. But TDS 2012 was much the opposite of 2011, with storms before, much of the route shrouded in flog, rain and wind during (sometimes heavy). I gave up tired, at 50m after not really getting going again overnight after an earlier soaking where I'd got very cold.

Was this a worrying trend. Did I not care enough and was the tough stuff beyond me now that there was no 100m carrot dangling. I completed the Hardmoors 60 a few months later without issue and have done many ultra events in the intervening years of sub-100 distance.

Was I prepared to accept that my body couldn't do 100m, should I concentrate on trying to get better at marathon length trail runs and take on the occasional longer 'yearly challenge'?

I tried this for awhile, some good and some bad runs in undulating to hilly trail marathons in 2013-14 - but all quite fast - and generally pleasing efforts in a few 50-65m challenges those same years.

So was it just my mind that threw in the towel when things got tough and these shorter distances and courses weren't generally tough enough?

Yes maybe, but I didn't like this answer. If I was prepared to accept this why did the DNF bug me so much? Especially the TDS one in 2012 - I think because I wasn't injured as such and just gave up as I was exhausted. The others could seemingly be attributed to having a bad knee or suchlike that I could blame the DNF on - even if this was just a convenient excuse (including Hardmoors 110 in 2013 where I made it about 70m, but couldn't face another 40 with a painful knee, which had slowed me right down).

And why did I train so hard all year in every bit of time I had outside of work and family life just to chuck in the towel after less than a day of running and walking in most cases. The event wasn't being given the respect due from the preparation. I might as well do whatever is possible to finish or not bother trying in the first place.

2014 saw a new plan. Initially my motivation was to raise money for charity by taking on one big challenge per month. I figured I'd enjoy the challenge, not many LSR in training as each run was close enough to build me up to the next. In the mix was a failure at Hardmoors 55, where I think again I exited fairly sensibly after not feeling good enough on the day to run to my expectations - probably justified as I think I was suffering a bit from post viral fatigue if the next few weeks runs were anything to go by.

But after that I took on various long challenges throughout the year including 85m overnight mostly self-supported on the Centenary Way from Filey to York. And the big one was multiple days of over 40m tracking the waterway that was the Ure > Ouse > Humber from source to sea.

These were pretty tough on my body and I was starting to feel again like I could take on the big challenges that had defeated me. Wiser, tougher, knowing myself a bit better and more prepared to overcome the hard bits?

For 2015 I had renewed determination and an entry in the Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie' once again. I'd spent year being too obsessed with how I did in the challenge and forgot it was just that... a challenge... finishing the damned thing is good enough for now!

Depending on your point of view my original "How can I?" could be a negative question, asking for an answer, insinuating I'm not got the stuff for the challenge. My new approach demanded problem solving to achieve the goal...

I'd replace How can I?  with  Why can't I?

"Why can't I?" is standing up my own self-doubt and the doubters, believing in good prep and knowing that it will get me so far and make the hard miles that bit easier.

And the challenge was on, with less time to log miles than in 2012 - as I now had a 2 year old son - I prepared myself as best I possibly could to run/walk 70m in the mountains as fast as I could. So that come the day I had the weapons and resilience in my arsenal to face all challenges that came my way.

This included:
  • long runs over very undulating routes close to home;
  • runs in the mountains where possible (BGR support and 2 days in Wales);
  • getting the right gear and knowing how to use it should the challenge demand;
  • getting to know my stomach, what I could eat, how much, for how long and what to do if I was having problems eating my usual long run fare;
  • mental prep, turning a negative to a positive and....
  • remembering that if I'm suffering and have chance to slow down and finish, just do that its better than a DNF (and may not get me back to the start any slower - through DNF experience in events I know it can take ages to get back to the start).
Next - Why can't I ... run 70 miles in the mountains?

Friday 15 May 2015

Last of the 2014 challenges: what to do during the Christmas holidays?

