Sunday, 5 September 2010

Two and a Bit Marathons

Just back home from running (and a smidgen of walking) the Bullock Smithy (profile). This is officially a long distance hike (over 56 miles (90km) and 8000 ft(2400m)ascent) but like most such events the runners have taken it up as a challenge. This year it was a qualifying race in the Goyt Valley Striders club championship so we had a good club turnout of 16. Thanks for this goes largely to the tireless Philomena who organised numerous recces of the course to make sure we didn't get lost.

I've always fancied a go at these long events (see last year's post) So dutifully volunteered myself. What I then forgot to do was actually train for it. With working away from home I didn't manage to get any long weekend runs in so I was relying on a couple of club runs a week (less than 20 miles/week). Not ideal but I still reckon that with reasonable fitness, lack of a fear of distance (acquired due to lots of long distance cycling in my youth) and the right nutrition/hydration it should be possible to put in a reasonable performance.

The event rules require everyone to take a minimum kit list consisting largely of waterproofs, warm clothing, maps, spare food etc. I decided to use my new Haglof Intense rucksack. At 20 litres the walkers were thinking "How do you get all your stuff in there?" and the runners were thinking "Are you going for a week?". Compared to everyone else's bags in the club mine was heavy. This was due to me taking lots of energy foods (energy bars, Kendal mint cake, 50g energy drink powder, 2x50g recovery drink powder, stock cubes, dried banana chips, a freeze dried meal(!), nuun isotonic drink tablets and other bits and bobs) . Most others were relying on the food provided at the checkpoints but I'm glad that I didn't as, whilst it might be OK for hikers, you need high carb/calorie fodder when running as the appetite is suppressed so you have to maximise your intake. It's a difficult balancing act getting enough food and fluids on board to keep you going but not so much that you throw it all back up again. I was also very conscious that I had to keep my one working kidney properly hydrated so made sure that I always had fluid in my camelbak drinks bladder (plus nuun tablets).

So, race day arrived yesterday with some serious nerves by us Bullock Smithy virgins. I was a little excited to be finally doing a decent distance. I really do believe that the 'magical' distance of 26.2 miles has been burnt into the public's psyche by the media making anything beyond seem out of reach, but people all over are quietly ignoring that and running enormous distances and we were about to join them.

Leg 1 - Hazel Grove to Bowstones

Here are 13 of the 16: Pete, Jo, Paul, Neil, Mat, Sarah, me, Steve B, Philomena, Tracey, Steve H and Karl with Clare kneeling next to Alistair Fitz's minime. Missing are Stephen and Alistair Watts and Julian. (photo: Alistair F)

The event starts in a playing field in Hazel Grove and the start is announced with the striking of an anvil (hence the Smithy). The field (that's people not grassy area)immediately split as some went down the side streets and across the golf course whilst the rest of us took off down the main road (at much too fast a pace in the excitement) and then alongside the golf course before cutting off the corner. Both groups met up coming off the golf course and headed off towards and over Lyme Park to the first control at the Bowstones.

This is Mat and me in a Persil ad. I spent the rest of the run drooling tea down that nice white shirt. (photo: Stu)

My basic strategy was too keep things comfortable which meant walking up the hills. (Not that there was any other option in the latter half.). The downhills however were there to be taken advantage of (rocks permitting) so after topping up my camelbak I took off down towards Moorside. Immediately I could feel drops of water on the back of my legs. I'm not sure how but my camelbak was leaking and the bottom of my rucksack was full of water. My backside was soon soaking. Fortunately I'd invested in a drysac so the contents of my rucksack were still dry.

