Tag Archives: Fell

Bogs, bracken and the night of a thousand steps

I had lost count of the number of times I wanted to abandon this race.

In fact, I could hardly believe, after suffering exhaustion in the early hours of Saturday morning, such that I was falling asleep as I was running (not advisable) and also after later in the afternoon lying down on my own in the middle of an exposed fellside for forty winks as it was starting to rain (definitely not advisable!), that I had actually made it to the final major checkpoint at Ambleside, 88 miles into the race.

[singlepic id=339 w=400 h=300 float=right]The Lakeland 100, Ultra Tour Lake District (UTLD) was always going to be a tough one – any ‘100’ mile event is likely to be for sure, but it is the distance I have trained for, so it was not that that was intimidating.  Not really…

The Cotswolds 100 Ultrarace I completed a mere four weeks ago, although the same distance, was a flat, dry, forgiving, tow-path in comparison.  Although the cumulative ascent of 6,971m (22,871ft) is short of the total for Mont Blanc, the vagaries of the Lake District micro climate and the self-navigation aspects around unmarked trails all added to the challenge.

As a result of this, I was stressed at the start.  Seriously stressed.

We had travelled up the day before to have a relaxed time in Coniston, where the race began, and although the journey, arrival and registration were easy affairs, there were nonetheless constant undercurrents in my mind regarding the forthcoming trial.

The start was planned for 5:30pm Friday, 23 July and after a mandatory safety talk from the organisers and a motivational speech from the legendary fell runner Joss Naylor, we were left to our own devices for a further hour, but there is only so much time you can spend packing and repacking a rucksack  so as the children played I tried to collect my thoughts.

Continue reading Bogs, bracken and the night of a thousand steps

Fear and loathing

One week to go.

My last couple of weeks have been easy by comparison to the peak of my training schedule, but there is nothing better than having reached and passed that point without having sustained an injury. Nevertheless I have to keep telling myself it’s alright to have a rest, as I feel a bit lazy, a bit of a ‘slacker’ 🙂 having only completed a minimal 50 miles last week and with only a paltry 30 miles planned this week 😮

I will need all the rest I can get as the races I am attempting are only four weeks apart, so with a recovery week after each (to let feet and legs, body and mind recuperate) and a taper week before each race, that does not leave much time for training in between.

I am swinging from feelings of excitement over these races, to fear of failure, to loathing of the challenge I have set myself without fully understanding why I am doing it. I have been ‘training’ for this since the end of August after the UTMB – it is a long time to commit to lengthy Sunday runs and early morning starts.

Continue reading Fear and loathing

A Good Year

2009 ended up being another good year.

Many new experiences with the Marathon des Sables still long in the future, but in the end the new experiences were so much more than just ‘make-weights’ on the journey back to Morocco.

February – 3 peaks

John always goes to walk the 3 peaks in Yorkshire on the last weekend in February with friends. A long standing tradition of his and this year I joined him on his tour of Whernside, Pen-y-Ghent and Ingleborough. No running involved at this stage, but a good practice out in the elements, 24 miles with a good 2000m ascent on the circuit.

March – Reading Half PB

As part of my training for London, I normally add a half marathon or two to test myself, but it had been some years since I had done Reading. John a I were optimistic after a good few long but fast training sessions and eventually we both ended up with personal best times

April/May – London Disappointment

After the exuberance of my half marathon PB I was struck again by a mystery injury to my foot which took a period of settling down and rest to recover from. My disappointment at missing yet another Marathon through injury, especially after my training had seemed to be going so well was hard to bear, with 5 weeks where I had to limit my mileage to less than 15 miles.

June – Welsh 3000s

On the longest day of the year Greg, John, Tim and myself made our way across to Snowdon for a little ‘hill training’ – Eldir Fawrunfortunately the beautiful evening journey turned into a shocking morning, demonstrating vividly how mountainous regions can have their own micro-climate which bears no resemblance to surrounding lowlands.  We traversed only 3-4 of the 14 hills of the Welsh 3000 but were all circumspect about the experience prior to Mont Blanc.

July – Classic Cliffs

Things started to get serious in July after another solo attempt on the Welsh 3000s where I scaled Crib Goch in the fog and then the midnight start at the end of July of the 57 mile Classic Cliffs – a trail race along the south-west coast path from Port Isaac in Cornwall to Clovelly in North Devon.  The race was fantastic practice for the UTMB with the nighttime start and ascents and descents along exposed coastal trails.