End of 2014 - Quick update

Between the GYRR in August and my last challenge in December there were - as planned for my charity challenge - another 3 marathon-or-longer runs these went roughly like this:
  • September - High Peak 40 - 40.9m, near 5000ft asc, 7hrs10mins on foot. So far more hills than any of my long GYRR days and nice to have a change from the slog as this was mostly run or fast territory jog (even on many of the uphills, which were a cracking gradient to still be able to run, especially road ones). I've been retraining myself to try and pick up some road-speed for Yorkshire Marathon in October. Quite happy with that time for HP40, but it really beasted my quads so training the week after was mostly a non-event.
  • October - Yorkshire Marathon - First 26.2m on road for a year-and-a-half. Reasonably big (3000+) entry charity marathon starting and finishing in York. But with wide enough roads early so you can get straight into your running. In its 2nd year, but well organised and really well supported. A reminder that its tough running that far on a road at a pace that's a minute/mile under any marathon+ off-roader I've done. But unlike in the remote trail runs where you feast in the serenity and quiet of your surroundings I found the support, cheering, music, comedy banners all helped to push me along. Also happy to have run a good race, speeding up each ten miles and having a real kick in my last 6 where I was running almost like a 10k-race. Good PB, close to 3hrs15mins.
  • November December - Hardmoors 26.2:Roseberry Topping - I'd planned to run the Hardmoors 26.2: Goathland marathon in November, but family illness made me a last minute DNS. I then had to cancel a planned 50m run in the Yorkshire Wolds later in the month due to workload. So I signed up for the Roseberry Topping marathon. Name is partially misleading as its 26.2 'hardmoors miles' which can mean anything, in this case 29.55 miles (and a not insignificant 5600ft asc). As name more accurately suggests though it tackles the very distinctive, almost cone-shaped steep hill in the North York Moors. BUT... not just the once, twice from two different sides and then there is still the best part of another 20m left to go with lots more hills and high moorlands into a bitter cold wind on the day. I overcooked my start and I think I was on the verge of a cold - hit me later in day - so the second half was a case of just getting around.
7am - and one set of tire-tracks on the road, only I've been here today

I wonder if anybody else did anything like this December 30th?

Although I'd not run an event in November due to circumstance I could still claim to have run 12 longer than marathon length runs as planned (or 14 if the long days of GYRR are taken into individual account). But the idea of a long run in the Wolds in winter had captured my imagination since my abandoned attempt to do a 50m route in late November. And a great opportunity came up between Christmas and new year on a weekday when I was on leave from work, but Clare was working and the nursery was open and it was one of Isaac's scheduled nursery days.

But what to do? The 50 mile idea had been a point-to-point which was made practical as I'd have been running with a friend. But this was last minute and I'd be alone so a loop was the order of the day. So I picked out somewhere in the Wolds I could park my car all day long and worked out a route from their which incorporated some of my favourite paths, and some I'd never run before..... and of course, being my route and in the Wolds, this also meant lot of challenging - if small - hills.

So I was out of the door early to make the most of the very short day. I drove out of Hull and into an increasingly frost-whitened landscape before parking up at the very rural car park for the Medieval Village of Wharram Percy. After last minute gear adjustments I set out with a full 12-litre pack that hopefully had all the contents to cover all my day long needs for clothing, food and drink. It was 0754 and just getting light prior to sunrise.

Kit check

Due to the expected freezing temperatures at the start and not changing much the whole day I was wearing (when I started):
  • Head: half-thermal/half-cotton "buff"-type thing double-layered to make warm hat.
  • Upper: Odlo baselayer, Montane windproof jacket, Marmot convertible mitts.
  • Lower: Cotton underwear, Adidas Trail hybrid tights.
  • Feet: Drymax thick trail socks, Roclite 295's.
Some of this gear was barely or untested as I've had no weather cold enough and run long enough to need it since buying earlier in the year. The half thermal buff was a cheapo brand market-stall thing, I hoped I'd find out today whether it was useful as a versatile alternative on cold days to carrying a hat and buff. Could the hybrid tights - only bought as heavily discounted in sale - be a better cold weather option than my 'go to' ron hill leggings for long days? They had seemed ok when used for first time recently on a shorter run.

Of the known kit. I'd recommend the marmot convertible mitts to anyone for runs at around freezing or colder and long runs as they keep your hands toasty well below freezing when mitt ends on and all you need do is pull ends back to regain finger use when needed. Drymax socks are also great for day long adventures on varied terrain, I don't do anything wild enough to need more protection or full-waterproofing. The Odlo baselayer works great, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend had it not developed the recent habit - after a few years irregular use/washing - of riding up. I figured today would be cold enough that this wouldn't be a problem as it would remain tucked in to leggings.

As well as this kit I had in the pack the following essential, useful and "just in case" items:
  • spare base-layer;
  • waterproof jacket
  • water resistant over-trousers
  • thinner gloves (pearl izumi ones with pull over mitt flap - earlier version of these)
  • buff
  • spare socks? (I can't remember if I did or not)
  • Portable charger
  • small medical pack (incl. painkillers and anti-inflamattories)
  • Food: Chia charge flapjack, chia charge trail mix, 9-bar, eat natural bar: dark choc, banana, small pack haribo, savoury slice
  • Drink: 1-litre water, 600ml Chia Charge drink

Wharram and Settrington loop

Bassett Brow
I headed down the single-track road back towards the main road and then cut onto a track to take me to Wharram-le-Street. It was cold, freezing in fact, but the wind was low and I soon warmed up due to my warm layers of gear and heat being trapped against me by my pack (great in winter, not so in summer). The day promised much, a mostly white landscape tinted by frost and in some place a thin layer of snow. The light from a sun just above the horizon also bathed any un-whitened landscape in a calm and un-threatening orange-and-brown coloured light, which I think would have made the day of any landscape artists/photographers present at this place. If such artists were present I didn't see them, as usual in the Wolds I enjoyed not seeing many people and those I did see seemed to be equaling my enjoyment.

