Saturday, 14 December 2019

The Tweed Valley Ultra


I had a bit of a debate what to do in November. The Runfurther series was over, but I still wanted one more event this year. I narrowed it down to the Tweed Valley 65k, the Pen Llyn 50 or the White Rose 60.

I've not done much in Scotland, and the Tweed valley is very south Scotland so I thought I'd give it a go.

My original plan had been to head up friday night after work, spend the saturday in the area doing... something, then run sunday and drive home after. I had some gnarly problems booking at the Glentress Peel campsite (if you don't get an answer to emails phone up, and keep phoning until you get hold of someone). Finally, I definitely had a booking for saturday night, so I drove up saturday daytime with a plan to visit Hermitage Castle on the way.
Glentress Peel falafel burger.

Hermitage Castle isn't open in winter. Arse. Because it's in the middle of nowhere I (wrongly) assumed it would be one of those unmanned EH sites.

Oh well. I rolled on to Glentress Peel, arriving around 4.30pm, and registered for Sunday's race, picking up race number, T-shirt, soft cup and a promo nine bar. I had a falafel burger and sweet potato chips (best falafel burger I've ever had, but the sweet potato was a mistake, I don't do well with sweet potatoes) in the Glentress Peel cafe.

A (very) wet saturday night followed, with torrential rain all evening. This was a shame for the people on the night run (a half marathon I think?) who must have had a crappy time. I was very glad to be settled in my camper with a glass of wine, a down duvet and a book (Anna Karenin as it happens, fantastic book).

Breakfast time. Ugh.
5.30am I was wide awake, I think because I'd gone to bed early. So eventually I hauled myself out of bed, ate a little bit of breakfast, had a cup of tea and moved the van down to the event parking.

Early morning people

It was still sort of dark as we all started to mill around the start gate, but not quite dark enough for torches. After a short race briefing we were off at 7.30.

Climbing up through the woods of the mountain bike centre, we zigzagged around a little, before dropping straight back down to the main road on the edge of Peebles and crossing through a tunnel.

Nasty surprise number one: a very long way on tarmac. By my recollection (and I'd have to check my gps trace) it was upwards of 10km. The temptation was to ramp up the pace on this stretch to get the crappy stuff over and done with, and I did give in to that a little. After that the day settled into a bit of a routine. Climb up through woods, zigzag back down along forestry tracks, longish stretch of tarmac. Rinse and repeat.

Thus far the weather had been grey and misty, without any rain to speak of. As we started the long steady climb out of the valley onto Minch Moor, we got fantastic views of temperature inversions everywhere. This was where the front runners on the 50k came ripping past. I was chatting with a couple of people around here, and did the usual 'meet up, lose track, meet up, lose track' for a while. I bagged the trig point by the 3 cairns and dropped back down into the valley.

I think the midpoint checkpoint was at the bottom of this descent. Unfortunately everything they had to eat was carb heavy so I just got water and kept going. I had enough peanut butter to keep me going anyway.

Temperature inversions and spectacular views

Shortly afterwards was another climb up through forestry land. I was criss-crossing with a friendly woman who was maintaining an amazingly consistent pace uphill and down. We ran along together for a while talking about barefoot shoes, then I got ahead coming into the cp. On the last couple of miles she just left me in her dust. More hill reps needed for me I think.

pretty much how I felt

Horses, about a km from the last CP
The last 8 to 10 miles or so were downright grim. First of all we had the boggy, slippery river path from Walkerburn, then back on that tarmac cycle path from the morning. Then finally back up through the woods to the tune of 300m of climb, before dropping down to Glentress Peel again.

Last sharp climb up to the campsite
Lovely volunteers at the end fed me Irn Bru and cheese, and coffee. After compromising my eating habits in the cafe (they'd run out of vegetarian food) I started the long horrid journey home. I'd been up since 5.30, the temperatures were dropping below zero, it was dark and drizzling, and I didn't know the road. It took about a year and a half to get down the A7 to Carlisle, at which point I drank (literally) a litre of coffee in the Costa at the services, and drove at a steady 60 concentrating hard down the M6 to the A65. I particularly hate that stretch of motorway, and I was badly tired.
A very large coffee

The run down the A65 was easy enough though, and I was soon home and settled in with the cat.

