Friday 13 September 2013

Lakeland 50 - half the length, twice the pain

Having the UTMB lined up for the following month I decided to err on the side of caution and do the Lakeland 50 this year instead of the 100.  Thinking I'd cracked the secret of pain free endurance running in the Joss Naylor Lakeland Challenge three weeks previously was I in for a shock.

As usual I went up on the Thursday night and stayed in a youth hostel so that I got a early start and good camping spot on Friday morning.  I had booked a bed in the newly renovated Ambleside hostel but that was closed due to structural problems being found so they moved me to Coniston Coppermines hostel instead. I met Daniel Milton, a L100 competitor, there.  Surprisingly there were no other competitors staying.

Friday morning saw us pitch our tents not too far from the school on the road side of the field.  I'd decided not to bring the big tent but did bring the porch to erect over the back of the car so that I had a covered seating area, along with my North Face Westwind 2-man tent for sleeping in.

Home sweet home
Slowly but surely the field filled with cars, campers and tents.  Old friends and acquaintances turned up. Originally we had quite a few Goyt Valley Striders signed up for both the 100 and the 50 but this dwindled down to just three of us on race day, for a variety of reasons. There was Paul Hunt and Peter Davis doing the 100 and me on the 50. Other local (to Whaley Bridge) runners included Simon Moorhouse, Nick Ham (both 100) and Colin Wilshaw (50).   My ultra friend Jenn Gaskell was also competing but had to get her leg taped up due to a strain in her lower leg.

I had thought that watching the 100 start would be very strange having taken part in the previous 2 years but it felt like watching any other start.  I kept myself busy taking photographs.
A pensive Paul Hunt at the start
This promised to be an interesting 100 race with previous winners Terry Conway and Stuart Mills present.  I was also interested in what Charlie Sharpe would do.  I first came across Charlie in last October's Dusk 'til Dawn 50 miler where he waltzed round in the dark in a mere 8 h 57m.  Since then he'd been winning or getting podium places on a number of low profile (and some not so low) events, including beating teams as a solo runner, so it was going to be interesting to see what he'd do on this course.

Terry Coway (Course record holder)
Charlie Sharpe (New kid on the block)
Stuart Mills (Old man on the block (red bottles)) 
The story of these elite runners is interesting.  Stuart employed his usual run like hell and hang on strategy. This worked as, apart from the first control at Seathwaite where he was second, he took first place and kept it to the finish in 22 h 17m.  Terry went round in 3rd and 4th places but succumbed to illness and packed at Buttermere. Charlie employed a very different strategy to Stuart and started very conservatively with 27th place at Seathwaite and slowly moving up to 11th at Braithwaite.  By Blencathra he was in the top ten and gradually moved from 6th to 3rd between there and Tilberthwaite.  He picked off the 3rd runner on the run in to Coniston to gain an impressive 2nd place (he was a late entrant so hadn't recced as much as he might have) in 23h 02m.  Next year will prove to be interesting if they all return.

Back to us mere mortals, the 300 or so runners set off at the usual suicidal dash through Coniston.
Charge of the 100 Brigade
I then did my own dash up to the start of Walna Scar Road to catch them coming down from the Coppermines valley.  I managed to catch them all, except for Peter who slipped through without me spotting him.
Nick Ham
Paul Hunt (Hoka Shocka)
Simon Moorhouse
Jenn Gaskell
 I then watched them disappear up Walna Scar Road before heading back to base and a good night's sleep.
Disappearing into the sunset
Before getting some sleep I checked in on the progress of the 100 runners that I knew.  I noticed Paul was way down at Seathwaite and immediately knew something was wrong.  I texted him and received the reply that he'd gone over on his ankle at the top of Walna Scar Road and hobbled his way down to the checkpoint.  Fortunately, another runner who dropped out at Seathwaite was a doctor and diagnosed Paul's ankle as having torn ligaments.  It eventually swelled up to twice the normal size.  Somehow, after getting a lift back to Coniston he drove home during the night.

Of the remaining 100 runners, Jenn retired at Buttermere not wanting to worsen the damaged leg any further with the UTMB only a month away, Peter retired at Dalemain, Daniel retired at Kentmere and Simon retired at Ambleside. Nick made it back to Coniston in 33:37.  He also had the UTMB to tackle.

So, getting some sleep that Friday night, instead of tramping over Black Sail pass, didn't feel as strange as I thought it would and I managed to get a good night's sleep.  The morning went quickly enough and we were soon on the fleet of buses to Dalemain.  Colin and I managed to get an early bus so we had plenty of time to relax in the shade of a tree at Dalemain and cheer the 100 runners on their approach to the Dalemain checkpoint marquee.  It's then time for us to perform.

The new start time of 11:30 arrived and we were off. The initial 4 mile loop around the Dalemain estate was new to me. It was also very hot.  It consisted of a rolling trackless route through grassy fields which brought us out at Dacre castle then back along to Dalemain House along the 100 course.  You would have thought that I'd learnt my lesson back in 2011 during the Ridgeway Challenge run when I set off far too fast feeling cocky after my L100 success.  My legs were wrecked for the next 75 miles.  Back on the L50 I now did exactly the same feeling cocky after my relatively painless Joss Naylor Challenge.  (The fact that it was only three weeks previously wouldn't have helped either.)  I stormed through the first leg to Howtown covering the 10.2 hilly miles in a little over a hour and a half, passing Nick on the way down.

Approaching the Cockpit Stone Circle
I then paid the price for the next 40 miles.  The cramps started on the way up Fusedale. Actually, to be accurate, they started the week before as I was getting calf cramps in bed most nights in the previous week so something was afoot. Once up onto the top I managed to shuffle between the Kops.  Just before reaching the turning point where we dropped down to Haweswater I heard a runner coming up behind me.  I could tell it was a woman from the breathing noises but these were combined with a healthy dose of spitting like a trooper.  This turned out to be Rachel Ball from the ubiquitous Sunderland Strollers.  She eventually finished in an excellent 2nd lady position. She passed me tootling along like a Duracell Bunny and went chasing a group of three runners in front.  Problem was they'd missed the turning down to Haweswater. I initially thought they were being sticklers to the route and not chopping off the corner but they carried on heading off towards the Pennines.  I called them back, much to their relief.

I don't remember much about the run alongside Haweswater apart form feeling sorry for the hikers trying to come in the opposite direction.  One other memory was passing a young man who was wearing very minimal Inov8s who looked as if his feet were very sore (after less than 20 miles).  I later found out who he was.  He packed at Mardale.  He later attempted the UTMB CCC in only slightly less minimal shoes and packed after 30 miles.  I wonder if he's got the message yet.
Approaching the Mardale Checkpoint - photo Amanda Seims
The Delamere Spartans did a grand job of manning the checkpoint.  The portaloos also came in handy but no repeat of last year's stomach problems thankfully. The climb up Gatesgarth went OK.  I chose to leave the checkpoint with empty bottles and fill up at the stream near the top to save carrying it up the hill.  The cramps really kicked in on the way down.  I found that I could eventually get moving on the downhills and somehow break through the cramps.  It was on the uphills and slow technical sections that the cramps literally crippled me.

