Sunday, 29 March 2009

Memory Lane

The Langdales with Helvellyn Ridge behind

Took a trip down memory lane today. Saw the awesome forecast and set the alarm for 5am (in old money that’s 4am but no point thinking that way because we’ve all been longing for summer time). Away at 5.30 and parking up in Langdale for 07.30. No-one around and free parking – bliss!!

Setting off up the road to Little Langdale to begin the ascent of Pike O’Blisco and it suddenly hit me – almost 12 years ago I was jogging up this road with 10 hours running in me; hitting my first weak spot but on schedule for the Lakes 24 hour record. No supporters today, no tray of goodies, no buzz but what a beautiful morning - snow above about 2000ft and a cerulean sky.

The first day of summer!

Pike O’ Blisco is a stiff pull but the early start pays dividends; with no damned schedule to stick to I can take my time to tick off each of the Crinkle Crags tops rather than scoot round to Shelter Crag as I so often have in the past and I am over Bowfell, Allen Crags, Great End and half way to Scafell Pike before I even see anyone else on the fells. For 2 ½ hours I have had the Lake District to myself on a perfect day.

There is quite a bit of ice around high up so I decide to miss the excitement of Broad Stand, the West Wall Traverse and Lords Rake and opt instead for a stagger down glazed rocks to Lingmell. Decision time then. Well, I’ve been needing some hill miles in my legs for ages so, down the nose of Lingmell into Wasdale and up the nose of Kirkfell back into the last vestiges of winter. That’s enough to sort anyone out. Funny thing though – as always, my knees felt painful from the outset but today I’ve deliberately left the Ibuprofen at home and, if anything, they are starting to feel better as the day goes on. The rocky descents of Kirkfell and Great Gable dispel that optimism but now I just have to follow the big track through from Styhead to Sprinkling Tarn and Angle Tarn before the descent back into Langdale. 8 ½ hours on my feet in total and I feel nicely spent – today has done the power of good. It’s reminded me how focussed I had to be when I was training and preparing for a Lakes round and I truly wish Steve Birkinshaw all the best with his endeavours in May this year.

Scafell and Scafell Pike

Funny to think really: my South Wales traverse time is 17 years old, my Paddy Buckley time is 16 years old and my Lakes 24 hour time will soon be 12 years old. All of a sudden, after a real lull in record attempts things are hotting up and it promises to be a great year. You can read about Steve and his ambitions here:

If Steve is anything like me he will find training for the attempt far easier than asking other people to give up their time to help so, if you are interested and able please give him support. Many people have asked me how I will feel when the record is broken – well, obviously there will be a tinge of sadness but what makes me truly happy is that someone else feels it is worth devoting time, effort and energy to trying. It’s not going to make you rich, it’s not going to make you famous but, for me, I felt an obligation to try as soon as it thought it might be possible.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Wuthering Shuffle

I was saying....more about the Wuthering Hike. It was a full week after the HPM and although I had dug deep for that I expected to be recovered. Well, welcome the the real world old man!! Seems like these days I might need to factor in those recovery periods everyone else seems to talk about. Set off into the teeth of a strong head wind which, of course, was the same for everyone only it seemed to affect me more than most. It quickly became obvious that this year was going to hurt and, as I gradually fell back in the pack I resigned myself to a (relatively speaking) steady plod. Around mile 13 I was feeling pretty sorry for myself but got chatting to Kate Jenkins as she went past me. Turned out she was feeling crap too - fighting sciatica - I'm sure I didn't brighten her day with my tale of woe but somehow we both forgot our inward issues, got nattering away and before we knew it had hit the next checkpoint. By this time we had stopped going backwards too so that helped. Crossing the main valley on the way to Mankinholes provided some comedy moments as people converged from all directions (most of then clearly sub-optimal!). As last year, the climb to Stoodley seemed to freshen my legs and I regained contact with Adrian Davies. The terrible knee wrecker descent down to Hebden Bridge was not a barrel of laughs but on the climb up to Heptonstall I spied Ross Litherland and Mike Nelson - fellow Macclesfield Harriers who I thought were well ahead. Turns out that catching them up had varying effects - Mike wilted backwards, Ross behaved like a man with a rocket up his a** and took off at a fair clip. The final few miles were hard but thats the same for everyone and I was amazed to creep in under 5 hours (by 2 minute) after what earlier seemed like it was going to be a 6 hour plus effort. Allowing for the headwind etc it looks like I am around 10% slower than my best times - is that age or can it be rectified by more training, stretching and determination. We shall see.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Heaven and Hell

Well, this is my first ever blog post and that seems like a reasonable title to sum up not only the game of running long distances in general but my own experiences right now.

In the broader sense I have always thought that our sport attracted people who relish living life with ups and downs rather than a “comfortable” monotony. The euphoria of a great run where everything clicks, the sun shines, the ridge is grassy and the limbs flow effortlessly can so easily be dispelled an hour, a day or week later when the body groans at the effort, the stomach rebels at any food or the mind simply refuses to appreciate the beauty around us.

For me at least, the philosophy is that you have to know pain to appreciate pleasure, you have to experience disappointment to fully cherish success and so you have to spend a little time in “hell” to recognise your own “heaven”.

More specifically, right now, running is providing some challenges as I grow older and have to face the reality of slowing down a little but, more importantly, taking longer to recover from races. The past 2 weeks provide a great case in point. Arriving back from San Francisco on an overnight flight on the Friday morning was never going to be ideal preparation for the High Peak Marathon (a classic 42 mile team trog around the Derwent moors and bogs on the first Friday night in March). Nevertheless, a few hours broken sleep during the afternoon seemed to have set me up OK and the feelings as I left the comfort of the house to travel to the race start at 10pm were no worse than usual; a small part of you is eager in anticipation of a night out, with mates, a challenge and some competition but the vast majority of you thinks its about time for bed and feels like a small bird being thrown out of the nest.

This was to be the furthest I had run since the previous August. Things were going generally OK for the first couple of hours although it felt quite fast but then on the section to Cut Gate we were overhauled by another team. Hell. This had never happened. Our slightly arrogant approach has always been to start last and finish first. We simply don’t figure on getting overtaken. The next 3 hours for me were not a lot of fun. The ground seemed sodden, I struggled to maintain a jog and stumbled from one muddy grough to another – off the back of the team. I felt bad, I knew the others could be faster and I knew Steve and Steve had spent valuable time on evenings sussing out the ideal line from Bleaklow stones to Bleaklow head. I tried to keep eating and running just within my self. Around Bleaklow things started to improve a little and I was amazed to be told by the checkpoint team that we were only 5-6 minutes behind the leaders. I had assumed it would be more like 30 minutes. With the demon line nailed it was reported as 2 – 5 minutes by Wainstones and imagine my surprise as, in the grey light of early dawn, we caught the leading team at Snake pass. Heaven.

We put some effort in over to Mill Hill and appeared to have opened a good gap. Kept it steady too, round past the downfall but, as we left Edale Cross the guys told me they were only a couple of minutes behind. Hell – feeling maxed out already but obviously needing to put more in. It ended well – we pulled away, got our first ever sub 9 hour time and won the event but I was trashed; had to lie down for 10 minutes to let the nausea and breathing subside.

So, a week later and it’s time for my first run in the 2009 Vasque Ultra-running Champs. But maybe thats for the next post!! Come back to hear how much fun I had!!