Leg 2 - Bowstones to Chinley Churn

Leg 2 was very familiar as it went through our club run territory up to Chinley Churn. I opted for the suggested route down through Furness Vale rather than my alternate via Buxworth which is a bit more fiddly. Pete W was very kindly dispensing jelly beans near the top and Stu was there again with his camera on the Big Rock. (photo: Stu)

Leg 3 - Chinley Churn to Edale Cross

That's me in the foreground near the tree, leaving the Chinely churn checkpoint.(photo: Stu)

Leg 3 included a drinks station immediately after Chinley Churn at Peep o' Day. I passed a runner approaching the drinks station and everyone there seemed to know him. They said that he was first in his age category to which I replied "What about me?" not knowing this guy was in his late sixties. He took off before me as I was filling my camelback and I passed him again on the way to Edale Cross. The next time I saw him was at the finish when he'd beaten me by a few minutes. I've no idea where he passed me.

From Peep o' Day it was a drop down to a stream then a real drag over a rocky path up to Edale Cross (where apparently a competitor spent nine and half hours wandering round lost until the mountain rescue found him).

Leg 4 - Edale Cross to Edale

From Edale Cross it was down Jacob's Ladder where I passed Jo (Julian's partner) in her bright pink top, then along past Barber Booth to Edale. Steve H was leaving just as I approached the checkpoint. As I turned in to the checkpoint Julian was stood there. My immediate thought was "Wow, I must be doing better than I thought" (Julian was last year's winner), then "He must take it easy in the first half then burn them off in the second". No such luck. Apparently they had done a hundred mile event in the Pyrenees the previous weekend and were just treating this as a steady jog (only to beat me by half an hour). I spent the next 15 miles watching that pink top disappearing over the hill in front of me.

It was at Edale that I started taking my hot drink down the road rather than waiting to drink it at the checkpoint. (This was after taking a rice pudding and fruit salad at the checkpoint). Whilst this obviously saved time compared to waiting, it cost me time in that all the checkpoints were before very runnable flat or downhill sections which I ended up walking. I'm now on the lookout for a lightweight cup with a top so I can run with it. I found that sweet tea was eventually the only thing that I didn't mind drinking in the latter stages of the run.

Leg 5 - Edale to Castleton

This leg was quite poignant for me as it was the route of my first walk in the hills (albeit in reverse) as a kid from the flatlands of Doncaster. It left a big impression on me and was probably the beginning of my love affair with hills and mountains.

Anyway, after walking along the road with my hot stock cube drink(another five minutes lost) it was up the path to Hollins Cross then down the other side to Castleton. As I approached Castleton both my calf muscles started cramping badly so I had to stop. I walked ten yards then started running again. The cramp had disappeared and didn't reappear the whole way round. Maybe the stock cube worked. I arrived at the Castleton checkpoint in time to see Julian and Jo leave.

Leg 6 - Castleton to Peak Forest

A quick jog through the tourists in Castleton and it was up Cave Dale (which appeared to be full of Polish people for some reason). Past a few frisky cows then it was over the top (after a much needed pitstop) and down to Peak Forest. The field was very thinly spread out by now. I could occasionally see someone in front of me and someone was chasing me a couple of minutes behind. Once again the two J's were leaving as I approached the checkpoint.

Leg 7 - Peak Forest to Millers Dale

A cup of tea and a banana later and I was on the (not completely safe) walk up the A623 road to the bend where the path took off towards Wheston. The pink top disappeared over the top stile. As I reached the high point I could see the runner ahead of me being held up by a road full of sheep. I've since found out who it was as he mentioned it in his blog. Over half a dozen stiles later I was onto the road to Wheston. The next few miles were probably the lowest for me as I began to feel a bit whoozy. It had me worried for a while. I'm very conscious of my dodgy kidney and am always on the lookout for any 'episodes' which might indicate it going bad. So, I did a systems check to see what was up. Pulse OK, still breathing, temperature OK, no trembling. Can't be too serious so I put it down to having just done 25 miles. I was then at the Millers Dale checkpoint.