For once I managed to leave Kentmere in a reasonable time, after sampling their lovely smoothies and pasta. Colin arrived as I left.  I shuffled my cramped way up Garburn being passed all by a number of runners.  Fortunately I managed to breakthrough the cramp and get a decent move on down into Troutbeck.

I was reduced to a walk over to Ambleside until the down hill when I got going again.  It was like the Tour de France with the crowds leading into the new checkpoint (which I found cramped and hot so didn't hang around long).  On leaving the checkpoint the heavens opened.  I sheltered under a tree while I put my jacket on.  The cramps were attacking me all along the next section. Every muscle below my knees was in spasm.  

I managed a jog along the riverside to Elterwater where I suffered the ignominy of being passed up the hill to the quarry by a couple of 100 milers (who I'd just passed). I managed to run into the checkpoint with them, passing the cheering drinkers outside the Wainwrights Inn in Chapel Stile. This checkpoint keeps moving further along the route each year.  At it's current rate it'll be in Consiston by 2019.  I don't want to complain but I found the Heinz big soup a poor substitute for the lovely thick stews served up in 2011. 

The cramps were now reducing me to a very painful walk. The rocky section after Blea Tarn proved very difficult.  I couldn't control my feet as the cramps were making them point downwards and in random directions.  Not ideal when careful foot placement is required.  I do remember be able to run the road section into Tilberthwaite.  I was quickly in and out of this checkpoint as I believed that a sub-12 hour time was still just about on the cards.  

This was were my wheels well and truly came off. As I climbed out of Tilberthwaite I began to feel weaker and weaker.  I somehow made it over the rocks and onto the flatter section where I had to stop and rest my head on my poles feeling extremely weak and sick.  I came round a bit but the next couple of miles was pure misery.  People came streaming past me (19 in all) as I trudged to the col above Coniston Coppermines. I felt a bit better by this point but then I tried to descend.  

As I began to drop down towards Coniston the pain from the cramps brought me to a stop.  I couldn't move forward.  I tried walking backwards but the ground wasn't suitable for that.  I'm not sure how I got down but I eventually made it to the more runnable ground and managed to get going again.  I ran the rest of the way to the finish arriving at 3 minutes to midnight in a time of 12 hours 24 minutes 117th out of 583 starters and 482 finishers.  At least I managed to finish in the same day that I set off. Colin turned up some 20 minutes later.
CheckpointTime of DayElapsedLegPosition
Pre Start DalemainSat 11:26:37----------
StartSat 11:32:45----------
CP9 Howtown Bobbin MillSat 13:11:1501:38:3001:38:3053rd (583)
CP10 Mardale HeadSat 15:37:3904:04:5402:26:2483rd (578)
CP11 Kentmere Village HallSat 17:24:2205:51:3701:46:4396th (550)
CP12 AmblesideSat 19:25:4307:52:5802:01:21101st (530)
CP13 LangdaleSat 20:45:5409:13:0901:20:1196th (495)
CP14 TilberthwaiteSat 22:37:1911:04:3401:51:2598th (487)
Coniston FinishSat 23:57:2612:24:4101:20:07117th (482)

Overall, in the circumstances I'm pretty pleased with that result.  Still inside the upper quartile. It could have been a whole lot worse if I hadn't been able to get some decent downhill runs in.  I learnt my lesson though.  I would not be setting off quickly in the UTMB.

Sunday 21 July 2013

A Grand Day Out - Joss Naylor Lakeland Challenge

Long distance running is essentially a lonely sport, especially so when you live 160 miles from where your running club is based.  This is its nature and is usually perfectly fine.  Occasionally however you do need to rely on others to support you in a particularly challenging run.  This was the case with my attempt at the Joss Naylor Lakeland Challenge.

To quote the website:
"Increasingly regarded as an old man’s Bob Graham, this route has become the benchmark challenge for the mature runner. It was inaugurated by Joss Naylor in 1990 as a fund-raising challenge to the over 50’s. In addition to completing the route, successful contenders must raise at least £100 for a charity of their choice. Joss’s challenge involves climbing 30 tops, crossing some 48 miles of mountain terrain and ascending nearly 17000 feet. The route starts in Pooley Bridge, Ullswater and finishes at Greendale Bridge, Wasdale. Each age group has a specific time limit varying between 12 and 24 hours with different times for men and women.  There is no emphasis on record times and pacers are mandatory for safety reasons."

I'd agreed to have an attempt with my usual mountain marathon partner Dave Stephenson.  My plan to do an ultra marathon a month leading up to the UTMB meant that this should have been my June ultra but as fate would have it we couldn't find a mutually convenient date in June so settled on Saturday the 6th July.  This was very fortunate as I had my 55th birthday on 28th June.   This meant that I was in a higher age category for the event and was allowed an extra 3 hours to complete, giving me a total of 15 hours.  Those 3 hours came in very handy.

So, with a date settled we could put out the word asking for support runners.  Dave called on his club, Bingley Harriers and I on mine Goyt Valley Striders and soon had sufficient numbers to see us through the day.  My band of happy GVS volunteers was Steve Hennesey, Al Fitzgerald, Mark Whelan and, after some last minute rearrangements, Paul Hunt.  During the remaining weeks until J-Day various recces were made.  Steve and Mark checked out leg 4, I went up to the Lakes for a few days but only managed to do the Rossett Pike to Bow Fell traverse and the descent off Great End due to having a lame dog to see to, and Steve went up again to check out leg 2.  This last one was under the pretext of giving GVS ladies Phil Smith and Sarah Bull some navigation training and exposure to the Lakes prior to their Coast to Coast run. They were suitably impressed.

With 17,000 ft of ascent I knew this was really going to be a challenge for me.
JNLC Profile - all 17,000 feet of it
As much as I love the hills they don't love me in so far as I'm hopeless at getting up them at any sort of speed.  I can predict my rough position in a fell race by how much ascent there is in it. It's a power/weight ratio thing.  I have been working on increasing one and reducing the other but there's still work to do. Just to set the expectations of my support runners I sent them an email outlining this.  It left them wondering why I was even trying if I couldn't get up the hills! Good job I didn't tell them about my dodgy knee and high blood pressure.

So, it was soon time to drive up to the Lakes and set up camp on Friday 5th July.  We'd decided to set up base camp in the Park Foot campsite.  I arrived first and set up my big 8-person tent and was busy preparing my drinks for the next day when Aly Raw of Bingley Harriers (along with Stan the world's quietest dog) turned up in her campervan which she parked by the tent for the weekend.  Dave and two more Bingley runners Phil Knight and Brendon Georgeson turned up later.  Phil was being 'loaned' to me to support on Leg 1 as he had recce'd it with Dave.