Tweed Valley 65? It's a good race, well organised and well attended. But it's even less my kind of thing than the RRR. The 'flat tarmac, hard climb, foresty descent, flat tarmac' theme makes for a tough, demanding race (not least because the tarmac pushes the pace up), but the tarmac just bores me too much.

Next year I might do the Pen Llyn. That looks like more fun, and easier to get home from.

Monday, 28 October 2019

Freet Connect 2

My post reviewing the Vivobarefoot Primus SGs some years ago attracted a lot of hits and seems to have been widely read. I still love these shoes, I'm about to buy another pair. There's nothing like them for grip on mud & technical ground if you want barefoot shoes.

My favourite running shoes though, are Freet Connect 2. I've done several ultras in these, and they are unbelievably comfortable. Admittedly they were a bad choice for the steep wet grass of the Brecon 50, but for the Bullock Smithy, Round Rotherham and several others they were fantastic.

They have better grip than you might expect looking at the soles. Certainly infinitely better than Merrell Trail Gloves. I think because the soles are much more flexible the soles conform more closely to the terrain. The RRR was fairly muddy, and I didn't slip so much as once.

The sizing is maybe a tiny bit on the small side - a 48 is comfortable on me, and I normally take a 47.

How hard wearing are they? Don't know yet, I've only done a few hundred miles in them. But after a few hundred miles there's visible wear under the ball of the foot but the rest of the sole and the uppers are undamaged. My previous connects (the old version) are about ready for the bin, almost, and I've had those at least 2 years (and run in them exclusively easter to october). I'd guess they've done well over a thousand miles. They're pretty knackered.

It's getting to the muddy, slippery time of year when they have to go on the shelf except for parkrun/flat speed training, and the Vivos are my primaries. If I didn't always run on such technical ground I'd use the Connect 2s over the winter as well. If you run trail rather than fell, and want barefoot shoes that will give adequate grip and maximum comfort I'd absolutely go for these.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Round Rotherham 50 - fast, flat and field-y

The Round Rotherham Run is not at all what I'm used to. Although there's ascent, there isn't a lot. There's no actual bog, just some slightly muddy fields. You're never more than a couple of hundred metres from a village or at least some houses.
Nice camping spot

I turned up at Manvers Boat Club on Friday night about 9.30 and the organisers were in place to welcome early arrivals. The facility to sleep inside the centre exists, but for those of us with vans the gravel beach of Manvers Lake makes a very pleasant camping spot. I've paid good money for worse pitches.

Registration not starting until 6, I had a very comfy nights sleep, getting up at 5:45 only half an hour earlier than I normally get up for work. I debated a bit about clothes and went for the 3/4 leggings. As it turned out I could have got away with shorts and been a bit cooler, but with more scratches and nettle stings.

By the time I'd had some breakfast and tea, registration was well under way. I picked up my SI chip and number, T shirt and badge and spent the remaining time chatting with a few of the Runfurther regulars I'd met before. During the Bullock Smithy someone had commented that ultra runners are all really nice people, and I have to agree. Everyone I've met since taking up the longer distances has been great company, and during the course of a difficult year the events I've entered have been the highlights.

Meadowhall and the Tinsley viaduct somewhere below
Coming up to 7 we all congregated outside for a very quick briefing, and we were off. I'd intended to set off slowly, but got drawn along with the pack and had to consciously slow off. I bumped into someone I'd had an enjoyable run with before during the Spire race, and we settled into a fairly brisk pace for the first 20 miles.

We passed the time chatting as we passed through Thorpe Hesley and past Kepple's Column, then down into Tinsley with Meadowhall appearing off to our right.

CP 1
In spite of my family being from Rotherham, and having spent a lot of time around Rotherham and particularly Kimberworth as a child, I don't know the area that well, so once we passed Thorpe Hesley it was mostly new.

