Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

November 20, 2010

Wensleydale Wedge 23 mi. 21 Nov 2010

Click here for Wedge Results

Apparently I had missed quite a few rainstorms while in Tenerife the week before, so it was no surprise to hear that the trails on this year’s Wedge would be muddy. I think that they are almost always muddy on the Wedge, so really not much was changed. In fact, I get the feeling that my first 6 months living in the UK have been abnormally dry, and from now on the wet weather will be returning. Perhaps the few months of dryness were just a lure to make me fall in love with the moors and fells, and then once I’m hooked, the bogs will slowly start to suck me in permanently.

Regardless of Great Britain’s ultimate plans for my demise, my feet did in fact get soaked and muddy within the first mile of the run. Then it was just a repeat cycle of dry bits where my feet would get warmer and dry out a little, before getting soaked anew while passing through yet another churned up muddy gate.

The first (and really only) major climb of the route came soon after the start. Although the Wedge is known for having bad weather, it didn’t seem too bad this year and the NE winds weren’t howling. But as we climbed up into the Dales, I was startled to notice the tops of the hills covered with a brushing of snow. And soon enough, we were actually climbing up and over the hills, and churning footprints through the windswept snow piles. I don’t mean to say that there were drifts…perhaps they are better described as a few flakes clinging to the heather tufts. But it was quite chilly heading into the wind at the top, and I was very happy to start descending into the valley.

By the time that the original color of my shoes disappeared completely, I descended to the Church in Aysgarth, where the route led us right through the kirkyard in complete disregard for all the nicely dressed churchgoers arriving for the service.  The bells were ringing wildly as I passed through the tombstones and down across the river, and finally to Reservoir Runner Adrian's checkpoint.  Adrian let me know that my friend Helene was quite a ways ahead of me, and indeed first lady on the course. It was only a few steps out of the checkpoint, when I took stock of my aching body, and started to wonder if perhaps I should turn around, retire, and get a ride back to the start. Now, I have never quit a race half-way through, but I felt as if my legs had already run 50 miles, as much as they were aching. I did continue on, but each step started to feel like a mile, and my pace slowed dramatically over the last few part of the route. Now a bit of that might be attributed to the slippery mud of the trails I was supposed to be running over, as my shoes were caked with the stuff and had no traction at all. The last few miles, which Helene had described to me as “runnable”, turned out to be just an endless series of slippery, muddy cow pastures with water-logged gate crossings. At least the abnormal NE winds meant that we weren’t bucking a headwind as well. Ugh.

After finishing, I complained to Helene that if she considered that last section runnable, then she had very low standards. Perhaps that’s when she happened to mention a certain race called the High Peak Marathon, which is in fact 42 miles of night-time navigation through trail-less bogs that can sometimes be waist-deep! http://highpeakclub.union.shef.ac.uk/hpm/hpm-index.html I guess when considering how bad it can get, the Wedge trails do seem pretty non-threatening.

This was the first race where I really had the map out the whole time and was actively navigating for myself. Cynics might ask how hard it really it to follow a muddy trail of footprints that look like a horde of elephants had just gone by, but…for me, at the moment, I am happy just to get through a race without getting lost. May I point you back to my spectacular blunder at the Round Rotherham just a month before?

The dull pain in my legs has convinced me, though, that perhaps the 60 miles of the Rotherham are still rattling around in them somewhere. I think I need a bit more time for recovery, before this turns into a full-blown running injury. Given that I have never really had a running injury (falling down the stairs and spraining my ankle years ago shouldn’t count, as it didn’t happen while on a run), I think it is slightly ironic to have one now. Just a day ago, I volunteered to participate in a 12 month study, looking at the training habits and injury rates of distance runners. http://www.runfurther.com/index.php?cPath=766_867 I was hoping to lower their injury percentage by gleefully never having one myself, but now, on my first day of logging my mileage, I will have to hang my head in shame and declare myself (slightly) broken.