Looking at various blogs and forums the general consensus about the first mile or so of the route seems to be that cutting up through Park Foot is the way to go.  I'd originally decided, thinking that the start was in the middle of the village, that the better route would be to follow the Lakeland 100 route through Pooley Bridge then up the road out onto the moor.   When I realised that the start was actually on the bridge it looked that the Park Foot route was slightly shorter so decided to take that.  However, after checking out the route through and out of the campsite I reverted to my original plan.  The road route maybe a hundred yards or so longer but it is far simpler with only one gate and a consistent and smooth gradient, much more suited to my running style.

Leg 1 - Pooley Bridge to Kirkstone Pass (14 miles)
My support on this leg was Phil and Paul.  Waking up at 4:00 I took advantage of the camp showers, taped up my left hip which had been giving me some pain after a couple of hours on recent runs and dressed for the day.  I wore a lightweight white t-shirt, Salomon twin-skin shorts, smartwool socks, calf compressions, Inov8 debris gaiters and my Salomon Speedcross 3 shoes.

Paul set off straight up towards Arthurs Pike as Phil and I trotted down to Pooley Bridge at 5:30.  The weather was already warm and humid.  Wisps of cloud were floating over Ullswater as we waited for 6:00 on the bridge.
Chilling on Pooley Bridge bridge
The time arrived and we set off up the road.  This section before the moors is the only section which offers any shade but it was still worryingly warm and humid in the shade.  We were soon out onto the moors above Park Foot and, after a brief interlude to make a deposit in the bracken, up onto Arthurs Pike in a steady 41 minutes.  Up onto Loadpot Hill where we picked up Paul the running was much easier than when Dave and I were up here in April on the Nav4 Lakeland Mountain 40. Then it was covered in deep snow.

The rest of this ridge to High Street was fairly straight forward and there was also a very welcome cool breeze.The view from Kidsty Pike over to wards Mardale Head was brief but spectacular. I'd be down there in three weeks time on the Lakeland 50.  Apart from a solitary hiker near High Street we had the fells to ourselves at this early hour.

Thornthwaite Beacon with it's massive stone tower was next. Through the gap in the wall Phil and I turned right to follow the wall rather than take the more obvious path down which Paul opted to go.  This had been kindly recced the day before by Aly.  The grassy descent by the wall was clearly faster as Paul was a few minutes behind us as we started the ascent up to Stoney Cove Pike.  We followed the wall after the Stoney Cove Pike summit cairn but I was beginning to think it couldn't be the right way as there was no sign of a track when Paul arrived and called us back to the right wall.  It was then a simple case of following it until I could see Pike Howe when I cut across.  Coming down off Pike Howe there were three people waving at us.  I first thought it was my team but soon recognised Andy Nicoll, Steve Fry and another Bingley supporter who I didn't know.  It was Dave's team out looking for him.   From here, rather than follow the path over St Raven's Edge we cut round the back of it and dropped diagonally down to a gate on the pass road where Mark and Al were waiting.  Into the car park where Steve was waiting to take over on the next leg  I was 15 minutes up on the 14:40 schedule.
Leg 2 - Kirkstone Pass to Dunmail Raise (8 miles)
So which direction is Mecca from Kirkstone Pass?
After a quick Muller Rice and a mini pepparami (more on this later) Steve and I set off up Red Screes.  This was new territory for me. The steep climb to the top went well and then headed for a wall which we couldn't see for the mist on the top.  Once we reached the wall it was a nice grassy descent down to Scandale Pass with views down to Patterdale and Windermere. A steady climb up past Little Hart Crag and up onto Dove Crag (which I don't understand why it's not on the summit list as it's on route and is more of a summit than some of those on the High Street ridge).

We reached Hart Crag and had just come down off the cairn to log the time when a Bingley clad runner appeared.  This was John Parkin, closely followed by Andy Nicoll.  Dave then came straight over the cairn and onwards totally oblivious to my shouts of abuse about him catching me so soon.  This was Dave in the zone.  His world consists of the three yards in front of him.

Back in 2010 he did this on the 3 Peaks Race when he came alongside me going up Whernside.  I had to tap him on the shoulder to get his attention on that occasion. (Five minutes after that I was laid out waiting for a rescue helicopter having tripped, while trying to chase down Dave, and smashed my face on a rock resulting in a triple fracture of my cheekbone.)

Back to the Joss.  A hundred yards after Hart Crag we were following Dave and co up some rocks when he looked back and finally realised it was us.  That was pretty much the last we saw of him apart from three dots groping their way up Seat Sandall as we were coming off Fairfield.  He went on to finish in a brilliant 11:39, one minute inside his schedule.

Fairfield was looking very different from my previous two visits which were both in howling storms at some ungodly hour in the morning supporting Bob Graham attempts.  The summit cairn on those occasions was extremely difficult to find unlike now when it was surrounded by a ring of resting hikers in the bright sunshine. I kept going here while Steve jotted down the time, as I intuitively knew the way off but Steve called me back and got his compass out which duly pointed us about half a degree off my original direction.  Better safe than sorry.  The descent was also a pleasant surprise as I had vivid memories of sliding my way down this in my headtorch beam but now it was easy to choose the best route down.  The Bingley boys up on Seat Sandall looked like they were hardly moving.

This was the third time I'd been alongside Grisedale Tarn in less than three months.  Dave and I had been past it both in the Lakeland Mountain 40 in April and the Old County Tops in May. It was looking glorious now.  Seat Sandall was a steady steep drag but we were soon up on the top and heading down to Dunmail. I was still feeling good.  Steve had been plying me with water and food along the way.

About a week before the attempt I received a phone call from Monica Shone, the recently retired JNLC secretary.  She was checking up on our details as she couldn't get hold of her replacement Ian Charters.  After bring her up to date on our times she said she'd be at Dunmail Raise around 11:00 to see us through.  At the time I was clearly deluded as I thought we might have gone through long before that.  As it turned out it was gone 11:30 as we came off Seat Sandall.  As promised Monica and her husband were there to greet us.  Apparently while waiting she'd got the name, rank and serial number (so to speak) off all of the supporters, maybe looking for the next batch of JNLC attempters.  She'd have to wait a while for some of them to reach 50.

At Dunmail I changed into a clean shirt and had the strange experience of having two blokes (who shall remain nameless but it wasn't Steve or Paul) fighting over who was going to tape up my nipples as they had started bleeding.  That's what I call service but they could have shaved the hair off first.

Leg 3 - Dunmail Raise to Sty Head (11 miles)
This leg is perhaps the hardest of the four with the steep ascent to Steel Fell then the long trudge to Rossett Pike via High Raise and the ascent up Bowfell and descent off Great End.  Al was to support me on this leg and I did feel for him as he had all my kit and 3 litres of drink as well as his own stuff.  He'd come out of semi-retirement from running as he is concentrating on swimming these days. Neither of us had recced this section up to High Raise so we relied on my GPS for this bit.