At some point early on I realised that the bumbag strap pressing on my abdomen was having an effect I should have expected (I generally use a rucksack for ultras). On a race with fewer facilities I'd have just tried to ignore it. A little before CP2 I fell back a little, and at CP2 I (ahem) decided a short stop would leave me a lot more comfortable for the rest of the day.

Just after CP2 was the marathon distance, and I realised that if I hadn't stopped at CP2 I'd have set a new marathon PB. That says more about the kind of marathons I usually run than about my pace.

As usual somewhere around 20-25 miles I struggled a bit. Walk a bit, run a bit, wonder if I really can do another 25 miles. But the halfway point is always a motivator. I quietly sang the chorus of 'Living on a prayer' halfway across a field (not easy) and got on with ticking off the miles.
Fields. Then more fields.

Fields are a big feature of the RRR. Long, straight paths across fields, which cross hedges and lanes then become more long, straight paths. Very long, very straight. It was like driving in the fens.

I have no idea what this is about
Not a lot stands out in my memory for a while after that. It's always the way on ultras, for me at least. Long periods of not much going on, where I think about nothing much in a relaxing kind of way. At some point someone told us that Eliud Kipchoge had done the sub 2, I passed through various checkpoints, I chatted briefly with people as I passed them or they passed me. I remember being tired and wanting it to be over around 40 miles, which passed after a mile or two.

Roche Abbey

The next thing that really stands out is Roche Abbey. Another landmark from my childhood, I'd broken my wrist there in about 1978 on a family outing, by jumping on a green branch in the path and being catapulted into the air. I must go back and visit the ruins properly.

The last few miles of the RRR are a bit grim to be honest. There's a stretch of towpath at Mexborough (canal running is not my favourite) then lots of areas of housing, then finally a couple of miles along the side of new roads with lots of roundabouts, trading estates etc. I'd joined up with a group of local runners near the end, and when one of them called the last mile I decided to use up what I'd got left.

I did the last km in 5:39 to be welcomed at the finish by the most amazing amount of applause - the RRR has to be the most well supported race I've done. Having set out with a target of sub 12 hours, I sneaked in under 10 with 9:52. While it's definitely not my kind of race I enjoyed quite a bit of it, and was delighted to do 50 miles in sub 10 hours.

After the finish I pottered around, had a cup of tea in the van, got changed, chatted a bit then headed home to feed my cat.

Post run feet

I realised last week that I was doing the RRR the week of my Dad's 84th birthday. Dad, a native of Rotherham, is in a nursing home with vascular dementia. When I saw him last week he was unusually lucid. I took a list of the main places on the route and he registered a few of them and mentioned playing gigs in pubs in the 1950s. Dad is a lifelong exercise dodger, running is a big part of my world but doesn't really register with him, but just for a few minutes the RRR triggered a few memories. I'd have run it anyway, but it became a way to mark Dad's birthday.

If you'd like to donate something to the Alzheimer's Society please click here

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Why I run - more variations

Long distance off road running pares things back to basics. It's about body management - water, food, warmth, discomfort. Safety, above all.

In our everyday lives there are lots of minor (and major) frustrations and stresses. This year has been an awful one for me. Episode after episode of really spectacularly crappy life-stuff.

Running an ultra is 12-14 hours of peace. All I'm worried about is keeping going, keeping fed, keeping safe. Nothing else matters. In truth, nothing else matters in everyday life, but survival is so easy in everyday life that we have time to get stressed over things that are not a question of survival.

Bullock Smithy - clang clang clang clang ouch

Sometime after I got back from Brecon, the damn silly idea of doing an ultra in september popped into my head. I've already put an entry in for Round Rotherham, but that's not until October. A quick look at the runfurther list gave me options of the Peak Trails Ultra 30, or the Bullock Smithy.

The Peak Trails didn't fit too well with my holiday plans and 30 miles seemed a bit short (what happened to my sense of proportion!?), so I thought about the Bullock Smithy.