I was looking forward to the soup at Millers Dale, expecting a nice thick minestrone with lots of noodles, but was presented with a very incipid looking sample. The tea was nice though. After my funny spell I decided to take my time over this stop so I took a seat. As I sat down in popped Philomena. "Paul's right behind and Clare's going to pack in as she's been vomiting" says Phil. Sure enough Paul came in, took a drink then was off. Phil soon followed him after offering to wait for me but I still had my lovely soup to drink so I told her to get going. I spent the next ten miles watching Phil's white top disappearing into the distance (the pink top had long since gone).

Miller's Dale was the half way point. I reached it in 6 hours so I reckoned I'd be pushed to break 12 hours.

Leg 8 - Millers Dale to (near) Chelmorton

After a quick drop down into the bottom of Millers Dale (cup of tea in hand) it was a long walk up the road (ignoring the suggested route which goes off up a track). Straight over the A6, a couple of fields then it was along a fairly straight set of green tracks and lanes, part way along which was the Chelmorton checkpoint (a trailer and tent).

Leg 9 - Chelmorton to Earl Sterndale

Continuing along the green tracks I had to step aside for a landrover coming th other way. It wasn't until it was past that I realised it was Rick, Clare's partner. I kicked myself for not recognising him earlier so I could tell him Clare has packed at Miller's Dale. As it turned out Clare continued to Chelmorton having phoned Rick to meet her there. She'd run from Edale vomiting and feeling crap all the way to Chelmorton. At one point the fruit salad from Edale made a reappearance with a cherry coming out through her nostril!

Over the A515 then up over the ridge towards Earl Sterndale. At the end of the lane there was a path across a field which cut off a large corner but I'd been warned by Phil that the cows were especially frisky and could be dangerous. So, I went the long way round only to lear n later that Phil had been running with a dairy farmer who took her over the field.

The route was then along a set of lanes to Earl Sterndale. Halfway along here I had my only navigational doubt. I suddenly got the feeling that I'd bypassed Earl Sterndale and was heading back towards the main road. I had to drag my memory of the map of this area and reasoned that there wasn't such a road so I kept going and eventually came to Earl Sterndale to see Phil leaving the checkpoint with a stranger. This turned out to be Mark, the club secretary, who had come to help pace some of the members. He ended up running the next 20 miles to the finish.

Leg 10 - Earl Sterndale to Brand Top

I'd been carrying a freeze dried meal (Fish with potatoes and parsley sauce) with me. I decided to have it at Earl Sterndale so I opened it up put in the required amount of boiling in then seal it up to let it rehydrate. I took it up the road with me intending to eat it on the uphill section below Chrome Hill. I tried but I don't think I'd put enough water in it. The fish pieces were very chewy so I ended up spitting them out as I walked along. I decided to seal it up again and add more water at the next checkpoint. The rest of this leg was through hill billy country. The farms look very poor, all littered with broken down vehicles and in desperate need of repair. Not one of the better cared for areas of the Peak District. Going past one such place, which the owner had apparently been renovating for 10 years although it looked as if he'd just started, the dog was barking madly. The owner must have wondered what was going on as runners and hikers kept his dog barking for the next 20 hours. It was at this point that it started getting dark. I got to Brand Top before getting out my head torch.

Leg 11 - Brand Top to Cumberland Cottage

At the checkpoint I topped up my freeze dried meal hoping to resurrect it after the failed attempt at Earl Sterndale. I grabbed the usual cup of sweet tea and wandered off, headtorch on, down the track towards the Dove Head road while the meal hydrated. Once onto the lane I stayed on the tarmac choosing the road rather than the faint path up to Hilltop. The meal was now more like a soup and the fish hadn't improved. I eventually gave it up as a bad job and dumped the contents on the side of the road no doubt making some fox or other critter happy then dropped the packet in the bin next to the bus shelter on the Axe Edge road (A53). As I dropped down towards Knotbury a police car came towards me clearly checking me out but it didn't stop. Five minutes later I saw it go up the turning before the Knotbury turning with it's blue lights flashing. I soon find out where it was possibly heading. Dropping down the track after Knotbury towards the Three Shire Heads I could see some very bright lights in a field and hear what sounded light a drunken party going on. According to a write up by one of the Stockport Harriers they got lost here and ended up talking to these revellers.

