Tuesday, 6 May 2014

April Challenge: The Woldsman - 50 miles

Part of Millington dale - the hilly section of route.
These challenges seem to be more often than once a month at the moment. Which means it seems like I'm either ramping up miles or tapering down at the minute, always with the nagging thought "have I done enough?". On the other hand after an almost non-starter in the Hardmoors 55 there was part of me eager to sink my teeth into a comparative challenge. The Woldsman is that challenge.

This event starts in nearby Driffield so a drive up in the morning was possible and if all went well I'd be back by early evening. Maybe this led to me having a more relaxed feel about the event than prior to Hardmoors. It is a simple format circuit, no drop-bags so quite easy to prepare for - what food isn't in my bag I'd have to get from the food checkpoints (which are usually pretty good in LDWA Challenges like this one).

This route also covers ground that I sometimes do in training so there would be the comfort of some familiar ground. Also as the route only rises to the dizzy heights of 775ft, so not as much bad weather potential as some events I do. And with no mandatory kit list I was able to pack fairly light, whilst still playing fairly safe (lots of runners with just small bumbags on this one, but I still used a 5 litre pack, fairly full).

I packed and prepared mostly the days and night before and went to bed quite relaxed. Sleeping quite well till up at 5am for breakfast. I didn't set off till nearly 7 for the 8am start. And arrived with plenty of time for registration, pee and a chat with a few friends doing this. Nice to chat with Mike Blamires at the start - preparing for another Grand Union Canal 145 (mile) race, Trev Misson - having a more leisurely walk around today, and Fred Clapham who I've run a few LDWA events and off-road runs with in the past - making a step up to 50 as a possible step up to a future LDWA 100.

The Off...

200 or so runners and walkers set-off at 8am and I was soon in the unusual position of running near to the front of pack.As things settled after 20 minutes or so a group of 6 formed that would stay together till quite a distance beyond CP1. The section to CP1 was quite flat, undulating at most, but we were gathering height slowly, yet the pace was fast at close to 8 min/miles. At CP1 (Danes' Graves), 6.75m, I grabbed some flapjack and a jaffa cake for my 'roughly hourly' feed. In the half hours between I planned to drink Chia Charge and have a bit of rich tea biscuit (not exciting, but hopefully would see my energy levels stay reasonably topped-up).

Some running wisdom was keeping the group entertained, mostly from veteran, but probably fastest ultra-runner here Neil Ridsdale. My favourite gem being on the subject of eating loads before the run, "If you stop burping or farting your in trouble". Colourful presentation, but sound advice I think. Towards the more Wolds-like dales we crossed the runway of former Cottam Airfield and passed the derelict chapel to run through our first dale bottom. The climb out of the dale soon after was the first with any real bite to it and one I'd forgotten about - enough so that I was in two minds whether to run or walk it. Go with the flow I guess? The rest kept on running so I fell in line. I wonder if anybody/everybody else was thinking the same?

The Hills begin

Ascending past Fairy dale

The group pushed on hard and started to seperate now towards Sledmere. But then all came together at CP2, about 2 hours running and 13.5m covered. A fantastic spread was laid out . Soon after the checkpoint after a sustained road and track run the pace was starting to tell on those who'd tried to hang on to what was near enough an 8 hour pace now - including me as I steadied off from the front few runners to run at my own comfort. As the land became more hilly, approaching twenty miles in, one of the front group was dropped and I  passed him on the downhill to Burdale house farm in one of the many tentacles of Thixendale. But no cruise along the dale bottom into the village for us yet, there was an almost immediate climb on a minor road onto Wharram Percy Wold (with great views of Fairy dale to our right).
Wharram Percy