Through Wharram-le-Street I followed the road north-east to neighboring Duggleby. From where I turned north gradually climbing on the road upto Settrington Beacon - my first 'summit' at 653ft. Now I joined the Wolds Way route briefly through a plantation and then contoured down a hill brow to then leave the Wolds Way again on to paths that were new to me for a while. Along the bottom of the this typical Wolds dale I then followed the angled path back up to the top of Bassett Brow.

Looking back from atop Bassett Brow
Across a couple of fields and a minor road I then dropped into pretty Town Wold with its tree-lined dale sides wrapping around a small pond. Then back uphill and along a farm track (east-bound) out to the join the road down to Settrington.

I don't know that much about trees, but this is a rude one!
Then came my only real negative moment of the day as was half-distracted, taking out some sweets to eat running down the frosty, slippery road and realised my I was about to miss my left turn onto the track I needed - which was sooner than I expected. Not usually a problem, stop on the spot if needed and turn as I wasn't running fast. But on this slippery downslope hitting the brakes would mean a certain slip, so I tried to swing off the road without slowing much and nearly managed it. My feet only slipping as I hit the the change in surface at the track start, crashing me down on left knee and hand.

After turning the cold air blue just briefly I got back up and set onwards again to run off the bashed knee. I rounded a farm and slowed to a fast walk up interestingly named Fizgig Hill, which soon brought me back on to known paths on the Wolds Way south of Settrington Beacon running downhill alongside Settrington Wood. I was now southbound back to Wharram-le-Street, but first had another small steep dale to cross before running down Broad Balk to the village.

The North-west Wolds 

Winters cold shadow
Through the village I was close to my start/finish point, but I was way off finishing for the day having only covered about 13m in my first 2hrs40. My route now took me down the road to the old Wharram station house of the former Malton and Driffield Railway. I followed the former line route - now partially laid as a path - south until I turned off to run along the Wolds way again through the site of the former village of Wharram Percy. Passing through I saw as many people here as I'd see anywhere throughout the day - a group of 3 happy walkers.

Up the bank and onto the, always muddy and rough, path along the east and then south lip of Deep Dale. It made for nice pictures today with the shaded side of the dale in white and sunny side a subtle orangey-brown, but I never particularly enjoy running this dale. Probably due to aforementioned path and the fact from this direction it usually catches the full force of any wind present.

Following the Wolds way still I left the dale and headed south dipping in and out of Vessey Pasture Dale - having half of my "lunch" savoury slice on walk uphill - and then dropping down the path to the west side of Thixendale village. My first and closest of three visits near the village today and none would take me into it (Unless I needed to get warmed up on my next pass, in which case I'd see if the The Cross Keys was open). Instead I'd take a route from the village I'd not run before, the quiet winding road through Water Dale - with perhaps the best photo opportunities of the day.

Wharram Percy's medieval church
And at around the middle of the day this would be the first time I truly felt warm enough to swap the thermal buff-hat thing for a regular buff (which in some wind exposures still felt cool at times throughout the day) and the warm convertible mitts for thinner gloves. Apart from that the only other gear adjustments throughout the day were partial unzipping of the jacket at the warmer times.

Now with about 20m complete, as the road branched off to follow Birdsall Dale I followed the path to the end of the dale and hopped over the road into another Deep Dale. I followed the eastern edge path south passed Hanging Grimston. Some days I'd descend into and out of this steep sided dale for hill training as its as steep as Wolds dales get without going off-path. But today I had enough miles and hills planned to skip this tough detour guilt-free. Instead, from one of the highest points on todays route at around 760ft I descended down the gated Gatehowe Road quickly, yet quite tentatively after my earlier fall, to cross Salamanca beck at 230ft a mile later - about the biggest single non-stop hill I'd run all day and amongst the biggest in the Wolds.

