Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Fellsman

Okay so at 8:30 am on Saturday morning it was kick off time for my fifth crack at the Fellsman. Its funny that on every other occasion that I've run it, especially in the middle of it, feeling weather blasted, terrain blasted, cold, miserable and knackered, I decide, vehemently, that I am never, ever, ever, ever doing this flipping thing again if its the last thing I do.....

.... but, within a couple of days, the memories all fade and I want to do it all again. Its just brilliant really, brilliant but brutal. And epic. And fairly fricking stupid. But brilliant never-the-less.

The Fellsman 'brochure' says that its 61 miles long with 11,000 feet of climb but my Suunto Ambit running watch made it a snip under 60 miles long but with 12,927 feet of climb. Either way its long and its high! The 3 Peaks fell race, run from Horton on the same day, makes a big thing of its 5,300 feet of climb over about 23 miles but the Fellsman chucks that amount of climb at you in its first three (of ten) peaks in the first 13 miles and, after those first 13 miles, you still have 47 miles to go and getting on for another 7,500 feet of climb! That said its not really the distance or even the climb that does you in on the Fellsman, its the ground that you go over - mainly tussocky grassland or boggy, tussocky grassland or boggy, wet and tussocky grassland.... with hills and dales of course. It just sucks your strength and will to go on out of you with every step. Relentlessly.

Well it did for me on Saturday and the early hours of Sunday anyway. I'm still not sure of my exact time for getting round the 60 miles this time (the proper results are not out yet) but it was something like 18 hours and 15 minutes, worryingly 90 minutes longer than it took me last year, but boy did I struggle. Almost right from the off I was suffering from nausea and stomach cramps and it was only after dark (12 hours in) that I started to feel better. Ironically, by that stage, I was grouped with 6 other runners (the organisers insist that runners group up for safety after dark) so I couldn't really take advantage of my late in the day spurge in fitness. Having a bowl of prunes and custard the night before may not have done a whole lot of good for preparing my tummy to be honest but for most of the day my legs felt like they were misfiring too (maybe still recovering from the London Marathon two weeks ago and my foray into the hills of the Lake district last weekend?). So what with that and the nausea it all made for one seriously tough day.

Anyway I rocked into the finish at Thresfield at about 2:45 am on Sunday morning completely plastered in mud, head to foot, but with a big smile on my face. Hester was patiently waiting for me to arrive and, apart from her cheery smile and much needed cuddle, the bottle of Black Sheep beer that she thought to bring along was the making of my day and went down an absolute treat. 

A cracking day, all in all then. Funnily enough my legs today have felt fine and I even went for a 4.5 mile run over Whitber Hill this evening. Contrast that with my efforts at the 26.2 mile London Marathon just two weeks ago where I finished a complete train wreck and could barely walk for two days. All the same, were a keen road marathon runner turn up at the Fellsman, he'd be sure sure to notice the incredible contrast.... "its running Jim, but not as we know it"

Runners starting to mill about before the off from Infgleton

The first climb into the low cloud over Ingleborough

Me, with hard man of the hills beard, coming off of Ingleborough

Starting to climb Whernside

A truly brilliant descent from Whernside into Kingsdale

Climbing Gragareth

Looking back towards Whernside from near the top of Gragareth

Not so many crowds as the London Marathon then....

Adnan, a running mate, at the Blea Moor checkpoint with Ingleborough now visible in the far distance

The start of a bugger of a climb out of Stonehouse

Pen y Ghent in the distance from the top of Great Knoutberry

Descending to the Snaizeholme road crossing

On the way up Dodd Fell

Fleet Moss ahoy!

Roger, who I ended up grouping with, on the way to Middle Tongue - the last photo before dark

Ze route

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The best place on Earth

The weather in the Lakes on Saturday was truly glorious, especially for this time of the year. And it couldn't have been better for Hester to run her Teenager with Altitude fell race, a tough as 'eck, 'ard bastard of a fell race if ever there was one - 16 miles, 7,000 feet of climb and visiting getting on for 10 different tops, starting and ending in the small hamlet of Stair, near Keswick.

Meanwhile me and Harry were taking things nice and steady with our own 15 mile romp around some of the same hills but weren't racing, what with the VLM last weekend and the Fellsman looming large next weekend. Our route took us over Causey Pike and along the ridge to Crag Hill before doubling back on ourselves a little, dropping down into the valley to Rigg Beck (to get Harry an urgently needed drink of water), over Knott Rigg to Newlands Hause, up Robinson and back to Stair, a swift cup of tea and lump of cake in the village hall, before climbing Catbells to look out for Hester finishing her race. 

