Sunday, 27 November 2011
We turned-up in good time and sat munching in the car watching the registration tent inflate and strain skywards in the cold wind. Hunched-up figures went about their business of setting-up, stopping from time-to-time to exchange cheerful words.
"Two dibbers..." Sam reminded me with a serious look as I got out of the car to go and register. This was the deal.
NGOC are a very friendly bunch of people, obviously keen to encourage participation at all levels of their sport.
Just as well really because it took me the best part of a quarter-hour to simply realise that the first control simply had the wrong number on it...
Sunday, 6 November 2011
Genuinely impressed with the boys. A good 0.5km uphill to registration and then the same distance again to the start; also uphill. A 2.2km course that was pretty muddy, sticky and uneven. Then 600m back to registration as well as the walk back to the car.
It was a big effort and Ben and Sam had much need of dried apricots and Soreen.
Must be careful - in my mind I have an image of 'Competitive Dad' off the Fast Show...
Lose places to road runners but make them back again as it gets steeper. There is cloud and rain on the top but we are up into it then back down and out within minutes. We run round in a loop and leg it back down the way we came up. I lose a few more places but make one back by strongly upping the pace before the end.
It's a fine and charming race. £3 to enter (the majority of which is handed straight over to the pub to provide post-race refreshments), laconic instructions from the race organiser and the prizes awarded to 1st, 10th, 20th (and so on) runner to the top.
Everyone friendly to everyone else. You try your best but miss the point if you take it too seriously...
I was way below par but managed 24th in about 46mins, Matt Farrer was a couple of minutes after (38th) with Mike Wood (45th) about the same time behind again.
Saturday, 1 October 2011
Tuesday, 27 September 2011
This year 69 entrants form a motley, good natured assemblage of fellrunner 'chic' outside the Red Lion. Race organiser, John, stands on a wall to do the formalities and tells us that one of the checkpoints will not be manned today, and then laughs and says he's not going to say which one.
I enjoy the very tready sound of studded footfalls as we all set off down the lane. Right away the temptation is to charge away but this is most definitely a route where you must pace yourself, if you aren't going to pay dearly later on.
The initially steep sides of Pen Cerrig-calch give way to a gentler gradient before the summit plateau is reached. Paragliders wheel in stately circles above. There are clear views across to the Beacons to the west. I alternate between running and fast walking, making and losing the odd place, chatting with Dave who has done the race may times and is going for a sub-3 hour run today. He has even got splits and a schedule in mind.
Passing Pen Twyn Glas it's time for me to have the courage of my convictions as everybody ahead keeps going to the north and the instinct is to follow them. I bomb down over the tussocks and through the rushes, failing to recognise any of the landmarks i've 'memorised' on my last visit. Down a gully and onto the magic little grassy path through the heather where you can really open it up.
Fill my bottle (pre-loaded with electrolyte) at the Grwyne Fechan crossing with a view to having a gel and a good drink on the way up the 400m climb to Pen y Gadiar Fawr. The runners ahead have gone to the right. There are others further ahead but way off to the left. Again, it's time to trust the recces and head up the middle. Dave and I climb on up. It's a long steep pull. Towards the first of the false summits it becomes more energy efficient to lean forward and walk chimp-like on all fours.
I follow Dave now as he picks up speed down the shoulder into the next valley. "A lot of people tank it down here," he calls back, continuing our theme of taking it steady in the first half of the race . It's not feeling exactly slow to me, however!
Towards the bottom, I'm stepping down off a bouldery bit when my left calf locks up with cramp and I know that any hope of pushing hard from now on needs to be tempered. Considered running is going to be needed if I'm not to find myself tied up in painful knots miles away from the finish.
Fill up the bottle again at the stream, cross the road and head on up the bank on the other side, pulling hand-over-hand on the fence to make matters easier.
Now Dave steadily pulls away on the climb upto Chwarel y fan as he begins to put his foot down. Me, I get another gel down and have a good drink to try to stay fuelled up. Along the top I lose another place to a chirpy guy who keeps telling me he's no good at downhills.