This was just one hill in what is the hilliest region of the Wolds on my route, which meant this 20-30m section had nearly double the ascent and descent of any of the other 10m segments on route (with over 2000ft ascend, and nearly as much descent). So from Salamanca beck it was now a small climb and descent on minor roads to the hamlet of Uncelby (a large farm, which also appears to offer 'fancy weddings/receptions' with scattered smaller farms around the nearby hills).

Deep Dale (nr. Wharram Percy) in winter colours
The hills come thick and fast now, first 350ft of ascent in 0.7m up the Uncelby Hill road. Then back off-road across a field to soon steeply descent into Painsthorpe Dale (which I like to include in any tough run around here due to its challenging short climbs in and out), bother a few sheep before ascending out steeply to then descend 350ft in 0.8m down Painsthorpe lane and then into boggy fields. This then hits the track to Garrowby, turning south the front-loaded climb packs in 300ft in the first 0.5m and levels off towards the A166 (near the top of - 'infamous' on bad weather days - Garrowby Hill) back up at around 750ft.

Back to Thixendale... twice (but never quite there)

Thixendale from above
After crossing the busy road I went down the quiet lane on the other side which drops quite steeply south-westerly to Bishop Wilton, but I kept reasonably high up as I took a path (quite narrow and angled so one foot below other - not a nice one on muddy days) which heads southerly then joined an uphill path west which passes into a larger field not long before crossing a road. The path became a track across the road and I followed it as it turned south-easterly to drop down the wooded bank a few hundred feet, not-to-steeply into yet another Deep dale!. I doubled back a bit along the dale floor then proceeded into a branch off dale. I decided for some reason not to take the usual steep path up the side and walk along the brow to the road. Instead opting to follow the bottom of the dale as it rose steadily towards the road - but over bumpy, grassy earth and then through a thickly-branched small plantation - in future I'll keep to the mapped path here! I followed the road briefly north and topped out at the highest point on my route today - 774ft.

Following that road leads to the highest point in the county at a dizzying 807ft. But I was turning east on a track over some undulating fields to re-cross the A166 at the picnic site. I dipped down into Wayrham dale and followed the path along its churned up, muddy, bottom on through a plantation area that feels peaceful even by E.Y.Wolds standards. I followed this outlying tentacle of Thixendale roughly north-easterly as it merged with other dales to become Bradeham dale and then after Worm dale I left the Thixendale village-bound path and took the Wolds way path which angles up the dale wall and then turns east towards Fridaythorpe.

Back onto levellish ground atop the steep-sided dry dales I nevertheless didn't have it flat for long as I took a branch dale into Brubber dale before following the Wolds way angled path out of the dale. As I wasn't hurrying today, any path - like this one - conceivably steep enough to walk without being lazy I usually walked on and might take on food or water. On this occasion I noted my phone was seemingly 'running on fumes'. Modern technology can be great, but its a shame the battery can't last as long as I can on a long run when in a slightly remote, but not exactly wilderness, area. This gave me the chance to test out a Christmas present though. I plugged the phone into my Momax iPower Tough 2 and stuck it in the bag to charge. Supposedly a "Hardcore Portable Charger", should more than do the job for me then. And with two USB ports could be ideal for long future runs as could feasibly charge my garmin and phone fully simultaneously and still have plenty of juice left.

Over the top and I ran into Fridaythorpe - mid-point of the Wolds Way and the highest village in the Wolds - and after rounding the factory I was straight back out of town again, north-easterly, along Thixendale road. I followed the road as it dipped through Brubber dale again and then mostly walked up the hill. Near the top I turned off the road and followed a northerly track across wold-top farmers fields before passing 'paradise cottages' and descending to the road heading into Thixendale along one of its tentacles. The urge of The Cross Keys didn't become overbearing in the end and I had enough water, food and energy to complete the remaining 3m or so without issues so I pushed on. Also, I had a good "energy reload" opportunity tonight going out for brothers birthday to a Mexican restaurant so needed to be back in reasonable time for that.

Brilliant winter colours in Water Dale

I left the road just outside the village and ascended the bank of Court Dale. I passed a guy on top, sat there seemingly chilling out and enjoying a scenery stop just as much as everybody else I'd seen today. On a day that despite being mostly clear it never felt like the sun never provided light stronger than what you'd get in the hours around sunrise or sunset in most months, the light was now fading on me. But I should finish without needing a headtorch though. It was now along a series of winding tracks and field edge paths. Before I hit the road and turned north to the find the car park where I'd started my day.

40.8 miles done in 8hrs12mins on a really nice day. Almost felt too easy for a winter run, although had I ventured out without warm layers of kit on it could still have been pretty miserable even without strong wind and rain. Gear I used all worked well, enough food and drink to top myself up regularly without having to stop for more. And I really enjoyed lots of high calorie mexican food after this!!