I'd heard of the Bullock Smithy before. A couple of friends walked it donkeys years ago. They commented on the amount of tarmac. But, tarmac in soft barefoot running shoes is a lot nicer than rocky paths (see Brecon 50), so why not.

I umm'd and ahh'd and nearly didn't get in, a walking friend who knew I was considering it tipped me off when there were only 3 places left, and I sneaked in.

Then there was the maps and the kit...

The BS is a nav event. The idea is to navigate your way between all (eleven?) checkpoints, choosing your own route. There is a 'proposed' route that reputedly comes in rather more than the 56 mile theoretical ideal. The 25k OS mapping is on 3 separate maps. That's a lot of lamfold, and a lot of route marking. Especially after a last minute entry.

3 quid a roll 3M tape from Amazon. Very bright!
So I thought "sod it, I'll stick to the proposed route, and if it's 60 miles, so be it". Grabbed the gpx file and installed it.

There was also the question of grouping after dark. I'm not particularly sociable, so that idea troubled me a little. I was lucky on the Fellsman the one time I did it, so I wasn't sure how this would go.

Last minute announcements highlighted that a particular route was to be waymarked, to avoid a farm with nervous, barking dogs, and that the Castleton checkpoint had moved.

The kit, oh yes, the kit. The mandatory kit for the Bullock Smithy is thorough. Not Fellsman thorough, but pretty thorough. That's fine, I tend to be cautious on the kit and apart from a triangular bandage and spare socks there wasn't anything I wouldn't normally have carried (although the kit list could do with being updated to take into account LED torches - spare bulb?). More on torches later. The sticking points were:

  • legs must be covered after dusk: I don't like running in waterproofs, and I didn't want to carry 2 pairs of shorts/leggings. I'd have preferred shorts, but long leggings it had to be. (I saw more people ignoring this rule than obeying it)

  • Reflectives: The rules say that "ALL HIKERS must carry plainly in view at all times on their front and on their rucksack at the rear a square of white or luminous material at least 9” square or equivalent". That's a BIG area. I was a bit worried by this and tried to figure out how to solve it a couple of days before with the aid of a couple of rolls of retroreflective tape and a plastic A4 folder. Asking around friends who'd done the BS before, they said this rule wasn't really enforced, you just had to have a reasonable amount of white/reflective (and I saw a fair few folk who didn't even have that). I stuck two massive strips of retro tape down the back of my rucksack, two more on my shoulder pockets at the front, and wore a high viz yellow base layer on top. I was very, very visible indeed.

No sign of Jennifer Ely
Setting off to the 'clang clang clang' of the anvil being smacked by the organisers of the Long Mynd (just visiting), I tried to keep my pace to a sensible rate and ended up toddling along at around 8kph. The beginning is pretty flat, and I kept that up until we started to climb through Lyme (Pemberley in the classic TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice). The scenery looking out onto the western side of the Peak district here was gorgeous, and the sun was getting warm. At the top of the climb I stopped to get clipped at CP1, filled my bottle and kept going.

Most of the day time section is a bit of a blur. Pretty scenery, checkpoint. More scenery, checkpoint. There are lots of checkpoints, which is a bit of a grind near the beginning, but a fantastic motivator near the end.
For CP2, please run off this cliff

Somewhere around CP2 I think, I saw one of the Runfurther regulars being accompanied back to the CP. I really hadn't expected to see him again after the start, but he seems to have been injured. updated: it was actually CP1

More scenery. Chatting to random folk.

Climbing to Edale Cross
The next thing that sticks out in my mind is Edale Cross. The climb up to Edale Cross is a right bastard. It goes on for approximately a century. Then down amongst all the normal, rational people doing normal 'going for a walk from Edale' things as runners dodge round them.