Off Bal Mawr I know where I'm going and we follow the path down and around until I see my dead sapling marker. Then its fast as we can down through the bracken. The recces pay off properly here and I make up a good half dozen places by taking the best line.
The initial darkness of the short cut through the spruce plantation is like a blackout until eyes adjust.
Oozing another gel into my mouth as I shuffle up the forestry track and the long, long ascent to Crug mawr. Stop for a leak on the basis that it'll be one less thing to think about and promptly lose the places I made coming off of Bal-mawr!
The asent leaves the track and moves up underneath the spruce again. Huge Fly-Agaric mushrooms, red with white spots, line the path in places and lend a surreal atmosphere to the place.
It's getting a bit messy by now. The chirpy Welsh guy's overtaken me again and I'm cramping-up painfully. Tell myself that I just have to keep running through it. He's kind enough to hold the gate for me and then, losing ground every time I look up, I follow the others onto the top itself.
"Will this pleasure never end?" I ask the marshall when I get there - which gets a laugh.
Downhill all the way from here on in and as fast as possible given the state of my legs. Overtake one guy, but by now the others are diminishing figures way ahead. A loss of concentration and a misjudged footfall and the cramps seize me yet again. Give myself a good shouting at for losing the focus....
Down into the fields and woody paths that remind me of my local hill at Leckhampton. Along the road, living with the cramp now, head high and arms working hard. Over a stile - verrrry cautiously to avoid locking up - and then the last field and woody section before the malevolent final climb up to the finish. I run it all because I'm feeling boody-minded, but also because it would probably be just as bad to walk. Over the line with the sound of claps from the other runners who've already finished somehow in the background.
Sit down. Come round. Fall into conversation with the chirpy Welsh guy and a Chepstow Harrier called Steve who I'd been trading places with for most of the second half. We go fill up our bottles at the village tap over a trough of green murk.
3:08:something was the final time for me. Mike was around the 3:30 mark. Dave would have got under the three hours if he hadn't eaten - wait for this - "lentil and cabbage chilli soup" the night before and had to do a 'Paula' in the final stages.
Jamie - well the poor guy had picked up an injury and couldn't take part.
Sunday, 18 September 2011
There's a special feeling that comes with doing stuff you enjoy when by rights you should be at work. A special timeframe, therefore, and what better way to fill it than by putting a keen edge on my - ahem - 'navigational skills'.
The plan for the day was to drive to the problem points and suss them out rather than do the whole circuit of 17m or so.
Moving up to a cloudy Pen twyn Glas the air was still, condensed droplets balanced on each blade of grass. A raven sat on the gravestones over to the right and croaked at my to-ing and fro-ing. Indistinguishable clumps of rushes were memorised as landmarks to lead the way down to the trod that turns into a path...
Then back down the lovely valley, spotting some good overnight camp spots by the stream along the way.
Drove down tunnel-like roads clogging up with encroaching vegetation. Finches flew infront of the car, fluttering and then gliding along in streamlined dips. A farmer raised a hand and grinned teeth so widely spaced they could be flossed with bailer twine.
Pulling into the car park at Pont Cadwgan I was cut up by four mountain bikers who came flying out of the woods to the left. It was quite satisfying therefore to overtake two of them ten minutes later as they pedalled at slow speed and high cadence up the extraction track that leads to the route to Bal Mawr. Luckily I was able to sneak into the cut through the woods and start walking again.
The route that works for me off Bal Mawr leaves the main path and follows the smaller path/trod that descends around the side of the slope. Again, I memorised unidentifiable landmarks - a dead sapling, a tiny hawthorn and a splatter of horse shit - to lead me down through the bracken to the forest...
Heading back to the car I harvested some Sparassis crispa or Cauliflower Fungus.
I'd never eaten any before and it went down well having been dipped in egg and fried in butter. Mushroomy with a tripey texture...
So all I got to do now is enjoy the race next Saturday. They say 3:30 is a respectable time so I'll be aiming for that - can't wait.