At the car park for the Medieval village of Wharram Percy we had our CP3 - near 21m in - and I snacked on some cheese, pringles and sugary sweets. I couldn't say that this food didn't work - as I passed through the ruins of medieval Wharram Percy and struggled with the short climb onto the path running along the top of Deep dale - as I think I just needed to slow things down a bit. I needed the Thixendale indoor CP4 so I could stop, have a more substantial eat and recharge for a few minutes. There was only a few miles to go to there, but it did involve crossing a further dale and a pounding descent on stoney-path into the picturesque village.
Approaching Thixendale from above

Once there I took up the kind offer of the "pasta with spicy tomato sauce". I think I was the first runner to stop for hot food, walkers are far more likely to stop and feast, but most runners have a fine line how much and what they can stomach in run-jostled bellies. I then refilled my Chia Charge bottle for the second half whilst waiting - this CP was at about 25m. I enjoyed the pasta and filled up on some liquid I was probably lacking too. I then moved on down the road through the village and along the dale bottom road south. At this point I'd been going just under 4 hours.
Peaceful Wayrham dale

As the road became a grassy path sheep were my only companions for awhile, the runners ahead - 5 in all - had either left before I arrived at the last CP, some not long after and nobody else had arrived whilst I was there (for about 15minutes). Despite the flat dale bottom route and more food in my belly I was really struggling to get started again. My legs feeling very stiff so I was struggling to run for too long. I pushed on through dale bottom paths and as the ground became a bit rougher and more uphill towards the crossing of the A166 I figured maybe the pasta had given me some slow burn energy, but I needed a 'spark' too. I gobbled down a few shot blocks and managed a run walk on the rutted mud tracks through Wayrham dale upto the road. 

I crossed carefully and rejoined the route undulating through fields - walking up, running down, my energy gradually returning as I climbed to the high point of the route and a few hundred yards of tarmac on the roman road south from Garrowby. Then off the road and a few hundred yards picturesque dale top running before a fast grassy descent into (another) Deep dale. As I followed the dale bottom winding south with sun peaking over its steep grassy flanks, passed dotting's of forest and stream-fed-pond, my spirits picked up further. I was starting to run easier again and in a really beautiful surroundings, in perfect solitude at the moment too.
Leaving Great Givendale

I sustained this through a brief climb into Givendale and CP5 (31.5m) at the remote Scout Hut. I decided to treat myself to longer stops at CP in the second half so I could dig out my cup and keep better on top of hydration. It wasn't hot today, but I was running as hard as I thought I could sustain for this kind of long distance, it was also windy so I'd probably de-hydrated too much in the first half just relying on 500ml Chia Charge drink and water from my packs bladder (probably less than 500ml). After a drink, some flapjack and a quick chat and thanks to checkpoint volunteers I headed out again walking initially as I dug out of my bag my secret weapon, dark chocolate! 

The hilliest bit

Climbing out of Millington dale

I tucked into a third of the small bar and it was good and gave me an instant buzz as I tackled the initially hands-on-knees climb out of Givendale. Then over the top of the dale I hit the minor road descending to Millington. After a crossing through a pretty mini-woodland and stream at the dale-bottom it was straight up again on what might be the longest continuous climb of the day to the top of the dale and the turn north to track the dale. This is easily the hilliest section of the run and an area I quite often drive to to practice hill running as the ups and downs come thick and fast!

Sylvan dale
The first dale crossing is Sylvan Dale and the ascent, though short, is steep enough to have steps carved out of the hillside. At the top the route levels and then drops back down on  path winding through gauze into Nettle Dale, rising back out quite steeply immediately, before the path turns west and the climb becomes more subtle - but still at maximum of run/walk pace for my tired legs. The route the rejoins the dale as it turns west quite high above the dale bottom road now, following the 'Huggate Sheepwalk' on a narrow path that rises sufficiently at first to make this bit hard work. Thankfully the path hits a horizontal plain soon enough and the dale ends quite quickly and as I hit the road I'm at CP6 (36.5m).

Flat out...