A very quick stop at Edale and back on the road again. Cup of tea at Castleton, ahead of my planned 'not until half way'. Chatted for a while with a computer science teacher between Edale and Castleton, eventually losing track of him somewhere on the top above the Devils Arse, where I was running with two local women for a while along the Limestone Way. They were maintaining a pace I couldn't quite match, but staying in CPs longer than me so at the next checkpoint I lost track of them too, seeing them briefly a little later. Then there was the next awful climb out of Millers Dale and on to Highstool Lane, where I was crossing and recrossing with the same bloke for what seemed like hours (I encountered him again during the night section after he got separated from his group).
Highstool Lane. Getting dark-ish

Then came a slight cock up. It was starting to get dark, in fact by the time I got to Earl Sterndale it was positively pitch black. My GPS wasn't telling me there was a CP here, there was no one else around, and my brain was rather fuzzy, and I just wanted to keep going, so when a bunch of young kids were telling me there was a 'coffee place' just 'up there' I thought 'nah, probably another unofficial drinks stop, it's much too soon for a CP', and kept going.
This was a mistake.
This is where I was supposed to be grouped.
Sun going down

So I spent an hour or so on my own in full dark, round the flagged section to avoid the barking dogs. A few people had said that they'd done the BS before and never been grouped, so I didn't worry about it. Around this time I could see some lights off to my right, and I caught up with them soon after. It turned out to be a couple I'd met at the Spire earlier in the year, Runfurther regulars (names withheld). They'd been grouped with a couple of local guys who knew the route. This turned out to be a massive stroke of luck - they were all lovely people, great company, and I really enjoyed the remainder of the run.

Local motorists were a pain in the arse though, very few were willing to dip their headlights for pedestrians, although one of our party did point out that I wasn't dipping the stupidly bright reflectives on my pack...

There were checkpoints. They were manned by enthusiastic friendly people. I was glad to see them all. The bothy with an open fire was toasty, but it was a mild night so we weren't tempted to stay.
Rocky path (the climb to Edale Cross).

The last few miles in were hard work, we were keeping the pace up with run-walking, and still averaging 6.5kph (yes yes, I know, no one understands me when I talk in km - 4mph).

We trotted in, still running, at 02:17 or so. I think the others registered 14:09 because of grouping time, whereas I was still 14:17. Much better than I was expecting though, mostly thanks to our guides. I'd set out hoping to be inside 15 hours, and was definitely that. Meanwhile Rory Harris had been setting a new course record of 8:10...

My final distance was 93km, with 2700m of ascent. Strava link here

A welcome breakfast from the fantastic welcoming people at the Hazel Grove scout hut, and I limped back to my camper parked nearby to grab a few hours sleep before heading home to wash myself and my gear and see my cat.

Unpacking kit and putting things away, I checked the battery on my Petzl Nao+. I'd been running it on low/responsive which has a theoretical run time of six hours. I'd switched it on around seven, and off around 2. So why did it still show 100% charge? That's the trouble with responsive lights, there's really no way of knowing quite how long they're going to last. For Round Rotherham I'll run it on medium, and take the zebralight as backup.

So what did I think to the Bullock Smithy? Mostly runnable, good terrain. The rocky paths weren't as bad as I'd anticipated, and the road sections were OK because they were quiet roads. Very frequent checkpoints were a plus, the veggie hot dog was a particularly welcome thing. It's definitely a benefit to know the route - 3 OS maps is just too much to handle while running, and without knowing where the problems are going to arise, it's difficult to prep just the problem sections. To be honest I'd skimped badly on navigation prep, through a combination of entering last minute and being busy at home and work.

Fluorescent green eejit

Overall a great event, well run by Hazel Grove scouts and one that I will hopefully return to. It coincides with the Yorkshireman marathon near home, so I'll have a tough choice to make next year.

As always since I took up distance off road running, and particularly ultras, I met some lovely people and enjoyed being with them, and also had a peaceful few hours to myself. Fifty milers are a holiday of sorts - 14 hours when I don't worry about anything except where the next checkpoint is, how much my thighs hurt, and whether I'm eating enough peanut butter.

Next, a return to my ancestral home for the Round Rotherham. Shorter, flatter, hopefully faster, but also probably colder and wetter.