Gear Appraisal

Updates on some of new gear used or hints on how used existing gear better:
  • half-thermal/half-cotton "buff"-type thing - very warm, and more practical than a hat. 
  • Odlo baselayer - I wore this tucked into leggings just at front most of the day which stopped the riding up and regulated temperature well (as not tucked in at back where more heat generated).
  • Adidas Trail hybrid tights - I'm always dubious about brands from more of a road running background making gear for tougher trail conditions. But these were fitted but not uncomforatble and really warm, guess these could cope with quite a few degrees cooler and plenty of windchill.
  • Portable charger - As mentioned before I used this in about last hour of run. By end it had taken battery from nearly empty to nearly full. A useful piece of kit what with having two USB connection points and a torch built in - will be great for day long or multi-day outings. I may buy a smaller, lighter device for use at times when I want to run faster as some aren't much bigger than a pen and manage about 1/3 of the capacity of this device.

Monday 16 February 2015

August Challenge: The Great Yorkshire River Run - Day 4 (Hull to Spurn Point)

Weathered on the road to Spurn point

My plan for the final day was for a shorter than the previous few days route of about 30-35m. I’d even run an extra mile yesterday to try and give myself a boost into the next day. After not much of, but a slight lay-in after the last 3 days start-times I was awake. But it took me awhile to get up. Perhaps the comforts of home made me more relaxed about having a later start today. But I don’t think even this would be enough. My body had pretty much had enough. And after breakfast and a few hours of stiffly limping around I agreed with Clare that I would cut some of today’s route down to make it twenty-something miles.

Such a decision didn't rest easily with me as I felt initially I was cheating – both myself and those who had sponsored me. But Clare made me realise that people most probably really wouldn't mind me not covering every mile I’d planned, especially if they could see what state I was in. As I slowly got ready I think I’d cut my planned mileage further down below twenty. As I struggled to even get shoes on my swollen feet – particularly my left foot with a hugely swollen big toe and feet that would barely flex – I decided I’d run from a village near to Spurn Point, to its end and back again. This would be less than ten miles. But I now figured it would be all walked. I guess I could have done nothing today, let my body recover and not risk further injury, but I wanted to get to Spurn Point, my planned end point. And, as the end of Spurn point was miles from the nearest road I’d also have to get back on foot.

From the north of Spurn Head its a long
way to the end (beyond the lighthouse)
As Clare drove me on the nearly hour long journey to the rural village of Kilnsea I changed plan again and asked Clare to get me as close to the “end of the road” to Spurn as possible. Which would give me an interesting 6m+ ‘out and back’ and Clare agreed to meet me at the same spot 2 hours 30 minutes later. Surely that should be enough time. I’d managed 4mph for days so this should be easy….right?

I said my goodbyes at the barrier on the road beyond which we’d have to pay to take the car (which for reasons I’ll soon explain is pointless for most people). And then off did I walk. Trying to set a good steady march to see me to the end of the ‘spit’ and back in good time. I was soon onto sand as a massive section of the road has been washed away by the massive tidal surge in December 2013. The spit has been breached regularly over the years and I think they’ve just about given up replacing the road now as there is something like 1/3 mile where there is now no road and only a 4x4 can pass and the head regularly now becomes an island at high tide.

All thats left of the 1/3 mile of road
washed away at the top of Spurn
Have a read on Spurn point it’s a fascinating place, a thin stretch of land poking out for over 3m from the mainland marking the end of the river Humber and the start of the north Sea. For example; there was once a significant town and port at the start of it, larger than Hull at the time – which was overrun by floods and eventually abandoned to the sea in the 14th century. To be walking through the sand seeing water a few hundred yards to my left and right was pretty amazing. I’m incredibly surprised I've never been here, it’s a special place and not that far from my home.

My march was briefly halted as I stopped to chat to an old man taking photo’s who seemed to know a lot about the area. He pointed out a massive grey rain cloud that had quickly built up and would soon hit us, how close the last tide was to breaching the headland, how to get to the very end of the point and what was there (beyond where the road ends) and told me how I’d just missed a huge ‘off-road’ military vehicle carrying a touring party "grounding" trying to get from this sand section back onto the track on its way to the end of the point – a tractor had been needed to get it moving again.

There's the lighthouse,
but where is the end?
I’d barely cleared the sandy section back onto a slightly raised bank with sand-covered hard-track, when the dark cloud loomed large – it seemed to have approached really quickly – and I was getting the waterproof jacket on. I’d been lucky enough not to have the waterproofs out all week, but now the weather was evening things up. In fact the rain came down so hard and fast I decided I would take advantage of one of the little shelter boxes, put there in case you get cut-off by a tide. I could have persisted on-wards and my smock would have kept me reasonably dry. But the pace I was able to walk meant I would have been cold and I didn't think I was in that much of a hurry.