August – Mont-Blanc

Finally, the crowning glory of my running year, completion of the Mont Blanc.  The race was an incredible experience,Lac Combal - A new day dawning my first at that distance and although I swore never to do it again at the time, it seems a bit like a hangover where oncethe physical effects have worn off, the addiction and desire to experience the event again is just too great an opportunity to miss out on…. while there is still breath left in my body, etc, etc 🙂

Ever since then, albeit only 4 months ago (it seems like a lifetime) I have been in a strange holding pattern with my training, regularly completing 40 mile weeks, I am now looking at 5 events from February to August, including a (fingers crossed) third London Marathon and a hopeful PB.

2010 is shaping up to be quite exciting as well but with the Marathon des Sable in April 2011 to prepare for remaining injury free is becoming as priority as I test out all manner of methods of blister prevention.


The Welsh 3000s, take 2

Like a madman in an obsessive panic with the impending hills of Mont Blanc looming large in my mind’s eye, I had decided to attempt the Welsh 3000s again this weekend

I had been watching the weather all week and although the long range forecast had been promising, it steadily deteriorated to the point where it was marginal, but I decided to press on anyway.

So yet again, on Friday evening with a distinct sense of deja vu, I set off with my pack, thermos and 200 packs of chocolate coated coffee beans ready to attempt the 30 miles or so – but this time on my own. 

Crib Goch - 5am, 4th July 2009
Crib Goch - 5am, 4th July 2009

The adventure did not get off to a good start, courtesy of the M25.  I had left at 7pm, some 2 hours earlier than we had set out previously, in an attempt to get to the car park at Pen-y-Pass to snatch some sleep before my marathon, but hit some serious mid-summer Friday evening traffic and it consequently took me two hours to get to the M40, a distance we had ironically covered in about 20 minutes a couple of weekend’s previously.

My automotive tribulations were not over as I hit further traffic at the M42 south of Birmingham, which was ‘closed’ and although the diversion was well sign-posted, the funnelling of traffic, even at 11pm effectively wiped out any time I had in hand to sleep at my destination.  Was something trying to tell me this was not a good idea?  I thought this many times before the same time the next day.

As I drove through the night into the morning of American independence day I was pleasantly surprised at the clarity of the sky as evident from the moon and stars visible even from inside the car.  Perhaps this was to be a good weekend after all.

My hopes were still high as I arrived at the car park, no rain and some stars still visible.

Inevitably, for Wales, my hopes were short lived though, as I got my pack ready in the back of the car and checked my torches and food supplies for the next few hours, the cloud cover slowly blotted out the remnants of the bright firmament I had been hoping would accompany me on my journey.

At about 2:45am I started off up the pyg track to the top of Snowdon again and almost on cue, the rain started.

The top of the highest peak in England and Wales arrived without event as I followed the track which I largely remembered from the previous visit.  Yet again the sun (LOL!) was coming up as I left the peak and although the drizzle had not really subsided, I chose to give the infamous Crib Goch a go, with Garnedd Ugain in bewteen.

Crib Goch - the view ahead
Crib Goch - the view ahead

Relying heavily on my Garmin and the waypoint fixes I had prepared, the straight route off the path from the top of Snowdon was relatively easy to follow, although as the picture shows, there was little choice on the ‘trail’ to be followed through this section.  Stopping for a cup of tea at the top of Crib Goch, I yet again contemplated the sanity of my actions.

Getting down from the knife edged arête was not so easy in the mist, and it took me some time to traverse the steep and slippery shale on the north face of the descent, with frequent moments of panic as the dislodged stones plummeted down unseen into the endless mists below.

Finally I passed through the bottom of the cloud-base to the relative tranquility of the valley, where the only obstacles I had to contend with were the inevitable shoe eating bog and the occasional frightened sheep, before I eventually made it to the road and the delight of the flat sturdy tarmac (call me a city boy at heart!). 

Turning left towards Nant Peris before the long slog up the second section up to Eldir Fawr, to rejoin the path we had followed previously, I jogged along the road to regain as much time on the flat sections as I could.

The climb up to the 4th peak was as unpleasant as I remembered, the 600m climb in 2km putting my Guildford ‘Mount’ training to shame.  Eventually I made it to the top, thighs burning and calves stretched to oblivion, but was rewarded with an unexpected and fantastic view all the way to the north coast, so I stopped and had another cup of tea!

A panoramic view from Elidir Fawr
A panoramic view from Elidir Fawr

Had I known this was to be the last time I would have a clear unobstructed view for the next few hours, I might have stayed longer, nevertheless I was keen to get on as trail to the next hill was a gently undulating track for a few kilometers which I comfortably jogged along towards peak 5, Y Garn.