Run retrospective

What went well?
  • Kept the pace up
  • Lucky with the grouping
  • No stomach/blood sugar problems
  • Enjoyed myself
  • Shoe choice
  • Food in the side pocket of rucksack was sometimes awkward but not too bad
 What went less well?
  • Under prepared (navigation). In particular, in future know where the checkpoints are!
  • Over equipped. I was sticking very close to the rules, and could have got away with wearing shorts. That said, I was comfortable on the night section.
  • Rucksack chafing on my lower back
  • Sunflower seed butter wasn't as good as peanut, didn't squeeze easily
  • Very uncomfortable night in the van. I need better bedding for when I'm dirty after a run and don't want to mess up the van interior.

It's a big area, but it's still not 9" square

Friday, 16 August 2019

Brecon 50 - run retrospective

Doing scrum for an ultramarathon

Being a software developer and occasional project manager, looking back on how things have gone and trying to improve them is built into my day to day life, so it's natural to do the same thing after a big event like a race.

What went well

Food. Food went really well, pure peanut butter has enough carb to keep me going, mixed with enough fat and protein that it doesn't make me ill. I didn't even get bored of it, as I was hungry enough to eat pretty much anything.

Kit. I'll post about kit separately, but mostly my kit choices worked really well. I'm pretty good at kit selection by now.

Pacing. I took Bernd Heinrich's advice and started very slow. That gave my metabolism time to ramp up, and I maintained my target pace to the very end.

Rereading 'Why we run'. My favourite running book. I should rely on it more.

Enjoyment. In 2012 I finished the Fellsman swearing I'd never do it again. In 2019 I've finished every ultra feeling like I want to go out and do another, just as soon as I've had a few weeks rest. I was very very glad to see the end of the Brecon, but not for one second did I regret entering.

Photos. My old Samsung B2100 takes adequate pictures and is totally waterproof.

Navigation. This was the first time using a gps track as primary. Having the gps in my hand / pocket and being able to check every few seconds made the navigation easy. I'd have been much slower with just the map on an unfamiliar route. Hacking contours onto the Garmin Topoactive made a huge difference, without the contours I'd have been much less confident about my surroundings**.

Running solo. Over the years I've sometimes run slow times because I didn't want to say to people 'I want to go faster than you're going'. I've learned to understand that I don't feel snubbed if someone disappears and gets a much faster time than me, so I shouldn't feel bad about 'running on'.
In general I'm very happy running ultras alone. I enjoy the thinking time you get in a 15 hour race, although I never feel like I've gained any great insights in that time. It's very relaxing to be running alone for that long though.

What didn't go well

Confidence. For most of the day I was bricking it about going over Y Gribyn in 60mph winds, or struggling to navigate round it. I worried about messing up any alternate route and getting disqualified or ending up somewhere bad. This was habitual over-worrying - I'm an experienced mountain runner and a better navigator than most, I was carrying a well set up gps and spare batteries, as well as a good map and compass, a mobile phone, a PLB and full mountain safety kit ( warm clothing, survival bag etc ). But being scared and cautious keeps me alive, so that's ok.

Water bottles. I had hip pain towards the end because I'd habitually drunk my right hand bottle dry, and left my left hand bottle full which unbalanced my pack. I should vary my drinking to keep my pack balanced.

Shoes. BAD shoe choice.

Video. One of my fellow runners took some video on the top to demonstrate how awful it was. I never thought of that.

The last few miles. I really could have run more in the last 4 miles. Once I met up with the guys in front I couldn't be arsed to overtake, and in truth I could have gained a few minutes if I'd bothered.

CP3. I was getting tired at CP3 and stood around much too long chatting. This is common for me towards the end of an ultra, I'll grab any excuse to chat with marshalls, members of the public etc rather than getting on with running.

Waterproofs. Two things: I need to sew up the pocket slits in my waterproof trousers, they inflated and blew the warm air out; and I should have put them on as soon as my legs started getting properly cold.

** the gps knows exactly where I am. It's a sign of a habitual map reader that I'm more confident about my location if I can understand the surrounding topography. In truth, the gps knows where I am to within a metre, my understanding of the contours just makes me feel better.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Brecon 50 - oh how it rained

The Brecon was my 2nd 50 miler, and my 5th ultra. In the last few weeks we've had record breaking high temperatures, and I'd planned ahead for food, hydration and clothing in case of severe heat.