So we set off up the very steep climb onto the Steel Fell ridge.  I had hoped to do a diagonal ascent but that was impractical due to the bracken so it was straight up for us.  This was hot but we kept a steady pace as Al informed me that he had arranged for four naked Swedish masseuse to be waiting at Sty Head as well as a keg of real ale. As I suspected they weren't there when I finally arrived so he owes me one, well at least a beer (compared to the several I owe him for his help).
One of my most vivid memories of the whole day was the views from Steel Fell.  Located as it is in the middle of the Lake District and with no other nearby hills to block the view there is a 360 degree feast of Lakeland panoramas, especially on a day like we had.  Unfortunately we didn't have time to stop and take it all in but I'll be back.

The next section to High Raise was a mixture of tracks and grassy meadow as we contoured round Calf Crag before taking the climb up Birks Gill.  Al had made sure that I was fully hydrated by regularly handing me a bottle and refusing to take it back until I'd finished it. He also pointed out the spot where clubmate Mark Richards' stomach had rebelled on his successful 50 @ 50 attempt.  Between the top of Birks Gill and the High Raise summit the terrain is a gentle slope but not runnable due to tussocks.  In retrospect it might have been worth checking out the alternative and only slightly less direct route up Deep Slack.  There seemed to be a decent path in that direction towards Sergeant Man.

Over High Raise we ran down to and over the Stake Pass path picking up the path Dave and I had followed for a while in the Old County Tops towards Rossett Pike.  My route took us over the rocky rise on Rossett Crag.  With hindsight we should have contoured north of this before ascending Rosset Pike.  From the Pike we had a cracking view of the route up Bow Fell, a double dogleg onto a rising terrace.

I'd recced the rest of this leg with my dog (who then suffered from sore pads after all the rock work) a few weeks before.  It had been low cloud then but we had full visibility now.  It always amazes me how routes seem shorter when you're familiar with them.  This was no exception as we made our way to the top and picked up the path three quarters of the way up.  I really must follow that path back down sometime to see where it starts.

Bow Fell summit was like Piccadilly Circus, covered in hikers.  Some pre-teenage youths found my attire most amusing.  "Do you think he a fell runner?" one of them asked.  Bright lad.

The rest of the ridge over Esk Pike and onto Great End went fairly well.  I was amazed that I was still feeling fairly fresh considering what I'd just done.  The anticipated bone tiredness and empty legs didn't appear.  I even ran some of the path up Great End.  I later learned from Dave that there is a nice grassy alternative to the left of the rocky path off Bow Fell.

The descent off the north side of Great End was as expected, rocky, screey, and steep.  We even had to do some rock climbing (which thankfully I'd not had to do with the dog).  Three quarters of the way down we found Paul who had come up to meet us.  He guided us down the final section and we were soon at Sty Head where Mark and Steve (ready for his second leg) were waiting.
Al approaching Sty Head (Paul and me in the background)
Paul and me at Sty Head (I'm still running!)
 Mark had laid out the contents of my Leg 4 goody bag along the top of the Sty Head stretcher box (behind which Dave and I had sheltered for some respite from the hurricane that was blowing in the infamous 2008 OMM) so I selected a couple of items to eat as I passed straight through and onto the climb up Great Gable.  I was bang on schedule at this point.

Leg 4 - Sty Head to Greendale Bridge ( 13 miles)
The pattern for the rest of the run was set going up here.  Steve would lead the way so I had someone to focus on and Mark would trail behind me giving me encouraging words (and food and drink) and letting me know how much ascent was left as we reached the tops.

Start of climb up Great Gable
I had been dreading this climb up Great Gable, fearing I would be shattered by then and that it would be slippery and covered in scree.  Neither of those happened.  I still had energy in my legs and the path was paved in untypically even and correctly spaced steps.  I got into a steady rhythm and made the top without too much effort.

Over the top of Great Gable looking down into Ennerdale and over to Crummock Water
Steve and Mark then quickly found the right path down, unlike during their recce when they used a horrid route down the scree.  Kirk Fell came and went (we didn't use the red gully) as did Pillar with me running a fair chunk of the less rocky sections.
Heading to Kirk Fell over Kirk Fell Tarn
Approaching Pillar (Great Gable in the background)
 Mark very quickly sussed when I'd want my poles and had them ready for me right on cue on all the ascents.
Steve leading the way off Pillar to Wind Gap (Photo Mark Whelan)
Up on Scoat Fell Steve waited while Mark and I nipped up and down Steeple.  This was the only point throughout the day I could feel my energy levels start to dip so I took an energy drink and some food, including my second mini peparami (which actually tasted quite good) much to Steve and Mark's amusement (amazement?).  Haycock was uneventful but I think I'd have preferred the grassy, but albeit longer, descent than the rocky one we took but the lads stuck to the route they knew which was wise in the circumstances.  Time was getting tight.

As we came alongside the wonderfully named Pots of Ashness I looked at my watch then looked at the massive upturned boat that is Seatallan and, thought for the first time that I was going to run out of time.  I had 1:05 to get inside 15 hours and, looking at the relentless slope up to the summit, thought it would take me half an hour to get up there. (It's actually just under 200 metres to the summit from the Pots but looks bigger at the end of a long day.) So I started plugging away at the grassy path up this beast staring at the next few steps seemingly in front of my face and occasionally looking up hoping in vain to see Steve disappear over the top.  Mark was behind giving me the run down on how far the summit was.  100 metres became 70 and Steve finally disappeared, the top flattened out and I was up in a surprising 15 minutes.  Hope came rushing back as Steve handed my a final bottle and a few jelly babies and I dashed off down the side towards Middle Fell, which looked a damn sight tamer than Seatallan had done.  It was on the way down Seatallan that I realised that the bottle Steve had given me wasn't mine.  He had donated his last bottle to me.

As we approached the summit Paul was there once again to meet us and guide us down.  I had plenty of time but got frustrated with myself as I struggled to keep up with Paul and Steve when I'd normally be shooting down such a runnable slope.  Joss' house, Low Greendale, came into view and we were soon approaching the bridge to be clapped in by Joss and Mary Naylor and their friend, mountain guide and JNLC dinner organiser, David Powell-Thompson, 14 hours and 49 minutes after setting off.  (Thanks for waiting David, I know your wife had put your dinner in the dog due to my slow pace.) What a cracking day! What a team!

The icing on the cake, a handshake from the great man.

Planned and Actual Times

Leg 5 Greendale Bridge to Pooley Bridge (by car).
As some of you will know I already know Joss and Mary from selling copies of my painting of Joss for charity, with certificates of authenticity signed by Joss (see  Joss bought the original painting the last time I'd seen him so Mary kindly invited us in to see it on the wall.  It was looking good up there (but I am biased).
Me and Paul in the Naylor Art Gallery.
It was now past 9 in the evening and we had to get back to Pooley Bridge so we made our leave and set off back, calling in to Keswick where Paul treated me to fish and chips.  I don't normally eat these due to having high cholesterol but they went down very well. It was well past 10 by the time we got back to the campsite so we decided to put our celebrations on hold and the team quite rightly all went home to their beds which were only 2 hours away.  I enjoyed a nice hot shower and met Dave and Aly walking Stan the dog as I returned to the tent.  Dave, who finished 2 hours ahead of me, had been to the pub in Pooley Bridge with his team who also had decided to head home.