The rain which had been steadily falling all day, was now becoming harder, partly no doubt due to the passage of the expected weather front across the north Wales terrain but mostly due to my continued ascent back up into the 600m+ levels of the Welsh 3000s.  No matter as I had been drenched for the last 5 hours and had long since given up any hope of getting dry until I got back to the car later that day.  However, to add to my misery, it was about this time that both my watch and Garmin handheld ran out of batteries and having used my spares already (make a mental note to self to take MORE spares to Chamonix) I was now in the mist using a good old fashioned compass and (waterproof) map to navigate the featureless terrain.

Y Garn was the last peak we had completed previously prior to ‘abandoning’ due to the inclement weather.  So as I headed off towards Glyder Fawr, the 6th peak, I was at least comforted by the fact that I was again covering what was, for me at least, virgin territory.  

The rocky summit of Glyder Fawr
The rocky summit of Glyder Fawr

The ‘ Glyders’ are famous for the unusual rocky outcrops at the top of the peaks which are not only bizarre but also difficult to traverse with any appreciable speed, especially in the wet weather.  The picture shows an example, but this is not how I saw it on the day, my view being rather more misty.

My mood as I was traversing through the alien landscape of the Glyders was becoming increasingly frustrated. The purpose of the exercise was to gain hill running experience, but instead my efforts were hampered at every stage by the terrain which necessitated more in the way of rock-clambering than running, the weather, the lack of visibility and eventually the cold.  Having been wet for several hours, with the unrelenting rain soaking every inch of my body, even the effort I was putting into covering the ground as fast as possible was by now insufficient to keep me warm.

It was about this stage that I met up with Steve and his dog, Rexie, who were also out to try to do some of the peaks – he had friends behind who had started out earlier but who were attempting the full 14 peaks.  Steve was ironically from the Surrey area, and knew Guildford well, having done a number of duathlons in the area, including most recently the infamous ‘Ball-buster’.  It was nice to have someone to chat to after so many hours alone, and we ambled our way past Glyder Fach on our way to Tryfan, the final peak on this range.Continuing to follow a northerly bearing towards Tryfan, we eventually started to climb up to the summit, with large rocks and boulders most of the way. 

Tryfan on a good day - I climbed over from the 'easy' left side.
Tryfan on a good day - I climbed over from the 'easy' left side.

Steve decided it was to be impractical for Rexie to climb up and so we parted at this point, arranging to meet later in the car park, while he traversed round the waist of the peak and I clambered over the top.

Since I did not know the area, and was only heading in a general direction in order to reach what I presumed was the highest point, and the visibility was variable, I took an incredibly difficult route up the side of the (what I later realised was) the first ascent, (think north face of the Igor), only to reach the tope and see another higher peak further to the north, which I duly climbed, only to see a coach-load of people climbing up the next peak even further to the north, as the mist cleared, which was obviously the summit everyone was heading for.  Although still fairly balanced and nimble on my feet, I nevertheless had to wait behind the queue of people to take the preferred route up to the summit.  This was to be my last peak of the day.

As I came down to the A5 and the car park, I yet again experienced a slow, slippery shale descent which seemed to take forever.  The rain had been unforgiving for the last few hours and I was just pleased to get back down to the relative comfort of the valley.

I had completed 8 out of the 14 peaks in treacherous conditions, largely on my own and without the experience of having done many of them previously.  I was pleased with that.  However, I had not completed the challenge and all the way home I had to mull over my disappointment.

Judging by the DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) that I experienced in my quadriceps and calves over the next few days, I gather the training had actually been quite useful, but how comparable it is to Mont Blanc still remains to be seen.

Welsh 3000s – damp. Very damp.

The plan was to do the Welsh 3000 twice, out and back.

So, perhaps a little optimistically, we set out from Guildford towards North Wales at about 9pm on Friday night, a 4 hour journey ahead of us.  We made the journey in relatively good time, with only one stop and were in relatively good spirits all the way, although already tired from a day of work.  

We had seen the forecast before we set out and it was not great, but we were all nevertheless filled with horror as the clear twilight skies we had left behind in England, turned first overcast, then pitch-black as the rain started to fall. We hoped beyond hope that it would stop before we reached our destination.

1:50am – As we arrived at the Pen-y-Pass car park at the base of Snowdon, the rain had not relented, although it was not constant, so we had hope.


To our further surprise, the car park was full!  At least three other groups of people were starting out at the same time as us – although they seemed better prepared to brave the elements, but conversely were not looking likely to be running much of the trail.

2:48 am – After an hour or so, we were all ready and so set off up the ‘pyg’ track, the shorter, but steeper, ascent of Snowdon. Travelling single file in the dark with head-torches, up a route we did not know, through the mist and wind (which started above 1000ft with the peak of Snowdon being 3560ft) in our semi-somnabulant state, we walked and jogged our way to the top in just over an hour and a half – 6 km, including 2 stops as we were lost – already!