In my strange, wood-built hut – like a fully enclosed bus shelter, but barely wider than a phone box, I saw off the worst of the downpour whilst munching on a big sausage roll Clare had bought me as a treat for today. By big I don’t mean long, this was one of those cross-sections of a larger roll, so about 3” diameter of sausage meat with pastry cover. There was so much filling I couldn't eat it all. I got back underway with hood pulled tight and only my legs exposed and made a good march on-wards. With the occasional short stretch of ‘sslog’ (my slog now degraded to slower than most peoples brisk-walk, but still advantageous in speed over my stiff walk).

I passed the lighthouses – which from the start looked near to the end of the spit – but still had a good distance to go. The rain receded a short while, but the smock stayed on as the wind was cold. As I approached the end I found the small community of the point. Which consists of station and of housing for a ‘full-time’ RNLI lifeboat crew – only crew of this type in the UK, an ABP Humber Vessel traffic service building and housing for its staff. I ran through the remote village, which as well as having current housing had ruins of old buildings dotted around. These also looked to be at the end, but in fact there was still about another half mile.

On-wards and my path was blocked by overgrown vegetation and dunes so it was onto the beach to find the rough end of the point. As another fast moving dark cloud loomed to the west I turned back and realised it had taken me significantly longer to get here than I thought. And I would have to get on with it on the way back. Clare wouldn't mind if I was slightly late, but if I was very late I ran the risk of getting cut-off by the tide.

Here comes the weather!
So as the sky turned dark grey and the rain came down again I pulled my hood tight and tried to get a forward momentum and rhythm going to sslog the last few miles of my big adventure. I only really stopped to take a few pictures to capture the stunning surrounds and unusual cloud formations in the ‘big sky’. I covered the ground back to the barrier in  just over an hour and five minutes at probably the fastest pace I could maintain beyond a walk, which equated to just over 3mph and was barely enough to keep me warm. Clare pulled up just before I hit the barrier and my adventure was complete. The final shortened day measuring 6.7m and taking me 2hrs30 minutes (2.7mph).

There was and additional pleasant surprise at the end of the run beyond Clare and my son Isaac to greet me, as my dad and brother had also journeyed out. I’ll forgive them the pub meal they all had whilst I was running as they took me to a nearby caf for a hot drink and delicious homemade cake!

Getting close to the end.... just some foliage to get past
Going further or faster today would have been a severe challenge and at what cost to my own health and ability to live a normal life for the next week I don’t know. My ‘real life’ meant helping to look after my son and returning to work on the Tuesday following this Saturday (I was glad of the bank holiday Monday). As it was my whole body was pretty battered - from pain in back of neck, to stiff shoulders, back, legs, swollen ankles and feet, blisters and two blackened big toenails – one of which now lifted off the toe by a blood blister beneath. That toe also hurt a lot just to walk on and would for over a week – despite a visit to doctors the day after my last run who diagnosed infection and gave me a two week antibiotics course. The blister drained and toe stopped hurting, but the toenail has subsequently bid me goodbye.

Epilogue -

Aches recede, wound heal, but perhaps the unexpected effect is the mental one this run had on me. It was a great experience
, with real highs at times. It was also a challenging experience. More so as the days passed I had moments I felt I could call it quits. But I would remind myself of the privilege of being able to do this and that many in the world would not have the option (including those I was raising money for) and that would keep me going till the emotional roundabout swung me around. Life goes on since this challenge, but for awhile it felt like I was missing something. And, being honest I think having done this it impacted my motivations for some of lifes more mundane tasks at times since. I question whether perhaps this makes me a selfish person having exercised this fantasy lifestyle for a few days and then missing it so since that I have days when life just lacks an edge.

Maybe so, but this is me, I don’t claim to be perfect, and I know for any selfish desires I also try to do good when I can and particularly for those who are most important to me. I read a post recently where a runner described the Spartathlon event as their ‘crack cocaine’ – this is something I can completely understand. I finished the year with my final four long monthly challenges, running the High Peak 40 in September, Yorkshire Marathon in October and then the Hardmoors 26.2: Roseberry Topping and another 40m North-Wolds Challenge run in the Wolds just after Christmas (more on these later). None of which as big as the GYRR, but all fun and challenging in their own way. I know there will be another big challenge not far away. Not just because I want there to be, but also because I’d be happy enough but somehow incomplete without it.