Sunday, 17 July 2011
This event forms the second half of the Brecon Fans race weekend organised by the Mynydd Du.
On the Saturday, competitors run a short 'AS' race with a lot of climbing up to the top of Pen y fan, the highest point of the Brecon Beacons. The following day runners take part in a longer distance 'BM' run that has more gradual climbing and follows the Fan y big horseshoe circuit: distance about 10.5miles with roughly 2500' ascent.
The route heads out through fields from Llanfrynach before heading up a long steady climb up Cefn Cyff and on to the FyB summit. From here you can open up your strides on mostly fairly level ground around Craig Cwmoergwm and Bwlch y Ddwyallt; the head of the horseshoe. Then, as the saying goes, it's a simple case of 'brakes off brain off' back down to the village.
"Almost Athletes?" smiles the man taking the entries as Mike hands over his £6. "Never heard of them before..."
The heavy fine rain that had been sweeping down over us whilst we made our race preparations has gone as we gaggle together for the start. There's a fit looking bloke wearing a Dark Peak vest standing ahead of everyone doing his warm ups - he looks like he means business. I'm feeling like I could do without the coming effort as we collectively shuffle towards the line...
The humidity builds as we head out through the fields, up lanes and finally a loose cobbled track before we break out into the welcome sights and smells of the lower fellside. Al Tye is sat under a hawthorn bush taking photographs of the runners as they pass.
Peel off the helly hansen and put my vest back on when the gradient slows me to a walk. A Mercia runner called Mel who I remember racing against on the Stretton Skyline a couple of years back comes past - running. My striding pace keeps up with her for a bit before she pulls ahead. Then another Mercia runner catches me up and says in a friendly way that he's 'clucked' if he's going to run this bit - and then breaks into a run. I decide to go with him.
Jamie's blue top is miles ahead already. Away to the right Cribyn is smothered in cloud. The wind is picking up again, bringing a few spits of rain with it. We're into the tussock and wet peat. I'm finding my feet at long last and it feels good to be out.
"Hello. Thanks. 285", to the marshall at the summit checkpoint. "14th" I think I hear him tell me.
The Mercia runner is suddenly 50m ahead, so with the wind at my back I kick out aiming to close the gap. But he's a proficient guy and every time I glance up from where I'm putting my feet he's a little bit further away.
There's a flap, flap flapping of a race number about a metre behind my right shoulder. By now I've had enough of being overtaken so I turn it up. It goes quiet for a bit but ominously the noise comes back.
We pass the first of a series of unenthusiastic-looking, bergen carrying squaddies as we turn for home.
"Bloody hell, he's got a gun!", I say. "Don't annoy him...", says Flapping Number.
He's on my shoulder all the way down Rhiw Bwlch y Ddwyallt and then there's three of us as Dave (aka themadrunner) appears on my left wearing his bright orange woolly hat. I'm genuinely surprised as I thought he was way ahead and out of site but I push on, narrowly avoiding a squaddie, conscious that I'm leading the group and likely to pay for it later.
I try to shake off Flapping Number as we come onto the lower slopes through bracken and gorse where the marked route begins to emerge again. He overtakes when the gradient steepens and I slow down. At the bottom of the slope I hear Dave come crashing down the slope close behind.
Onto the tarmac again and I'm racing to try to get back in the running. My mind is getting tired and I run right up to a gate without deciding whether to jump it, look for a stile or open it and the few seconds it takes me to negotiate the catch are utterly maddening. [There was some swearing... But I found out later that Dave had the presence of mind and good values to give me that time back]
Back down into the village and I'm having a teenage strop. Dave comes past and I let him go.
"Reckon you can get me if you dig deep..."
"Can't be arsed..."
And that's it. He puts in a good effort and finishes well whereas I can't bring myself to go into the red zone any more. Lame.
Jamie's managed a very respectable 9th place and pretty much keeled over after coming over the line. I'm stood in a little stream talking to him when Chris (doing his first fell race) comes in about a minute and a half later and then Mike not all that much further behind.
