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.

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