August Challenge: The Great Yorkshire River Run - Day 3 (Selby to Hull)

Selby Abbey
After a good sleep to try and recover as much as possible it was about 5.30am and time to get up and get prepared for the day ahead. Despite the tiredness and stiffness associated with over 100 miles – mostly run – in less than three days there was an immediate positive to start today, a cooked breakfast. My B&B option here in Selby had a fantastically early breakfast start time of 6.30am. So after taking time to get dressed, bag readied and feet patched up – yesterday’s blister plasters were mostly off so I took great care to adhere more “moleskins” to the sore patches on the balls of my feet – I was downstairs at just after 6.30. And I wasn’t even the first down in the breakfast room!

Cereal, fresh orange and then scrambled egg on toast really filled my tank up nicely, without stuffing myself. I then paid my bill and I was off at 7.16am. I walked at first through Selby to gently ease stiff joints into motion, before breaking into a ‘slog’ (how it felt at times and an my ongoing abbreviation for 'slow jog') down the main street and over the Ouse bridge. My choice route on the river-side, transpennine trail cycle path out of town was off-limits as blocked by works on the railway bridge. So a detour through industrial Selby followed, before meeting the river about half-a-mile out of town.

A quiet boulevard in the
south M62 'empty land'
I now followed hard, stoney track or flood embankment top path for the following few miles tracking large bends in the river, which really made the route far from direct today. The legs didn’t have much speed today, but by running long periods with much shorter walk-breaks I was making faster than 4mph progress as per yesterday. The bounce of harder surfaces was faster, but the softer embankment top path was kinder on swollen feet, on the condition that the path was even and didn’t aggravate the blisters!

After some more fun with cows, much as per yesterday pre-York, I arrived at a place called Newhay and was greeted by an aggressive dog at a path junction, where I was unsure of the correct path. The grumpy owner came over from his front garden after making some snide trespassing comment - despite me being at the path junction still – gave me some less than cheerily-toned guidance. I got back on my way, a bit upset/wound up by this as the map wasn’t conclusive. My last word on this should I see the man again would be, if this happens enough to bother you then why not aid the long-distance walkers, runners, cyclists who frequent this route with a helpful sign? I would.

Long straight roads and passing skies
Back onto the embankment path down the Ouse and at Barmby tidal barrage I decided to deviate from my planned route along the river and go through Barmby towards Howden – conscious my route today had large sections of little civilisation and I really could do with a shop before not too long to top-up water and maybe get some lunch in for later. If not my next “sure thing” was Brough where I wouldn’t be until potentially hours after lunchtime. Barmby didn’t offer much, but it was a gimme few miles along a straight road before I hit Howden.

I only skimmed the southern edge of Howden and I looked like not hitting a shop. Should I deviate further into town as surely there would be a shop? Or do I push on and make do with the water I have and snacks I have until Brough? I decided on the latter and it worked out well enough as I came within only a 100yard detour from a garage on the way out of town. I put my money to good use snapping up a meal deal; a big chicken Caesar wrap, crisps and water. I topped up by bottles and packed the wrap. I wouldn’t be able to stash the crisps in my relatively full pack without crushing them so I had a mid-to-late morning snack on-the-walk as I undertook one of the only climbs of my day to rise a few dozen feet over the M62 on the road bridge.

Goodbye Ouse, hello Humber
Heading south of the M62 between Goole and South Cave took me into the large super-flat and not unpleasant (on a sunny day like today), expanse of farming land that I think of as a little step back in time every time I visit. I would now have miles and hours of quiet roads and paths and would probably see as many transpennine trail cyclists as I would cars in this time. Such an experience may not be unique in our country, but would more likely be experienced in the upland areas of the UK.

I passed through Kilpin and Laxton before winding my way closer to the river through Yokefleet and then joining the bank at Blacktoft. I decided to run atop the flood bank again here for a while so I could try and photograph the end of the river Ouse as it spilt out into the Humber Estuary. After so many miles and so many of them on road my leg motion was very restricted by tiredness and stiffness, so even running on the relatively-even grass bank top was slow going. So I slowed to a walk to eat my wrap and try and recharge my batteries.

Outside the village and I was back onto quiet minor roads as regained a stiff jog. My overall pace today was marginally faster than the previous two days, the slowest being the first day. But on the first day I tackled more off-road and hill and seemed to walk a fair bit more as I gabbed with Mark. Day two had seen a preference for road, but some off-road that was far more challenging than today. Today I simply had to ‘slog’ most of the time, otherwise I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere fast.