Postscript - DOMS? What DOMS?
So, despite my worries about not being able to manage the hills I'd managed them with surprising ease, if not speed. At 17,000ft of ascent over something like 46 miles the ascent/mile ratio is higher than the UTMB so I'm very happy with my performance.

After something like this I typically have a very bad case of DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) a day or two later.  Going up or down stairs with DOMS is agony but apart from slightly sore muscles I had no problems at all.  Instead of screaming in agony I was able to run up the stairs.  Amazing. Apart from wearing a pair of full length compression stockings the first night I did nothing to try and alleviate the onset of DOMS.

The whole day was a revelation to me in terms of keeping energy levels high and later not suffering from DOMS.  I put this down largely to the level of hydration I sustained.  I have never taken on so much fluid, largely I think due to having to carry the weight, but it certainly appears to have made a great difference in minimising the muscle damage.  I will be making major differences to my fluid intake on future events.  I might give the peparamis a miss though as my support were so impressed with my managing to eat two that they now call me the Peparami Kid (but not for too long I hope).

One condition of this challenge is to raise £100 for your charity of your choice.  I chose the North West Air Ambulance who'd rescued me from the 3 Peak Race.  At the time of writing I've raised over £200 pounds (including Gift Aid).  See  Thanks to all of my sponsors.

Dave and I can now look forward to the JNLC Annual dinner in October to receive our tankards.

Thursday 11 July 2013

Nav4 Lakeland Mountain 40 - Snow, Sun and Mountains

A few pictures of a grand day out on the inaugural Nav4 Lakeland Mountain 40 last April with Dave Stephenson.
Showing off my new Pogu spikes

Heading towards High Raise (the western one)

A frozen Grisedale Tarn with Seat Sandall behind
Dave acquiring a rather natty sun tan
Trudging up Helvellyn

Cornice on Helvellyn

Helvellyn checkpoint

A warm climb up Place Fell

Place Fell checkpoint

Sunday 27 January 2013

Dusk 'til Dawn Ultra 2012 or a Tale of Five Head Torches

For some reason this mainly mad event had an appeal to the mainly mad members of Goyt Valley Striders. We entered this event in droves making the largest single group in the event by a long shot. The weather played its part resulting in competitors taking a variety of routes towards the end. To quote the event website:

"The race began at 17:42 on 27th October. 51 people finished the course before severe weather caused the race to be abandoned at 07:15am on 28th October. All those removed from the course at mile 45 onwards were advised it was for their own safety. Beyond Marathon credit them with a Daylight Finish award. Alternate routes to were offered to some participants during the event. These are detailed in the full results."

The overall route is shown below. The event centre was Castleton Youth Hostel (the new one in Lose Hill Hall) and the start was a few hundred yards away half way up the lane from Castleton to Hollins Cross.

Overview of Route
After a dash up Lose hill it goes down to Hope, along the river to Castleton and up through Cave Dale. The route then drops south to cross the A623 above Peak Forest then down the lane toward Millers Dale along the Bullock Smithy route (with Checkpoint 1 halfway along the lane). In Millers Dale it is straight across the river then up the steep south side of the dale to Priestcliffe then along the road to cross the A6 at the Waterloo pub (whose welcoming lights were to dutifully ignore). Along a track and a lane it picks up the Bullock Smithy route east of Chelmorton and follows this over the A515 to Earl Sterndale and Checkpoint 2. From Earl Sterndale it goes through someone's garden up onto the ridge above the quarries. A series of fields and lanes takes the route past the Buxton Raceway just beyond which it turns north across the firing range. A sharp left turn at Ladmanlow prevents the route from crashing into Buxton and take the runners over the A54 and eventually to the Cat & Fiddle (Checkpoint 3). It now enters true Goyt Valley Striders territory as it summits Shining Tor and drops down to Pym Chair, Windgather Rocks and Taxal Edge.

Windgather Rocks (c) Mick Wren 
In Taxal it drops down to the river then up over the Whaley - Buxton road to Shallcross. Across the fields to come out just east of Tunstead Milton on the Whaley - Chapel road the route then takes Milton Lane up to Eccles Road where it turns right towards the pike. Just after the top of Eccles Pike the route leaves the road and drops down via the paths and road to Whitehough. From Whitehough it takes the road west of Chinley then towards Chinley up to the railway footbridge. From here it's over the railway then up the appropriately named Over Hill Road to the Chinley Churn path (and Checkpoint 4). Up Chinley Churn to the 'big rock' then it's a drop down to cross the Hayfield road at the Lamb Inn and up onto the southbound Pennine Bridleway to come out on the Rushup Edge road. It's then over Rushup Edge, Mam Tor to Hollins Cross and then dropping down into Castleton village and along the road to the youth hostel and finish.

So that's the route, here's the tale of my Dusk 'til Dawn adventure. It started in way which could only get better. I had to drive up 150 miles from the South. I guess I set off too late as I arrived late. I'd not had a very substantial lunch but brought a big tupperware full of tuna and pesto pasta for my tea. I managed to find a parking place at the youth hostel and arrive at the registration just as the race briefing started. Across the briefing room from the registration desk there was a large herd of Striders resplendent in their black Goyt Valley Stranglers skeleton t-shirts made by Caz and Tony W.

Stranglers t-shirt
I had to miss the briefing (along with many route instructions and tips) as registration had decamped out into the corridor. I then went back to the car to get changed and eat but I was rapidly running out of time so didn't have much to eat. Not the best way to start an ultra. I caught the tail end of the competitors as they made their way to the start. Just as I got there I realised that I was still wearing my glasses so I ran back to the car to put in my contact lenses. I then ran back to the start and arrived with about 30 seconds to spare. Caz found me and gave me my Stranglers t-shirt which I then put on top of my other clothes.

The weather was very cool but dry (at the moment) and forecast to get much colder. The climb up Lose hill soon warmed me up. I could have done without that extra layer just then. I'd started at the back thanks to my rushing around and as I made my way through the bunch I started chatting to Karl only to realise it wasn't him! Embarrassing. I caught up with Paul H near the top and we dropped down into Hope together. On entering Hope we came across Phil just as she was sorting out a borrowed head torch after her's had failed to turn on. This was a theme to be repeated many times in the night. Although it was past sunset it was still just light enough to see at this point. I didn't turn on my head torch until approaching Castleton. Our supporters were out in Castleton with Tony in the square and Sarah B at the bottom of Cave Dale.

The next few miles we done in the company of Paul and Pete W (and his brother?). I pulled away on the decent into a dip just before the A623 and found myself on my own along the lane towards Millers Dale (apart from seeing Tony again and Checkpoint 1). We'd been provided with glow-sticks at registration. I found two en route along here so was well lit. As I approached Wheston I could see another runner in front. I immediately recognised the way the bumbag was swishing around. It was Phil. I think she was onto her third head torch by now. We ran together through Miller's Dale and over the A6. Paul and Pete had caught up by now and we were all together as we moved onto the limestone track past Chelmorton.