4:24am – As we piled over a ridge to the summit to complete the last 500m as the ‘sun’ was coming up, we realised the mountain had been providing us with shelter from the north-westerly wind and the additional chill factor at the summit was significantly greater than the last hour.  At the top of the ridge we passed many pitched tents and even just exposed sleeping bags, some with plastic protection looking more like body bags than anything else and some just soaked and wet through, being stared at and contemplated by the adjacent, dejected looking walkers.

Crib GochGiven the conditions, we decided not to attempt the knife-edged arête of  Crib Goch, where people are regularly ‘blown-over’.  So, we hurried on quickly down the mountain, to get out of the exposed conditions, following the railway track back and forth down into Llanberis for about 7km, which we did in a respectable hour after a 15 minute rest at the top.  Nevertheless, we had already missed out two of the required peaks for the 3000’s.

5:42am – As we came into Llanberis we were given a brief respite from the weather, but turned the wrong way along the road and had to double back on ourselves briefly. Along the A4086 passing Llyn Peris, we walked and jogged (woggled?) our way into Nant Peris.  Stopping again briefly to find our bearings to select the correct path, we passed by a campsite with early morning campers awakening as we turned off the road and up the next ascent up to Elidir Fawr.  This was to be a tough one.

Eldir Fawr

6:15am – The ascent was relatively short – only about 4km – but this meant it was also quite steep, and although there was a path to follow most of the time, so navigation was not a concern, the terrain was also quite boggy and by the end we all had soaking feet.  We averaged about 23min/km for the climb, arriving at about  7:40am.  We were way behind schedule, miserable, cold, wet footed and had missed out some of the peaks already.

We followed a relatively easy path round to the next peak, Y Garn and passed through the 21km mark a little before this (my watch had given up the ghost by this point and I didn’t record the times).  It was after this that we all pretty much decided to call it a day – less of a decision and more of a communal grunt of consensus, in addition to the fact that we then proceeded to get lost once more on our way back down.

As we made our way back down the mountain to the road, with frequent stops in the mist to try to work out where we were, we were fairly dejected and disappointed at the now inevitable outcome of the weekend we had been planning for so long.  Alternately jogging and walking back to the car park along the road, which was a good 5km, we were all filled with analytical thoughts of what could have been, what should be, and what was going to be (in August).

Yet again, but perhaps more than ever, the enormity of the challenge we were taking on struck us all.

After a warm cup of tea, we made our way back home, the one consolation being that we would be home with our families earlier  than anticipated.  The drive back was uneventful, but punctuated with stops for caffeine, red bull and full-fat coke, with a handful of chocolate coated coffee beans every few minutes to keep things ticking over.

40 mile week again (the bell curve of recovery)


So, a 40 mile week again.

When you look at it like this (as in the mileage chart on the right) it really does not do it justice.  With hindsight, I only had 5 weeks where my mileage was minimal, i.e. less than 15 miles (as shown by the yellow bars on the chart – the red line indicates scheduled mileage, which decreased merely because after the FLM I had not worked out my training schedule). 

Mileage Chart - March / April / May 2009
Mileage Chart - March / April / May 2009

However, in the context of the fact that this was the month which included my planned London Marathon, and it is only now 3 months to Mont Blanc, so a month on the bench is 25% of my valuable training time, I could have done without this.  Eaxch day without a run has been torture; merely driving round Guildford has ignited memories of each run I have carried out along the roads of Surrey.  Time, it seems, has a habit of reminding you of what you once had – take that as a lesson for the future!

Nevertheless, it appears I am now emerging from the other side of the curve and getting back to the stage where I can progress with my real training.  I am doing more and more continuous running, although still doing a run / walk on the long weekend runs so as not to precipitate any further occurence of the problem.

The next step, after a ‘rest’ week where I’ll step back to probably 25 miles, is to attempt some hills and this is being planned in the form of Welsh 3000’s with John, Tim and Greg.  Note quite fell running but to do this twice in 24 hourse should be great training for Mont Blanc.

Roll on August.

Max out on Distance and Hills

So which bright spark mentioned hill training this week? Tim I think.

And who’s schedule said 22 miles instead of 20? John I think.

So after having recovered (just) from the previous week‘s 24 miles around Yorkshire, we were all fired up with the idea of doing some more hills as strength training for the marathon in what is now only 7 weeks time.

Thinking about something and doing it are obviously two different things though, and after starting out and reaching the base of the first hill, we were all having second thoughts.