"There's a better stream over here," says a guy who I recognise from Shropshire events and the Three Peaks, so we pick our way down to a deep pool overhung with trees. We get immersed and the cold water is the perfect antidote.
The race is won by a 19-year-old who's travelled up from Cornwall. Helen Fines has set a new ladies record for the course. But the biggest clap during the good natured giving of spot prizes goes to the man with the camera...
Thursday, 30 June 2011
Too fit for his own good, Jamie was waiting for me by the trig at the top of Pen Cerrig-calch. The sun shone, a light breeze breezed and flat bottomed cumulus ballooned upwards into the blue. It was shaping up to be a good day.
We picked our way through the white stones in the peat and over the flat top to Pen Allt-mawr and then opened up the strides on the springy turf down to Pen Twyn Glas.
After a false start, a climb back up the convex slope and some traversing about we found a fairly efficient line down to the (now) obvious diagonal grassy descent into the valley below.
After some food we did some more faffing before deciding the best line headed slightly up and to the left past three hawthorns, lower branches strung with sheeps' wool. It was humid in amongst the bright green bracken. A dumpy fledgeling flew clumsily away from me and landed on a bracken tip that furled back on itself.
The climb to Gadair fawr required a steady approach, each hands on knees step equating to a little more progress. The slope eased off and a little re-entrant led to easier tussocky ground and the summit tump itself.
Straight ahead this time and a speedy and grassy descent down the shoulder to the road crossing and a chance to refill the drink bottle in the stream.
Glastonbury performances were discussed on the next climb to Chwarel y fan and then after a gel stop we stepped up the pace along the watershed to Bal-Mawr. We spent a bit of time here working out the best way down and eventually found the right line to the woods below.
It went laughably wrong in the woods. We headed up a firebreak that became more and more nettled and impassable. I pressed on and through slime and was eventually stopped by a fence. Jamie climbed a manky stile into the plantation and we wandered backwards and forwards in the trees looking for a cunning short cut. We did not get very far.
Sctatched and stung, and back on the main path we found the right route - a small opening - about twenty yards further on! We went down through the trees, hit the made-up track, turned right and then left almost imediately down another path and then had a steady run down to the road crossing. Satisfying...
On the forest track that followed, I moved in a semi-hypnotic state. Sweating, aching legs: I was not going to stop. There was no talking, just the sound of feet crunching the gravel and the bright sunlight contrasting with the tall dark fir trees on either side. Further ahead, we ran past old limes that probably pre-date the plantations.
From the dark beneath the trees, the striking colour of foxgloves set againsta backdrop of sunlit greenery... It was getting hard to keep it going...
Past Ffordd las fawr farm and up the gully of a path. I finish my food, grimly striding on. Jamie gives me some jelly babies he's half-inched off his daughter and we run together out of the wood.
There are twinges of cramp in my legs but I manage to run up to the top of Crug mawr.
Then it's just a case of keeping the legs going on the long descent that follows. I'm between a rock and a hard place: it hurts to run, but it would probably also hurt to walk - and walking would last longer.
I now know that it takes 139 left foot steps to run the last climb back into Llanbedr. I know because my frazzled mind counted them...
From 'Wheeze' on the FRA forum:
Race starts outside the Red Lion Pub in Llanbedr and makes its way to CP 1 Pen Cerrig Calch by way of a track that aims directly at Table Mountain from the lane at GR 244207 The route then runs north along a fabulous ridge over Pen Allt Mawr before dropping into the Grwyne Fechan at Pen Twyn Glas. At the northern edge of the forest on the valley bottom, cross the Grwyne to take the BIG ascent to CP 2, Pen Y Gadair Fawr. This is HUGE. Straight over to Grwyne Fawr now where the road exits the forest at 248292 for another steep pull to CP 3 Chwarel Y Fan. Another long ridge run south to CP 4, Bal Mawr and the navigational crux of the race. Run due south off Bal Mawr to pick up the forest trail at 269263. Go south into the forest, turning left of the trail after a hundred yards or so onto a cut that leads to the lower track that meets the road by a bridge at 267252. Straight over the road into the next forestry section, turning left at the cross roads onto the track that goes to Ffordd Las fawr farm house. Go right about 100 yards after the farm taking a track that goes straight up the hill side, straight over first forest road and then left at next forest road to exit forest over stile at 262232. Then head south to final CP, Crug Mawr. Return to llanbedr via Blaen Yr Henbant picking up lane at 240212 and then leaving lane on footpath on right at 243205. Descend to the little bridge and then its a short steep pull into the back of Llanbedr to the Red Lion.