Somewhere near where the Bullock Smithy's Chelmorton checkpoint is sited I caught up with a runner and realised it was Dave B. He wasn't enjoying himself on the hard track. I eventually moved away and found myself alone again as I crossed the A515. Half a mile on down the track past the end of the quarries I was approaching another runner when I realised it was Peter D. He wasn't particularly chuffed with the run either. The weather had turned very cold by now. We ran together and were joined by Paul and Pete again as the route took to the fields towards Earl Sterndale. After a minor navigation error in the fields we found the road and trotted into Checkpoint 2 in the village school house where Mark W was waiting for us.

It was in Checkpoint 2 that I had my only complaint about what was a generally very well organised event, especially for the inaugural running. There was soup and tea on offer but we were pretty much left to it and things became very cramped and chaotic. I managed to lose my gloves and misplace my buff but fortunately found them again. This was probably made worse by the fact that I was freezing and tired. I put on a spare layer here (my fourth). As usual I took ages in here while Paul and the others, who arrived a couple of minutes after me, did their business and were off.

As I made my way onto the ridge above the village I was saved from a climb over the fence by Steve H who came up behind me and put me back on track to the stile. Somewhere along here we regrouped with Pete W. At least I think we did ( I was tired by then). Approaching the Buxton Raceway Steve and I took to the road rather than the parallel run through the fields. Steve received a few calls along here from Mark regarding more problems Phil was having with her head torch (her fourth of the night). She was just in front of us so we met her on the firing range. As we approached her I found her head torch in the grass. She'd accidently dropped it. Fortunately I was carrying a spare head torch so I gave her that. This one managed not to fail and the batteries just lasted until Phil finished. Ironically the head torch I was using (a Petzyl Myo) has since failed (but managed to survive this event).

I was very cold and weary by now and struggled up the climb to the Cat & Fiddle (Checkpoint 3) where I grabbed something to eat and Colin from Buxton who was out supporting us and the Buxton runners (Mark F and Simon M) kindly filled up my bottle. I didn't hang around here as it was in the open.

I'd joined up with Steve and Phil again as we set off again. Just as we took the track towards Shining Tor from the road there was a small white box in the middle of the track. A voice from the box said something (I don't remember what) as we approached. I assumed it was a walkie-talkie device and someone was in a car nearby watching us approach it but apparently it was a device, triggered by a proximity sensor, placed there by the race organisers as a little joke. There was another one in the woods after Windgather but we didn't see that one.

It was bitter as we ran over Shining Tor and down the track/paths to Windgather. After Windgather Steve and Phil decided to take an alternative route which the organiser had said was fine during a previous recce. Instead of dropping down through the woods and past the farm to Taxal, we went straight on over the field after Windgather and dropped down off Taxal Ridge past Terry's Tree to Taxal.

On the climb up the road from the river crossing my tank drained to empty. My lack of proper meals during the day finally caught up with me. Sarah and Mark were in the layby waiting for us. Paul turned up just behind us. I believe he was in front of us at the Cat & Fiddle so we must have passed him on our alternative route. Sarah had some hot Vimto which went down very well but did little to pick me up. I lost contact with Paul, Steve and Phil on the climb to Shallcross as I struggled along on my empty tank. If I was still staying in Whaley Bridge I'm not sure I would have continued at this point as I was bone tired and cold. A few of our clubmates did drop out at the Taxal crossing unable to resist the warm baths and beds just a few hundred yards away down the road.

At the bottom of the climb up to Eccles Pike I stopped and put on my final (and fifth) layer as I was getting even more cold due to going slower. I was passed by another runner as I was doing this. I then found him map reading at the top of the Eccles Pike road so we joined up and ended completing the run together. He went by the marvellous name of Madoc Batters.

For some reason I'd got it into my head that Steve B (Berry not Bull) would be at the top of the road complete with flask of hot drink.  (Possibly because he said he would be?) I was really looking forward to that.  Instead all I found was a navigationally challenged Madoc and a cold wet wind cutting through my five layers while Mr B was probably snoring under a nice cosy duvet.

When we reached the railway footbridge in Chinley, Madoc said he'd been told by the marshal at the Taxal crossing to take the bad weather route along the road. He then rang the organisers to double check and they confirmed this. So, instead of going up Chinley Churn we took to the road and dropped down to Wash then up the long drag to the Chestnut Wildlife Centre. We took the main road up to the marshal at the start of Rushup Edge. Looking at the map later, the bad weather route actually crosses the road at the Chestnut centre and takes the track parallel to the main road.

On reaching the marshal point we were greeted by Sarah and Karl (who had dropped out at Taxal) with more hot Vimto. The marshals also had samosas which went down very well. We reached this point before Paul, Steve and Phil (along with Julian B who they'd met up with at some point) who would have been out on the Pennine Bridleway. We were advise to stick to the road from here (but the other's ignored this and finished via the original route). Still feeling drained I wasn't going to argue with them so we walked and jogged along the road. I decided to take the old closed road past Blue John and Treak cliff caverns rather than the quad killing Winnats Pass down into Castleton. Madoc followed suit. In the dark and wet the shattered road was quite surreal, like a scene from a disaster movie. It took some finding in places as a section could be 20 feet above (or below) its neighbour. Eventually we reached the smoother tarmac and ran all the way into the youth hostel grounds. The slight incline up the hostel was too much for me so Madoc jogged off to finish 2 minutes in front of me. I finished in 11:12.

A cold. wet and tired Mick

The event centre was in a sort of lounge/dining/kitchen room in an annex to the main building. When I went in I was surprised that it was almost empty. There was the organiser (busily pouring tea and making jacket potatoes), our own Andy P (who'd come a marvellous 6th in 10:30), Charlie Sharpe (the winner in 8:57) and Madoc. I was amazed to learn that I was 8th finisher (albeit via the bad weather route). I'd assumed there were dozens in front of me. Julian and Paul came in (via the high route) at 11:56 closely followed by Phil and Steve.

Phil and Steve (note the bare legs)
Overall, because of the various routes taken, the results a little meaningless apart from the fact that we'd completed a tough course in gruelling circumstances. I'd been given a hard reminder lesson about the need to get nutrition right. While I'd been freezing in my five layers Paul sailed round in two layers (a Helly and a t-shirt!) and only put his jacket on at Cracken Edge and Phil went round in shorts!

You can find out what happened to various other club members on the club message board at:

The general consensus seems to be that while it was a 'good' experience no-one is in a rush to do it again any time soon. But then we always say that after a tough event don't we?

Thursday 8 November 2012

Sardona Ultra Trail - Inaugural Edition

Being a new event I think a bit of background to this is required.  I first heard of it through my e-friend Umberto.  We first made contact via my blog reports on the Jungfrau Marathon back in 2007 and 2008 and have been swapping messages and emails about our running activities ever since.  A couple of years ago Umberto said that he had a project in mind.  It was based around creating a running event with the primary focus being on enjoying the environment rather than it being a mass race.  This eventually morphed into the Sardona Ultra Trail whose first running was last Saturday 15th (and 16th for some) September. Not content with organising the ultra Umberto also had a marathon and half-marathon race to deal with.