All in all a grand day out. Hester eventually came romping over Catbells with us then jogging down from Catbells following her to the finish - she did brilliantly of course and was still smiling (perhaps slightly insanely) at the end of what must of been a gruelling race. Free beer afterwards in the village hall too, Windermere Pale Ale from the Hawkshead Brewery, with beef or veggie stew. Mmmmm.

The Lake District, on a day like that, the best place on earth!

Looking towards Robinson from Causey Pike

Haz with the Skiddaw range and Blencathra in the distance beyond

Curley whirley path ahoy!

Knott Rigg, the ridge line that we crossed to Newlands Hause

Harry looking down to Newlands Hause

Climbing Robinson

Buttermere ahoy!

Keswick from the top of Robinson

Descending Robinson (last done at the end of my Bob Graham Round last September)

Where's Wally?

Front runners of the Anniversary Waltz fell race climbing Robinson


Fell race marshals waiting at the top of Catbells

Harry pratting about at the top of Catbells

Hester dropping off the side of Catbells with Derwent Water to the right and Skiddaw ahead

Ze route - crafted by hand as the running track from my Ambit didn't upload properly!

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Virgin London Marathon

Last weekend, and against all better judgement, I gave up hill running for a couple of days, tootled off to London and had a bash at the London Marathon. Me, a near as damn it road running virgin, running the Virgin London Marathon (named after me I guess). Jeesus, what was I thinking?  

The weather was stunning on the day though and, all in all, it was a fantastic race. I even ran the first half of it fantastically too, reaching the half marathon point in 1:35 hours (and that included a wee stop just a mile into the race). Unfortunately the second half was markedly less 'fantastic' as I increasingly struggled to hold my pace, with the last 3 miles done at what I might optimistically call super shuffle pace. All the same I was happy with my time of 3:34 hours, especially given my complete and utter not knowing what the feck I was doing and what, with hindsight, was clearly a too fast a pace for the first 13 miles.

I have to say that I was a complete train crash at the end, staggering my way after the finish line looking for Hester, stopping momentarily to be very sick on the way (oh, porridge and sultanas for breakfast then), and finally cramping up and unable to move (at all for 5 minutes) stepping up onto a curb only 20 yards from my welcoming committee of 'fans'. Fortunately I managed to uncramp myself and meet up with Hester and co but the fun and games didn't end there - I couldn't bend my legs sufficiently to sit or lie down (but desperately needed to do so) and had to do a ridiculous straight legged crab like thing on all fours to get down on the ground. Then I couldn't get up again. My sister Maureen kindly battled through the crowds to the nearest Costa and battled back again with a coffee for me, only for me to then sick that all up again into a handy drain, smack in the middle of Horse Guards parade.  I was sick all over my VLM medal of course. Doh!

And, when we left, my walking down the steps to Charing Cross tube station was just laughably pathetic. And painful. All the same what a fantastic event and what brilliant, brilliant organisation. And what brilliant crowds cheering everyone on.

Oh and a big thank you to Emma and Colin for putting me and Hester up for the weekend.... and for not taking the micky too much afterwards at my post race state.

Pre-match nerves kicking in

Looking naively confident

Perhaps less confident now!

Digging in

"The engines can't take it, Captain"

Staggering over the line

Enjoying a brief moment at the end.... in between spewing up twice

Ze route - cue East Enders intro music

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Fun and Games on Causey Pike

Today's adventure in the Lake District with Hester and Harry was made 'ever so slightly' epic by the incredible wind and rain that, as is often the case with me, seemed to blow in just as we got to our destination of Stair, near Keswick, and got seriously worse the higher we climbed up our very first peak, Causey Pike. Our original plan for the day was to recce the route of the Teenager with Altitude fell race, so called because its 15.4 miles long (i.e. a teenager) and includes 7,600 feet of ascent (i.e. with altitude). Hmmm... see what they did there?

Anyway Hester is competing in this race in two weeks time and, given that the first half of the route is all new to us both, our plan was to suss it out for her in advance. I knew the weather forecast was grim (although may have forgotten to mention that specifically to Hester) but, if it was just the heavy rain, we'd have been fine and dandy but it wasn't.... 

The wind was just mental and, although it was 'merely' gusting super duper strong once we reached a height of 350 meters, at the top of Causey Pike it became ridiculously and dangerously gusty. Anyway, despite some serious rock clinging onto-ing and not wanting to budging by Hester in a couple of (the most exposed) places imaginable, we managed to summit Causey Pike and move on. The next peak was the easy peasy Outerside but, by now, the wind was if anything even stronger and getting strong lower down too and, although the ground was less rocky and more grassy and it all round felt less exposed, that was probably just as well as Hester got blown over twice as we descended Outerside.