Many of us have used the stream lines coming down the hillside as guidance. I can tell you that most people go too far right and then hit all the false summits. The best route is to bisect the 2 left hand streams. The aiming point is a small rocky outcrop near to the skyline. Pass just to the right of the outcrop and you hit a gentle grassy ramp that smoothes out the first 2 false summits and gives a nice entrant to the actual summit knoll quite close to where the track comes in from Waun Fach. Try it, you'll like it!
Sunday, 15 May 2011
This year's week in Shambleside featured fine family time aplenty seasoned with nuggets of unremarkable 'fell action', the odd pint - and a head cold.
One day I managed a potter over and around Loughrigg fell and took great delight in the abundance of bluebells and the damp humic smells as I ran through the woods. I hoped that the swifts/martins/swallows that were nesting in the roofs of the big caves beside the footapth were coping ok with the seepage. With time to kill, I went back up over the top and came down in Clappersgate and finished with a brisk effort along the road.
Another evening I gleaned some time and went up to Wansfell Pike. Was pleased to be able to run all the way without having to resort to walking.
On Thursday, Pete and I walked up to Sergeant Man from Grasmere...
... and then wandered across to High Raise. The rain that had been pelting us eased away bang on cue and we took in panoramic views from just below the cloudbase. It was pretty cold though after our soaking...
We walked over Thunacar Knott and went on down to Stickle Tarn where we spotted a solo climber on the sodden walls of Pavey Ark before going on up again to Blea Rigg. From here we enjoyed some delightful undulating tops before eventually heading back down to Grasmere from Lang Howe, through a wonderland of juniper woods and fern-lined tracks.
Pete had an appointment with a hot tub and decided to get the bus back. I had a civilised pot of tea (with cup and saucer) on the shore of the mere before walking back over Loughrigg fell one last time. Felt pretty tired by the end - should have opted for the tub!
Monday, 2 May 2011
Jamie, Chris and I headed over to the Mynydd Du to have another go at the Black Mountains race route - a great day out with bright sunshine and strong winds. Chris, running in the hills for the first time, put in a good effort following Jamie who was on form and pressing the pace. I trundled on behind on legs that lacked punch, content to enjoy the clear views and very blustery conditions.
We took a better, more direct line from Perth-y-pia up onto Pen Carrig-calch than last time. The run along the top to Pen Allt-mawr and Pen Twyn Glas was exhillarating in the blast of the wind and the sound of inflated nylon coats flapping madly.
Jamie's research had paid off and we found a better place to begin the contouring descent to the valley floor.
Chris enjoyed the many false summits of Pen y Gadair Fawr.
I think we took the wrong line off the summit and down to the valley, following the edge of the wood on an uneven path rather than heading down a long shoulder that eventually leads to much the same point.
The climb up the other side of the valley to Chwarel y Fan felt like a long old pull...
... but we enjoyed the views over to the Malverns and May Hill from the top.
We ran along the watershed in a cross wind where I did the longest spit (yes, Iknow it's disgusting) yet.
From Bal-Mawr we took the wrong line - again - down to the conifer plantations below. More work needed here.
There were some nice bluebells in the woodland section that followed, but my legs were not too enthusiastic by this point and I laboured on behind the other two.
One more visit should do it in terms of getting the route right, I think. We need to work out the best way off Pen y Gadair Fawr and nail the route through the plantation below Bal Mawr.