More of that ugly, cross-eyed bloke
I moved onto a gravelly track and then as that swung north and off-route to a village I followed straight on to a path marked on the map. Which was really now a mostly chewed-up field edge between a ditch and dried-mud plowed fields (very uncomfortable on blistered feet). Even running bits I slowed massively here and motivation nosedived. I was glad to eventually get a grassy track to a farm and – after trying to figure my way out of the yard for a few minutes – another grassy flood embankment in the land between riverside marshes and lots more fields.

This was quite a good surface for progress, the natives, 100’s of sheep had beat nice trod along the flat-topped bank. And running through the numbers of these gentle creatures cheered me up simply because they weren’t aggressive cows for a change! And also reminded me of my little boy at home whose favourite toy is his fluffy sheep ‘Bah-bara’. At the edge of Brough a different emotion was stirred as my path passed the Humber Yawl club. I choked up a bit as I had in the past picked up my late-mother from here after she’d been sailing with members of the blind/partially-sighted activity group she supported.

Better than Cows!
I was back to civilisation, in the large village/small town of Brough. Which had shops, cafes, pubs, you name it…. But I just wanted to get on with it and all I needed was a water top-up. Before that though, it was a sure sign I was back in familiar territories as I ran into a friend of my dad’s, who was taking on a gruelling challenge of his own, landscaping the garden of the house his son had brought. I stopped to chat and tell him of my venture and got some more sponsorship.

I got a bottle of water to fill my bottles and a ‘for goodness shake’, which I stashed in the bag for after I finished today. And then headed out of Brough via the only slightly hilly section of the day through Welton, Melton and then over the A63 to Ferriby. I then headed back downhill to the riverbank and stiffly-jogged along the riverside path towards Hessle. After a brief stop to picture the outlines and plaques of the historic “Ferriby Boats” to add to my collection of journey memorabilia. 

Old boats....
How old you ask?
My path now followed a fine line of solid land between high-reeds and marshy land by the river and the A63 dual-carriageway, the central artery between Hull and the outside world. Still mostly beating out a slog with my swollen, sometimes painful feet I rounded the old overgrown and dilapidated docks which sandwiched the St Andrews Quay retail park with my first view of “jewels”  of civilisation such as Starbucks and McDonalds since York.

The Humber Bridge
The sun was out this afternoon so I passed numerous people out walking the river and further family groups as I headed into the shaded paths of the country park. From here I climbed the short section of steps from the old quarry and followed the raised path with great views under the vast Humber bridge. As I skirted Hessle and rejoined the river at the edge of Hull my thoughts were now “last leg”. I used to live in Hessle and would sometimes run to work in Hull centre so I knew it was little over 5m using the most direct route. However my riverside path weaved a bit more so it could be more like 10k left today.

Under the bridge....
I was now journeying back into the old-industry areas of landscape that fill many of my midweek run miles each week. Leaving St Andrews quay I got lucky that although the old dock-buildings to the east had started the process of being demolished since I had last past not that long ago, I could get through and didn’t have to take a detour at this late stage. One more ascent and descent as I passed over the raised walkway built over the Albert dock warehouses (which I always thought a pleasant, unusual an theatrical way for this path to enter the city, but it’s good for a city panorama).
Rising above the docks...
It was then across the lockgate of the marina and through the old fruit market area before crossing the river Hull – dividing the tribes of east and west – on the millennium bridge, around the dramatic deep building at Sammy’s point and onto the path along the riverfront of the Victoria dock village. I’d contacted Clare at 5pm and maybe 3.5m ago to arrange to meet me at about 6pm at the end of the village. Which meant I had little respite from slog-speed if I wanted to stop at the shop and collect a cool drink to sink at the end. In fact, just as I ran up the road to the roundabout, Clare who was driving up, spotted me. In a rare event me and Clare were both a few minutes early! 10hrs40 and 43.2m today.

Past the tidal barrier....
It was great to see Clare and Isaac, who I’d missed so much (this being the longest I’d not seen Isaac for in his 20mths). I got home and I was able to relax that little bit more than previous days. Although, relax isn’t in Isaacs vocab yet, so I also had to offer some low-key playtime. After a bath we got a takeaway Chinese from our great local and I think I was asleep not long after.

And 'The Deep' and I'm nearly done today.
It was great to be home, but there was still significant mileage and possibly a challenging riverbank route tomorrow taking me out of town from where I’d stopped today through miles and miles of mostly deserted reclaimed farmland to my eventual challenge endpoint at Spurn point. It wasn’t a mileage or route that would usually phase me, but my body had taken a battering already. The damage seemed to have been accelerated today. As well as a general stiffness and achiness, my legs were almost seized up now. The blisters weren’t really any worse, but my feet were now really swollen and my big toes in particular had taken quite a battering.