It is worth saying up front that this has been one man's dream (albeit fully supported by his family) and full credit needs to go to Umberto for pulling this off.  The amount of work required to sign up sponsors, organise technical and safety committees, create a website, marketing, plan the route, man the route, get the runners to the start line etc has been tremendous.  To top it all the weather threw a last minute spanner-in-the-works by blocking off two passes with snow, requiring an emergency re-routing of the ultra and marathon courses.  I'd been out here in July to recce the whole route with Umberto but we were snowed off then as well so we did the first section up to the first high pass on the first day and went out to the Spitzmeillenhutte on the second day.  This helped me decide to wear my Salomon Speedcross shoes for the race.

The original (official) ultra course is an 80km (50 mile) loop with over 6,000m (20,000 ft) of ascent (and descent).  The revised bad weather course was an out and back route of some 60km and 4400m.  A comparison of the two routes is shown below. The start and finish is in Furt on the extreme right hand side. The original route runs clockwise.  Furt is 1520m above sea level.

Original Route (pink) v Revised Route (yellow)
The original route as shown is in fact out of date. There are modifications to the route on the top right hand side but the important bit is the southern part of the route which contained the offending (snowed off ) passes. Instead of taking this high alpine route we went down into the Weisstannen valley and ran parallel to the original route. We then picked up the original route along the western edge and followed it up to the Spitzmeilenhutte in the north west corner of the route.  From there we turned round and retraced our route back the way we came (always interesting as you see the front runners on their way back as you're still struggling out).  The final few kilometres were different to the route out.

This give some idea of what we missed out on (route in red).  Maybe next time.
Original route from Lavtinasattel pass
The ultra started at 8:00 a.m. on a cool but dry day.  Clouds were still clinging to the tops but there was a promise of a clear day in the rising sun.

And they're off.....a quick wave to Rosie (I'm in the middle, blue top,white hat)
The race starts with a steady climb up the Garmil (2003m).  I had intended to drop back and take it steady but found myself towards the front so I jogged along until the increasing incline reduced us all to a walk and I started getting passed as usual.  Even at this stage I noticed lots of people taking photos and video footage.  They were already in tourist mode.  Can't say I blame them.

Over the Garmil there was a nice steady descent to the first water stop outside the Gaffia restaurant (1861m).  I passed a couple of runners on this descent but I was surprised at how spread out the field already was.  There weren't many other in sight to pass.  From here we were to follow an out and back route.  On the way back we dropped down the main track from Gaffia to Furt rather than go back over the Garmil.

After the Gaffia (on the way out) the route then kicked uphill again with a zig-zag up to the Baschalvasee (lake) at 2200m.  There were patches of snow up here but nothing serious.  After levelling out alongside the lake the route turned west and upward.  This climb was much shorter on the revised route.  We climbed up to the shoulder of the Baseggla at 2280m and then dropped down the other side (before reaching the dozens of stone columns on the original route).

The first part of this descent was over trackless tussocks.  It was soon obvious that the 'local' (Swiss, German, Austrian) runners weren't familiar with this sort of terrain as they slowly picked their way over the tussocks, wary of twisting an ankle.  Being a veteran of many KIMMs and OMMs this was very familiar territory so I mercilessly picked off several runners here.  They probably thought I was mad risking an injury.  The tussocks didn't last long though as we reached the stream and zig-zagged down through the gorge it had cut out of the mountainside.

This descent down into the Weisstannen valley was nearly 1300m in total (equivalent to Ben Nevis, the UK's highest mountain). It consisted of three different sections: the top section of tussocks and rough track through the gorge, a middle section of smooth looping farm track and a bottom section of muddy path through the trees.  We'd meet this again later in the day on the way back.

Furt to Weisstannen
I took full advantage of this and passed around ten runners, especially on the farm track where I had no fear of tripping and built up a full head of steam.  I've noticed this reluctance to let rip downhill in the alpine runners in the past.  I think there's a belief that it can ruin the knees. I loved storming down there.  My choice of Speedcross shoes was spot on for the bottom section which was very steep and muddy.

In the valley bottom we crossed the road and went up the other side of the valley for a while before turning parallel to the road along the bottom. Prior to our start we'd been told that the start to the marathon distance race was to be delayed to allow for the Alpabfahrt in the Weisstannental.  The Alpabfahrt is the bringing down of the cows from the alps into the valleys at the end of summer. In typical Swiss style this isn't a mundane agricultural task.  It's a celebration and major tourist attraction.  The cowherds and their families dress in traditional costume and the cows are decorated with flowers and extra large (and noisy) bells.

I didn't see any of this at this stage but as I was running along the valley side I heard this strange cacophony filling the whole valley.  At first I thought it was a large factory or sawmill before I suddenly remembered the Alpabfahrt and sure enough it was just possible to make out individual cowbells.  The noise must have been amplified by echoing between the valley sides.  I'd heard nothing like it before.

The whole route was very well marked but along this section the markings failed.  The track split into two equally likely looking paths.  There were no markings visible beyond the split.  I'd seen a runner in front take the upper path and, because I knew he was following another runner who seemed to know the locals at the road crossing, I assumed they had local knowledge.  However, it didn't quite feel right so I went up 50 metres before getting the map out.  As I was checking the map I saw most of the runners I'd passed on the descent run past and along the lower path.  While putting away the map, the runner I'd followed came running back down.  He'd seen no further markers and realised he'd taken the wrong path.  This was Michael from Germany.  We were to meet often during the rest of the the race. As we ran along the valley side we caught glimpses through the trees of the cows strolling along the valley bottom road.  The route then dropped down to the road at Weisstannen village and the next checkpoint.

On approaching the village there was a table full of drink and food out on the right hand side of the road outside of the hotel but a guy was gesturing for us to go to the left hand side next to a hut.  This was very confusing but the guy was pretty insistent (not that I could understand what he was saying).  It turned out that the hotel table was refreshments for the cow people and the race checkpoint was indeed behind the hut. This was very well stocked with gels, cake, bananas and drink.  I'd dropped Michael slightly on the descent down to the village so I left the checkpoint on my own.  This section involved a kilometre (notice I've gone metric in this race) or so of road before taking to a riverside path for a five or six kilometres.  While still on the road I encountered my first Alpabfahrters.  The cow to people ratio seemed to be well inside 2:1 and there didn't seem to be more than half a dozen cows in each group.

I managed to run most of this section as it gradually wound up the valley along side the river.  The sun was out but there was plenty of shade.  I took a riverside path on the right hand side of the river but I think quite a few runners stayed on the road on the left.

Weisstannen towards Vorsiez and Unter Saas
The route crossed the river and then onto a path along the left hand side up to the collection of farms and a cafe (very tempting) at Vorsiez where it took to the farm track that gradually rose up and turned north.