But the Black Mountains are fine hills and their rounded tussocky forms are suited to a windswept day. Well worth a visit.
The next day out in the hills is in about a month's time when Mike and I will be helping out as pacers for Dave's South Wales Traverse attempt.
Saturday, 16 April 2011
Monday, 7 March 2011
"Don't give it away," said Mike as he overtook me on the grassy descent off the final hill, Yearlet. But I had to let him go: I was kippered.
It had been touch and go whether I would be able to run, but the lure of a British Championship 'Valleys Race' and the prospect of participating alongside (ok, not exactly alongside) some of the best fell runners in the country, was strong enough for me to ignore doctors orders and head up to Shropshire with Mike. It would be my first proper run for three weeks.
Organised by Mercia fellrunners, the Long Mynd Valleys is an event that delivers post race joy directly in proportion to levels of pain experienced whilst doing it. Although eleven and a half miles and four and a half thousand feet of upping and downing (that's a bit more than Ben Nevis kids!) sounds like no pushover, it's the relentlessness of the steep climbs and descents making up the second half of the course which really forge the deserved reputation of this race as a classic.
Mucal distemper meant that my race this year was going to have to be a steady one. I plodded the first climb and enjoyed letting gravity do the work for me as I dug my heels into soft brackeny peat on the descent to Jonathan's Hollow.
On the Port Way the passage of many studded soles made the ground look like it had been thoroughly worked over with a steak tenderising mallet...
... I slurp a sickly gel on the climb to Barristers Plain and then on the very steep descent that follows, watch with detached amusement as a runner ahead goes out of control and tries to slow himself down by taking a series of increasingly wide, high-speed zig zags, shouting breathless warnings to others as he goes. In the end he makes up five or six places...
A few years ago I travelled up to recce the course on my own. But in Callow Hollow I met and got talking to Dave, and we travelled onwards together. Dave used words like, "re-entrant," and clearly knew his stuff. At one point he told me to aim for a clump of trees on the skyline and we heather-hopped our way down the slope to arrive slap bang on top of the location for checkpoint four. Dave looked delighted when I told him he knew the place like the back of his hand. Local knowledge and choosing the most efficient route between checkpoints is a key part of fell running, and he kindly went on to show me a series of subtle lines on the remainder of the run...
"I don't do heather," shouts a Cumbrian accent away to my right as I now follow Dave's advice for real and overtake a dozen places. I take more places later on by following a leftwards rising traverse out of Windy Batch and realise that, as we run down to Sleekstonebank Hollow and with traces of cramp seizing my legs, that I've nearly caught up with Mike.
I enjoy the fine sight of a drawn-out string of brightly coloured running vests climbing up Callow, the hill ahead.
After the steep grind up the side of Callow and a plodding traverse around the side of the next hill, Grindle (I have a theory here that it might be quicker to go straight over the top) I dig my heels in and gallop past the more cautious runners down the steep descent to Ashes Hollow.
The final climb of the final hill, Yearlet, begins as a tactical battle with cramps in both legs and nearly ends three quarters of the way up when my thighs literally lose the power to propell my body weight upwards. I'm grabbing handfuls of bilberry stems and spagnum moss and leadenly forcing a step at a time. 'Don't do heather' Ambleside woman overtakes me. Wendy Dodds (FV60) overtakes me, going like a train. I think I might faint, but I keep going and stagger onto the top to mark my number at the orienteering punch final checkpoint.
I feel really done in all of a sudden, so just jog back down the grassy slope which is set at a much more civilised angle whilst various runners (including Mike) come charging past.
The race is all but over barr one little slope immortalised on the Mercia website as a 'Little Sod' - which I walk up.
Finally manage to spur myself on to the finish back in Cardingmill Valley - down the steep descent, jump over the stream and hop over the line with legs that are locking up. The comlimentary clunky chunky kit kat was the best I'd ever tasted!
Pics below courtesy of Alistair Tye