And then.

Widespread flooding, severe winds, but still warm.

Registration was between 5 and 7am. I was on Park Farm campsite the night before, I arrived at registration around 6.15 and it was still pretty quiet. It filled up very rapidly and by 7 there were I think 70 registered.

Blurry photo of registration, my phone still had silicon sealant on the lens.

The race briefing made reference to the weather, and the possibility of redirecting around Y Gribyn if we were concerned. At that point I wasn't sure.

Climbing Tabletop from Crickhowell

My plan for the day was to keep my pace very low for the first hour or so, to get my metabolism burning fat instead of ripping through glycogen. My metabolic issues with sugar make it impossible to use gels etc, so I had to make damn sure I eked out the glycogen for as long as possible. I had a couple of baby food pouches of Meridian peanut butter and some baby bels.

Keeping to a steady 5kph all the way up Tabletop, I chatted with a few people as I climbed. Once we hit the top talking was out of the question. The wind was fairly bad, visibility maybe 50m, and the rain was wet. Very wet.

Pen Cerrig Calch. It was wet.

I fell over twice coming down off Pen Cerrig Calch. I'd taken the organisers comment that the route is more trail than fell a bit too literally, especially given the weather. Freet Connects just weren't grippy enough for the wet grass, although this was the only time I fell over. Well, almost.

Navigation was interesting on this event. Coming from a fell running background, I'm not in the habit of navigating by GPS. It seems to be the norm on ultras, and since the point of an ultra is endurance rather than nav skills that makes sense. This was the first time I'd tried to navigate over any distance relying totally on following a GPX track, and although I had a slight wobble initially I soon got the hang of it.

Down Pen Cerrig Calch and up towards Mynydd Llangorse, veering off before the summit through some lovely heathery slopes, then down to CP1 on the canal at Llangynidr.

Mynydd Llangorse. I think.

Having lost quite a bit of time loitering around checkpoints on the Calderdale Way Ultra I was aiming to keep moving, so once the marshall had filled my water bottles I got going, bimbling along the canal for a while before climbing over the ridge (more heavy rain and wind) and dropping to Tal Y Bont reservoir.

Tal Y Bont reservoir

From the reservoir we climbed fairly rapidly up Waun Rydd, and that's where things started to get really dirty.

Looking back from the climb up Waun Rydd

About halfway up, my legs were starting to get badly cold, so I stopped and put waterproof trousers on. I was already wearing gloves & a buff round my neck, as well as waterproof coat and cap. The ground was saturated on the last steep section, and my feet were slipping quite a bit. There's a cairn just as you reach the plateau, and a couple of guys were there putting extra layers on. I was already layered up and just paused for a few seconds to gather myself, then headed out. The buffeting was severe, my waterproofs were flapping violently and occasional gusts were strong enough to make the skin of my face flap too. I think the wind was as bad as anything I've ever been out in, if not worse.

It didn't take long to cross the plateau, but my feet and hands were pretty numb, and the descent was made much more difficult by gusts of wind.

Near the bottom I had a brief exchange with some dog walkers:

"Are you guys in a race?"
"How far"
"Fifty miles"
"Oh my goodness, how's it going?"

A slight nav error at this point - I stuck the GPS in my pocket and as a result overshot the stile. I caught the error within a couple of minutes though, and was soon back on it.

CP2 at Llanfrynach was very welcome. Especially the coffee. I guzzled down a cup black, got my water bottles filled, and had a brief chat with the marshalls who mentioned the possibility of a reroute.

There's a short road section next, maybe a couple of km before the canal again. I passed a group of surprisingly cheerful looking DofEers, then settled onto the canal into Brecon, passing lots of normal, sane, not-ultra-runner people walking along the canal.