Tough, stepped, climb out of Sylvan dale

As I leave the checkpoint I figure I've done quite a good "damage limitation" job on that last section. I've maintained near enough 5mph in a section where some bits have to be walked by all but a mountain goat. I can look forwards to faster miles from here on in as undulations give way to flats. First though the route rises over farmland before a steady descent to sweep north of Huggate on a minor road for a brief time. Then back off-road, into Cow dale - which is full of sheep most days I've been here. I talk to the sheep as they scatter off the path and then its time for a relatively fast sweep along the bottom of the dale.

There's a short, sharp climb out of the dale and a field crossing before following the road into Wetwang and soon the penultimate CP7 (42m) inside the comfort of the parish hall. Another fast section for this stage at about 6mph so I get my cup out to re-hydrate and grab a sandwich whilst I have a quick chat with the CP volunteers about "how its going?" "quite well a.t.m", "the weather effect today" "wind direction behind us for the last 5m has helped a lot. The opposite of two years ago when it made for a really hard finish!" and the marshalls walk of the route a few weeks previous where they'd finished at near midnight.

On leaving the CP a guy who'd been running ahead of me returns to the parish hall. A bad cramp or suchlike forcing him to retire agonisingly close to the end. The last 8m are probably the least interesting and challenging of the event, much of it on good track or hard surface. No bad thing at this stage when, as much as I've loved the event, I'm thinking of the finish. One last hill takes the route south before the route heads west again in the general direction of Driffield. 

A sheep in Cow Dale
My bag of tricks to keep my bod going is coming to an end now, I've got through most of my chocolate and shot bloks and I've got a very straight and dusty minor road to push on along. It also seems to magnify the heat of the bit of sun that is breaking though the clouds at about the warmest part of the day. The kind of road that taunts a tiring runner, "Your tired have a walk...... but I'm so flat and a good surface you should take advantage, you can't stop, keep pushing hard you slacker!" (if roads could talk). But soon the ongoing run on legs that have run most of 45m, forces me to stop and walk for a minute.

The final, CP8 (46m) is not much more than the garage of a remote house. I get my card clipped, grab a few sweets and push on. I've worked hard today and a massive personal PB on this course will be mine. And barring a disaster I should finish inside of 9 hours, which would make me pretty happy about my efforts.

I eventually hit the end of the long straight road and onto a short north-bound section of wide path chopped-up by off-road vehicles - so a bit of dancing around to find traction in places. Eastward turn past some suburb housing and then onto the A166 for a short distance. I take care crossing to the path as the cars seem to be super-fast along this stretch (or maybe time has slowed down for me?). Then into Little Driffield and down the main road, past the pub and to the crossing of the busy A614. I keep up a good effort trying for close to an 8:40 finish - though 6mph+ pace on flat isn't easy at this stage.

Back through a small parkland and its in to the showground for what seems an awful long slog over the grassy field towards the showground building. Its an epic event, but unlike the London Marathon no grandstand finish. The only people around are watching/playing in a couple of football - maybe rugby, not sure anymore.... - matches going on in another area of the field unaware of the irregular stream of people who'll be passing and completing this tough event. There's barely a sign of life at the finishing building until the door opens and I hear something like "here's another one" a few moments before I enter the building. I've been out for 51.1m and 8hrs41mins by my measure - 1hr54mins faster than my previous outing in 2012.

At the finish I check in, grab a quick tea and a soft drink and a few nibbles. I then sit down at the only used table in the currently pretty quiet room and talk to the 4 who've finished ahead of me - in times ranging from 7:59 to 8:20 - and a few of the organising team present.

Yes, this is perhaps the lowest of low-key finishes, but what more do you need, the experiance, and enjoyment of the course and the day are the prize. The achievement is your medal - although I do get my finishers certificate and, as its my local event, I pay £1 for my fabric Woldsman badge to wear on one of my backpacks in pride at future events. The aforementioned London marathon - running the next day - is mentioned, but in the context that this is much more fun. I enjoy my veg stew and sit around awhile to greet home a few more competitors and then take a steady short drive home, knowing that this has been a really good day and one I'll always remember as a "good run".

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