November 10, 2010

Tenerife Mt. Teide Summit 12 mi. 11 Nov 2010

Never one to pass up a challenge, I spent the first few days of our vacation in Tenerife looking longingly up at Mt. Teide and hoping to get to the top of it. The hills in the UK, while rugged, aren’t very high in elevation, and in contrast Mt. Teide loomed over us sunbathers down on the beach, from a height of 12,198 ft. It’s the highest mountain in Spain, even through the Canary Islands are somewhat south of the mainland proper, indeed off the coast of Morrocco. I wanted to stand on top of it, and see the ocean in every direction.

It is possible to drive the road up to about 8,000 feet and then from there take a cable car almost to the top, but that’s what tourists in flip-flops do. I wanted to earn my way to the top. Unfortunately, there is a quota on how many people are allowed to climb the trail above the cable car to the summit each day. Slots for the quota can be reserved here http://www.reservasparquesnacionales.es/real/ParquesNac/index.aspx, but I didn’t get online soon enough to get a good time slot. So, my only option to get up to the summit under my own steam, was to be past the checkpoint before 9 a.m. when the first cable car brings up the rangers.

From the trailhead, it is a 6 mile hike with about 4500 vertical feet to the summit. Given that the park employees estimate that it should take about 5 hours to make the climb, I figured I could do it in about 3. Then I gave myself an extra hour of leeway, just in case! So I got up really early in the morning, drove my car 40 miles, from our hotel on the beach in Playa Las Americas, up into the 6 mile-wide volcanic crater that is the old volcano of Mt. Teide, to begin the climb. Did I mention that it was still full dark? Sunrise in November at that latitude doesn’t arrive until after 7 in the morning, and I have never experienced such a dark, quiet night as I felt in the crater of Teide. There was no moon, and the stars were covering the sky as I have never seen before. Given that I inside a crater, on a small island in the middle of the Atlantic, I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise to see a lot of stars. But what I hadn’t expected was the quiet. There was not a sound to be heard, no cars or people or birds or wind. The crunch of my shoes on the volcanic rocks were the only disruptions in a dark moonscape where even cactus couldn’t grow.

Luckily the trail was wide and easy to follow, and gently sloping up for the first 3 miles. Then it got steeper and rocky, as the bulk of Mt. Teide looming over me started to blot out a good portion of the starry skies. The constant warmth of the beach was gone, and at that elevation I figured it was close to freezing already. I was wearing all the warm layers I had brought along on vacation, including (luckily) hat and gloves, and steadily working my way up the mountain. The elevation gains dramatically slowed my pace, but after a few hours I found myself welcoming the sunrise from the high slopes of the volcano, with the summit not far above me. There is a small mountain refuge on the mountain, where hikers can reserve a bunk, to break up the hike into two days. I had passed the refuge a few minutes before, and now could see a group of people on the summit for the actual sunrise, who had probably slept at the refuge and woken up early for the final short section of trail. But by the time I had slowly wheezed my way up to the thin air at the summit, all of these hikers had made their way down already, and I had the summit all to myself. I was amazed to see the gigantic triangular shadow of the mountain, reflected on the clouds. It was very cold on the summit, with my thin gloves, although a few sulfur steam vents gave an occasional puff of warm air.

I didn’t stay long, but started heading back down the trails. It had taken just about 3 hours to climb up the trail, and I was slowed as well on the decent by the rough trail, rapid switchbacks, and loose rocks. Finally I was back down past the halfway point on a road that was more like a jeep-trail than a hiking trail, which made it easy to run back to my car at the trailhead.
It took me about 5 hours for the round-trip, over 12 miles, which is only about half the speed I manage in lower elevations. It was a quick descent in the car back down to sea-level and the hotel, at which point I started to understand that a drastic elevation change coupled with considerable exertion, might not have been such a good idea. Ouch, the headache hit me a few minutes later…the delayed effects of altitude sickness. Oops. I spent the rest of the day moving my head as little as possible. By later that evening, I was feeling somewhat better, so perhaps the great views from the summit justified my suffering later on….