We had decided to do a relatively new route today, from Tim’s down toward Shalford and then up Pilgrim’s way through the Chantry’s (first Hill, 4km), then along a touch up to St. Martha’s church (second hill, 6km), then further up along the North Downs to Newland’s corner (third hill, 8km), then down towards Shere but along to Coombe Lane, where the climb to Coombe Bottom (fourth hill, 13km) was the peak of the run. Then we made it up by ear a bit, going down into East Clandon and West Horsley, before climbing round and up again to the top of Coombe Lane again (21km). After a touch of deliberation, we decided to go along the top of the downs back to Newlands, then back by the same route.

Then Tim suggested what I’d been thinking, but didn’t dare suggest. “Why don’t we go up ‘The Mount’!” he says…. a 500m / 100m, i.e. 20% ascent hill stright up to the Hog’s Back (seventh hill, 33km). Slow but sure, that’s the best way to finish a grand run.

Fantastic run on a beautiful day and great to be out there – even better to have finished it 🙂 Mont Blanc, here we come.

A new Slant on training

John , Tim and Greg had for some weeks planned to go up to visit the Yorkshire Dales to do the 3 peaks hike, but it was only at the last minute that I decided to take the time out to do this.

And so it was Friday that we set off and after a 6 hour journey, with David, John’s Brother, and a stop off in Nottingham to pick up Rob, John’s nephew, that we arrived in Horton-in-Ribblesdale at the southern-most populated edge of the Yorkshire Dales.

We met up with Mike, Martin and another David, John’s friends of old who have done this trek on an annual basis with him for some years, and after debating whether to get up late for a full cooked breakfast or set off early the next morning, turned in for some rest.
Unfortunately, the ‘start early’ crew had won the first round and so we set off, with Greg who had joined us, just after 6:45am.
The weather was ominously overcast as we started up Pen-y-ghent, although with no wind or rain at the bottom of the mountain, we were optimistic of a dry day.
The first climb pushed some of the guys hard and as they didn’t want to hold the others back, we split into two groups with John falling back to navigate for his brother, nephew and Martin. The rest of us pushed on and we reached the top at just after 8:00am. The wind at the top was chilling and the inevitable cloud had surrounded us halfway up, so the views were nothing to write home aboRibblehead Viaductut! Two minutes later we were making our way back down again for the long haul to Whernside.

The next 7 km was punctuated mainly with slipping and sliding along the variety of terrain, mostly heather covered peat bog and limestone deposits, with the odd lost shoe which had to be extracated from the mud, before continuing.

Nevertheless, we made reasonable time to 14km and the temporary respite of a road surface for about the next 3km to the majesty of the Ribblehead Viaduct at 17km. Passing straight on to the side of this victorian engineering masterpiece, we started the slow ascent of Whernside which was to last another 6km, 50% of this distance again being shrouded in mist after about 1000ft, on our way up to the 2300ft peak. The Top of Whernside was even more exposed, windy and cold, a fact laid testament to by the deep patches of drift snow from several weeks previous which still laid on the sheltered side of the peak.

Descending the other side of our second peak was a race to try to keep ahead of a youth group but our reward was a welcome flask of warm, sweet tea and packed sandwiches back down under 1000ft, although by this stage the rain had followed us down and we decided not to stick around for too long.
Ingleborough - Peak III
We started out along farm tracks and within 2-3 km we were across what appeared to be a busy main road, given that we saw at least 3 cars on it, before turning off towards our final peak, Ingleborough. With two peaks down, I had the bit between my teeth and got into a good rythmn on the way up the thick slate slabs, duck boards and stone steps in place to assist intrepid explorers on their way up or down.

The by now expected mist did it’s normal thing and the wind at the top of the flat top ‘peak’ was as harsh as on any of the others. We had to wait for Mike and David at the top and unfortunately, the exersion of the ascent had meant getting up a sweat which with the wind chill was now becoming uncomfortable, so when the others arrived they offered us the map so that we could carry on down for the 7km descent to the village.

Mike and David arrived about 30 minutes after we had returned, but John’s party had the biggest adventure, not getting back to the pub until 8:30pm after getting disoriented on the top of Ingleborough in the dark and although with torches, the four of them had to inch their way down the steep initial descent to arrive back at the ‘main road’ where David picked them up.
In the end it took us 9½ hours to cover around 24miles. Compared to the Mont Blanc Ultra Trail, the distance is about a quarter and the ascent / descent was about a fifth of what we will have to do. Nevertheless, none of us were pushed and had plenty left in reserve and could even have covered the distance in a quicker time with some jogging if necessary.

And yes, the beer at the end tasted good.