At Brecon I encountered a couple of guys who I think I kept company with on and off almost to the end. They were shovelling in the food ahead of the next climb. They left me behind climbing up through the woods, and I lost track of them. Somewhere in the little roads I met up with a guy in a car who had bailed out of the 100 that morning. He mentioned again the possibility of a reroute, which actually cheered me up quite a bit. I'd been getting very nervous about the prospect of Y Gribyn and Pen Y Fan in that weather.

From there to CP3 was an evil set of tiny overgrown paths with wild rose suckers at ankle and eye height, floored with lots of pointy stones. My feet were quite battered from getting cold on Waun Rydd and this tenderised them even more. At CP3 the marshall fed me cheese, told me the 100 had been abandoned and gave me the reroute (straight over the Taff Trail to meet up with the original route at the far side of the col).

The Taff Trail is mostly made of pointy rocks. Ouch.

Looking back from the col along the Taff Trail. With sore feet.

All the way to the forestry track. Ouch.

At this point I was passed for about the fourth time by two guys who I thought were in front of me. This happened twice more before the end. They just kept going wrong long enough for me to overtake them.

One more brief climb to CP4, another reroute, more water, and the beginning of a very long run in.

The forestry track from CP4 towards Tal Y Bont wasn't too bad. My feet were quite sore though:

"Those shoes don't look to have much padding"
"None at all, they're barefoot shoes"
"Your feet must be sore"

but the path from the forestry track down to Tal Y Bont village was excruciating. Pointy rocks again, like the Taff Trail only worse, and it seemed to go on forever.

Finally I reached the canal, which also seemed to go on forever, and tried to keep my pace up for the run back to Crickhowell. It was full dark by the time I got back at 22:15, where I was greeted by a very cheerful marshall with a cowbell.

Lovely people fed me tea and soup.

I still haven't managed to get my Suunto to upload my track, but my nav GPS recorded it. I did 14:16, a bit slower than I'd hoped but without the sugar wipeout that screwed up my running at Calderdale. My pace was very consistent - after the planned slow start I settled to 6kph and stayed there.

The organisers did a fantastic job of salvaging the 50 in awful weather. We ended up slightly over distance and slightly under ascent, so the overall challenge was probably not much different. It's a real shame for the 100 runners, especially those who stuck it out to the point where the race was abandoned, but the weather was truly horrific. The thunder and lightning I'd originally worried about never appeared, but the wind and rain more than made up for it.

Thank you to the organisers, massive thanks to the marshalls, and thanks for your company to all the other runners I chatted with along the way.

Looking weirdly cheerful at 40 miles.

Edit: Finally got the track to upload. Suunto really doesn't work well if you don't have a windows PC at home...

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Stupid things I've done - choosing to run ultramarathons

You get lots of time to chat with people during ultras. During one run recently I explained the issue I have with carbohydrates to someone, who responded with "you maybe chose the wrong sport?".

That is true, running ultras is tough enough, but running them when eating carbohydrates is mostly out of the question makes things much harder. For one thing, no one is available to give advice. If you look on line for advice on food for ultras, carbs are everywhere.

Time to read Bernd Heinrich again, and maybe 'Chemistry of Life'.

My last ultra was the Calderdale Way. 54 miles (including navigation fuckups) and a couple of vertical km. My pace graph makes interesting viewing - I'm fine up to about 35 miles, then it all goes to shit. My recollection is: I'm fine up to about 35 miles but dehydrated, then I drank a load of flat coke, ate a load of biscuits and... it all goes to shit. Thing is, I *know* it all goes to shit if I eat sugar, I've proved it over and over again. But at 35 miles I would have sold my soul for anything sweet, no matter what it did to my final time.


As a neuroscientist of sorts, one thing I know, the brain is easily fooled. One thing that it can be diddled on with the greatest of ease is cravings. Craving nicotine? Give it sugar, the craving goes away. That's why so many people go cake crazy when they give up smoking.

I'm pretty sure if, when my body craves sugar, I give it cheese, it'll STFU and get on with burning those fats. I LOVE cheese. I crave cheese more or less continuously.

So the next 50 I do, I'm filling my pockets with babybels. Lets see if that works.