So, past the Three Shire Heads then a jog/walk up to the steel steps onto the A54. No navigational problems thanks to Philomena's recce. Over the road then onto the rocky path down and a careful trot down to Cumberland Cottage. I found a fleece hat on this track (which I later found out belonged to our club secretary Mark!). Paul H fell here a few minutes in front of me thankfully without too much damage.

Leg 12 - Cumberland Cottage to Walker Barn

As fascinating as the deep discussion over the merits of various heavy metal bands by the scouts in Cumberland Cottage was (to me a Northern Soul fan) I'd rather they devoted more than a grunt or two to helping me with refreshments. Helping myself to a cup of tea I departed to find a pair of runners entering the cottage. They must have found the cottage just as welcoming as they came right back out and passed me as I drank my cup of tea. I finished my tea as we hit the road. They were just in front of me. One was clearly struggling and the other was obviously keen to get going. It's a sign of the great distance involved that I thought with only a half marathon left to go I'd cracked it. I got my head down and passed them as I took the road route round to Walker Barn. This was proven to be faster than the lane over the top by Paul H on one of our recces. It's also mentally a lot easier at this stage in the race. Wlaker Barn proved to be my only navigational error. I hadn't noticed that there were two lanes off the main road and, attracted by a very brightly lit house down the first one, I headed for that. It didn't look right when I reached it and, on looking across a field, I saw the real control.

Leg 13 - Walker Barn to Whitely Green

Another cup of tea and banana later I was off down the road. It's almost all downhill from here I told myself. Another runner entered as I left and he was on my heels as we went down the main road towards Rainow. Off the main road I managed to loose him on entering the field that cut off the corner in Rainow. Over the last real hill to speak of it was down into Bollington. At this point my headtorch started flashing which is the low batery indication. I used some new Kodak heavy duty batteries but these proved to be very short lived. I'll not be using those again. Fortunately I'd brought along a spare Petzyl Zipka headtorch so I was OK. Expecting to get hassle from revellers leaving the pub in Bollington, as Al did one year, I was relieved to have a very quiet run through the village. Onto the canal it was heads down until the Whitely Green control. I somehow caught them by suprise. At first they thought I was two runners then they hadn't got the kettle on. I ended up taking their cup of tea.

Leg 14 - Whitely Green

How many bridges do they want to build over the bloody Middlewood Way? Rather than count the bridges to the point where I needed to abandon the Way I'd memorised the exit point ('Miners Arms' sign post and steps after the bridge). There seemed to be dozens of bridges and I ended up thinking I was going to find myself at the A6 road but eventually the right bridge turned up and I was off onto the last few roads to the finish. Thank goodness I'd recced this section. I steady shuffle saw me through to Towers Road. Was it only 12 hours ago that we were here rushing away from the start? Towers Road is endless but it helped that I could see another runner in front of me. As I approached I could see that he was running backwards. "I'm knackered" he declared as I passed him. "Me too" I thought although I was getting a bit of a second wind at this point. The run up Macclesfield Road felt good. As I reached the finish there was a group of blokes on the roadside. They clapped as I approached and formed a tunnel for me to run through. "What service" I thought but it appears that they were a group of drunks on their way home. I bumped into Mark W and Pete D just outside the Scout HQ gates. They were on their way home. Pete had finished in just over 11 hours and Mark had supported other runners from the club for over 20 miles. I waltzed into the finish, feeling like I'd got loads more miles in my legs, in a time of 12:37. (Those legs refused to work the next day!)

All in all I'd really enjoyed the run. I'd learnt a lot both about myself and about how to tackle a really long run. So, next year a sub 12 is on the cards. Just got to get the knee sorted out and find a giant feeder cup so that I can run with my cup of tea.

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