The whole bad weather route
Weistannental to Spitzmeillenhutte (and back)
This was a long steady climb along a lovely wooded hillside overlooking the valley where the original route came down from the wonderfully named Foo to join us .

(c) Thomas Schmidtkonz
Michael caught me up along here after I attended to a call of nature.  Nowhere else but Switzerland would they bother to tunnel through a 100 metres of solid rock for a farm track.  
(c) Thomas Schmidtkonz
The track eventually levelled off and became runnable again.  I dropped Michael here knowing he'd catch me when it went uphill again.  I ran to the farm at Obersiezsass nestled in a broad high valley.  The route reared up again, very steeply at first, for the long haul up towards Spitzmeilen.  As predicted Michael soon caught me up on the steep section, just as the front runners came down on their way back ( I reckoned they were a good 2 hours in front of me).  He dropped me on this stretch as I trudged up the hill feeling the effects of the warm day.  I'd run out of drink by now so welcomed the mountain stream we had to cross on our way up.  Eventually I reached the shallow Fansfurggla pass and should have been awarded with a view of the Spitzmeilen mountain.  Unfortunately there was some mountain mist covering the peak.  When you can see it (as I did in July) this mountain looks like it belongs amongst the buttes of Arizona rather than in the Alpine peaks.    As it was we didn't get to see it during the run.  At this point in the race my mind was on other things anyway.  It was only another 4km to the Spitzmeilenhutte.  

It was just a gentle downward incline for a kilometre, contour round past those strange white rocks shown above, a slight rise over the shoulder to the right in the above photo then a drop down to the hut and the turn-around checkpoint.  Throughout out this section runners were streaming past on their way back.  I did a quick headcount and figured I was somewhere in the middle of the pack.  This was fine by me as I knew that   most of the climbing was out of the way and I had the lovely downhill section back down into the Weistannental valley to come.

Me approaching the Spitzmeilenhutte checkpoint
I had a slight disappointment here as I'd expected the checkpoint to be actually inside the hut and was looking forward to a bowl of the lovely meat and vegetable soup that I'd had here in July.  Instead, they'd erected a wigwam and the checkpoint was set up on tables outside that. (What is it with the Swiss and wigwams? There is a permanent wigwam in Kleine Sheidegg where the Jungfrau Marathon finishes).  There was a first in race refreshments for me here: hot isotonic drink.

Who is this old man?
It has taken me seven hours to reach this checkpoint.  I quickly calculated that I'd just finish as night descended, around 8 p.m..  This was quite good as I'd told Rosie to expect me nearer to midnight.

Michael was still at the checkpoint but he set off soon after I arrived.  I filled up my drink bladder, partook in the cake and bananas on offer and downed a glass of the very strange hot iso drink.  Then I turned around and set off back the way I came.

Heading home...
Retracing my steps back the mist had cleared by the time I reached Fansfurggla, having seen the back of the field still heading to Spitzmeilenhutte, and the sun came out again.  It was well into it's descent now.   As I descended down towards Obersiezsass I met a guy still ascending.  He said something to me but I replied "Sorry, English" to which he responded "Big hill".  This was the understatement of the day. I later learned that this was Thomas Schmidtkonz who was to become a Sardona Ultra legend at the first attempt.  He basically spent the entire race documenting it with his camera.  Apparently he unpacked his entire pack at the Wiesstannen checkpoint on the way out.  I believe that the marshals returning from a checkpoint also found him standing around at the top of the last descent taking photographs in the dark.  This man was not in a hurry but certainly knew how to enjoy a run.  

Looking down to the Obersiezsass hanging valley
As I reached the farm track above Obersiezsass I packed away the poles and set off on the lovely long descent.  I could see Michael in his yellow shirt about a mile down the track.  The next few miles were a lovely runnable downhill.  I ran this whole section at between 8-10 miles/hour. It was brilliant.  I caught and passed Michael halfway down fully expecting to see him on the big climb out of the valley but didn't see him again.  It took me an hour to walk up this section but only 15 minutes to get down.

The journey back down the Weisstannen valley was fairly uneventful. I was reduced to a run/walk by now.

It was then back up the 1400m climb out of the valley.  The muddy section through the trees was tough.  I was racing (in a slow trudging fashion) the sun as it set behind the hills on the northern side of the valley at my back.  The shadows were chasing me up the hill but I managed to stay in sunlight until the top of the climb.

On the middle section up the farm track zig-zags I managed to get into a good rhythm and passed a few other competitors.  One guy was sitting down in the middle of the track with his legs stretched out in front of him.  He said he was OK so I left him to it.  Towards the end of this section some people had driven up in a Land Rover and set up an impromptu aid station handing out gels.  This was very welcome as I approached the last section though the gorge. This went slowly but surely and I eventually reached the farm buildings just before the last climb to the top.  It was getting dark now and I found it difficult to find the track, although I knew where I was (I just didn't know where the track was).  I didn't have my headtorch on at this point so the reflective route markers weren't easy to spot.

Just as I was approaching the top section with the tussocks (Alp Gamidauer) I saw the strangest sight I've ever seen on a mountain.  I'm convinced that it was not an illusion.

There was another competitor about 50 metres ahead of me.  I was concentrating on the ground in front of me and just as the incline levelled off I looked up.  Between me and the other competitor there was a man.  He was wearing a dark long coat or cloak and a wide brimmed hat and had long shaggy hair.  He was carrying a pack of some description on top of which was a bedroll or tent.  If he'd had a pointy hat and a staff he'd have looked for all the world like Gandalf.  He was walking in the same direction as us but where our route turned right he went straight on.  I've since checked the map and where he was heading was just rocks and cliffs.  Very strange.

So, over the tussocks to the last checkpoint where I put on a spare top and my headtorch.  It was largely down hill from here, past the Baschalvasee and down the zig-zags to the cafe at Gaffia.  Here the route back diverged from the route out.  Instead of going back over the Gamli we simply had to follow the wide track back down to Furt and the finish.  I'd caught up another runner at this point and he tagged onto me as we started down the track.  I'd been down this track on my July visit and knew it was fairly runnable (albeit in daylight) so I turned on the after burners for a last blast and dropped the hanger on to sprint into the finish for a time of 12 hours 22 minutes in  36/78 position.  A grand day out.

The winner, Ueli Schneider, finished in an excellent 8:23, Michael in 12:35 and Thomas in a well photographed 18:53.

It was a mere 50 metres from the finish back to my hotel.  I couldn't find Rosie so I had a shower and got changed then went down and found her in the corner of the restaurant.  I was just in time for dinner so I wolfed that down.  We then had a chat and a few drinks with a couple of other runners in the hotel reception/breakfast area.  Being so close to the finish the hotel was the event centre so runners came in as they finished and, very reminiscent of the Lakeland 100 finish area, were clapped in.

For a first running of an event the whole thing went extremely well, especially so in the circumstances.  Umberto and his team are to be congratulated.  There were lots of very happy runners.

The next day was perfect weather so we went up the ski-lifts to the Pizolhutte where we had lunch then took a steady walk with Umberto and his family up to the Wildsee.