Our next peak on the TWA route was Grasmoor, which is 300 meters higher than Outerside, so we quickly came to the conclusion that Grasmoor (completely invisible in the hammering rain and low cloud) was a fools errand. Rather than suicidally carry on up there, we decided to bail out and take a looping run at a lower level back through Coledale to Braithwaite, before cutting across the fields back to Stair. It was still a cracking adventure though with 7 miles run and something like 2,300 feet climbed.  An yep fantastically epic too what with the weather.

We sure earned our massive pot of tea and chunky cheese sandwiches in the farm shop cafe on the way home!

Our route with Grasmoor left well alone, bottom left

The weather was okayish at the start

The delightful Hester

Hester crouching to avoid take off, near the top of Causey Pike

Harry looking nonch at the summit - what you can't see is the 100 mph gusts of wind and rain
(and Hester gripping the ground on all fours just out of shot)

Looking like a drowned rat

I think this is usually the parking field for the Anniversary Waltz and TWA fell races!

The troops wading home to the finish

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The "Five" Caves of Settle Hills

Following on in my series of visiting 5 particular things while out on a run (see Five Waterfalls from Settle and The Five Trigs of Ingleborough) this morning me and the Hazmeister decided to run a loop around the 5 Caves of Settle Hills. Our original target of five caves turned out to be a complete joke to be honest as we actually ended up visiting about 10 caves all told (well 10 for sure if you count a couple of pokey holes in the mix) but, given that it would ruin my '5 series' if we formally visited anymore than 5 caves, the extra caves have been given 'junk' cave status for the purposes of this blog post. 

While on the subject of junk status, in a discussion with a running friend recently, talking about training for long distance challenges like the Bob Graham Round, he effectively called my running (well my mid-week running specifically where I tend to mainly do 3 or 4 mile outings each evening with Harry) as 'junk miles' and 'dog walking' and felt that 'training' should more organised, harder, longer and tougher and, without saying it explicitly, effectively inferred that, if it wasn't done in a repetitive, structured and almost boringly masochistic way, it just didn't count. He was all for hill reps in his training (i.e. going up and down the same hillside loads of times) to maximise ascent and to keep the training efficient which I'm sure works, don't get me wrong, but, jesus, I'm damned if I'm going to miss out mine and Harry's fabulous little (and big) outings in the hills to turn my running into some sort of hamster wheel equivalent. 

In any event I'm not sure I particularly think of my running as 'training' anyway - whats most important to me and Harry is to just enjoy being out in the wilderness, running, exploring, yes occasionally really pushing my limits but also with a good mix of taking in the views, the wildlife, taking pictures and generally twitting about. Its just great fun and, if at the same time, our  junk fun running allows me to become fit enough to have a crack at the occasional long distance event or challenge, all the better but fun comes first! 

Aaaand.... rant over and back to the Five Caves of Settle Hills report. I've only named 5 caves on my route map  below (shown as yellow pin markers) with the other junk caves just shown as unnamed white markers. Our main caves of choice were Attermire (or Lookout) Cave, Horseshoe (or Keyhole) Cave, Dot Dot Dot Cave*, Jubilee Cave and Victoria Cave. Me and Harry had originally intended Ben Scar Cave to be our third cave but I came across Dot Dot Dot Cave whilst looking for Harry, who'd decided to go another Harry way, rather than my cliff edge path to Horseshoe Cave, and as quality caves go I preferred Dot Dot Dot to Ben Scar, and thus Ben Scar got relegated to junk status. (Have I said junk enough yet?).

*Because me and Harry are very laddy lads, when we saw Dot Dot Dot Cave, largely based on its shape, we thought of an entirely inappropriate name (to snigger to ourselves) which I have abbreviated to Dot Dot Dot for blogging purposes.

The 5 Caves (and 5 other caves) of Settle Hills 

Our climb up High Hill - which I ran up all the way of course

Cavey hills ahoy!

Lookout Cave at the top of the cliffs in the centre of the picture and Keyhole Cave to the right

Synchronised Sheeping

Harry the intrepid cave explorer

Lookout Cave

Keyhole Cave - this cave can be explored quite a way in apparently 

Dot Dot Dot Cave which looks a bit like a (dot dot dot)

Dot Dot Dot further in

Ben Scar Cave, relegated to junk status unfortunately

Rough tussock running ahead then... and me and Haz have the best runnable line through this field too!

Jubilee Cave (yes there are two caves) where its said a cannibal in days of yore
would lurk and jump out on unsuspecting, and ideally plump, passers by

Another random cave

This cave is brilliant but, as its right by Victoria Cave, it doesn't count as a proper cave

Inside the brilliant not counting cave

Victoria Cave, which is pretty damn big

Harry exploring Victoria Cave

A random Cave near Warrendale Knotts

Beautiful boy

The final not a cave - its more of a grotto really