Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

March 15, 2011

Simon's Seat and Dales Way hike, 11 mi

In a quest for a mega-weekend of training, I am following up the 32 mile Wuthering Hike yesterday with another day out on my feet.  I had actually meant to drive down and do the 15 mile route of the LDWA Walk to 'Ell and Back.  However, on Sunday morning, it was cold and raining, and my sore legs were not very motivated to get soaked out there.  Sorry, blogger Deb, there goes my chance to meet up with you...  So I slept in a bit longer, then discovered that the sun was actually supposed to come out that afternoon. 


Sure enough, it did get sunny, and so I had my chance to explore some local trails near my neck of the woods, which usually take a back burner to the route dictated by my races.   A friend had mapped out a good route up to Simon's Seat, and I convinced my husband to come with me and take pictures (he's really the photographer, not me).   Secretly, I was hoping to find a really boggy section of trail for him to walk through, as I keep complaining about bogs during my races.   He has yet to see fall into one.   Oddly enough, my route from Storith's up to Simon's was short on bogs, and long on a nice smooth rocky track.  There was also a scenic trail along a creek, and a short section through some deep woods, where we saw pheasants and some deer. 
The rocks around the trig point at Simon's Seat gave us a chance to hunker down out of the mild breezes and take an untimed tea break (it's nice to not be in a race while out on the trail sometimes).  From there, we decided to take a longer route back to the car by dropping down to the river and picking up the Dales Way for a section of it.  However, our slow walking pace + frequent stopping breaks for photos meant that this was going to take us right into sunset.  It didn't help that the navigator (um, that's me), throught for a second that we had missed the right trail on the way down the steep hill from Simon's Seat.   It seemed like a no-brainer at then time, to go heather-bashing across the moorside in an attempt to avoid back-tracking.  After a few hundred feet of this, I reevaluated the map and decided we hadn't missed our trail at all!  So we bashed across some more heather to get across to the stile that marked the trail, and the only way down into the valley across the stone fence.  
Simon's Seat Trig Point

We had hoped that getting down into the valley would be a little warmer than the breeze over the tops.  But by the time we got down to the river, the sun was low enough that the evening chill was creeping in.  Tired from the day before, I couldn't stay warm in the mild temps, and put on rain jacket and pants (it wasn't raining), in an attempt to keep some heat in.  We then walked a little faster, drank the last of our hot tea, and had a fine sunset hike along the river.  Once again, every time I get out on the trails around here, the scenery is gorgeous.  Even if it's a little chilly....

Knee-deep in heather

The Dales Way

March 14, 2011

Wuthering Hike (a.k.a. Haworth Hobble) 32 mi, 12 Mar 2011

Well, among the list of blogs I read, it seems that at least 5 of you have also completed the Wuthering Hike this last weekend.  Click to read Mike's, Nick's, Simon's, Ian's, Mike S, and/or Derby Tup's accounts of the race.  Perhaps that is too much race recap all at once...but they did have some nice photos, and since I forgot my camera, I don't.   Now if I just knew what all of you bloggers looked like (insert joke here about how all sweaty runners in spandex look alike), I could say hi on the starting line or afterwards over a cup of tea. :)

I wasn't feeling particularily energetic the week leading up to the race, perhaps becuase of the mega-exercise I'd had the week before in Fuerteventura.  I guess the warmth and sun inspired such levels of exertion that I had nothing left.   But back to the race, my low energy level sort of carried on to that as well.   On the drive over to the start, which was nicely under an hour for once, I drank a whole bottle full of hot tea, which is definitely not normal for me.  My stomach didn't really deal with all the liquid before the event commenced, either, and I could feel water sloshing in my innards every time I picked up the pace and ran.   Bad idea.  Note to self:  don't drink so much before a race.   My stomach never did digest all the water, so I ate some food to try and damp it down.  That didn't help either as I started cramping as I ran.  And then of course I got thirsty because my mouth was dry, and drank more water.   Ah, well, let's just say that running down hills, usually my strength, was quite painful and jolting.  Once I figured out that it would be a slow day, I gave in at one checkpoint and took a jelly-filled donut.  Not really great to eat on a sloshing stomach, or really during any long run in my opinion, but boy did it taste good!   I did sort of gag at the thought of eating multiple hot dogs, though, which were being handed out at one checkpoint.  I can't imagine eating a hot dog while running...much less three of them in one huge bun.    

The race, which was forecast to be hilly (not a surprise when the route goes any where near Stoodley Pike), was even more hilly than I imagined, or really wanted.  I stayed close to my hoped-for pace of 5 mph for the first couple of hours, then hit several hills in a row that were wickedly steep and went on and on and on and on and on.  By the time those were over, I was miles slower than my predicted finish time.   Yet the weather was nice, cool but not cold, cloudy but not rainy, and it was much less boggy and muddy than I had seen elsewhere.  It seems that every time I get out on the trails in England, there is always a surprise bit of scenery that is amazing to behold.  See the pictures of those suprises here, oh wait I forgot the camera.  Suffice to say that I did enjoy the scenery, even when I was huffing and puffing up the hills.  So I kept plodding onwards, and made up a bit of time in the flatter sections nearer the end. 

This was the first race of the Runfurther Series (I may do all 12 one year, but this will not be that year).  The race photographer stationed himself on a hill and entertained himself by trying to get us to run up it for his photos.  Needless to say, mine are not very flattering.   Luckily I don't even feel tempted to paste one of them in here as they are copywrited, and won't let me :) 

As there were always people around me to follow, I never did pull out my map and navigate for myself.  However, my recall of the route description and my map plottings the night before was surprisingly clear, as at each intersection I had to guess the correct route, I was right.  And thanks to a few tips before the start at tricky junctions, I saved myself and a few others some wrong turns by heeding Nick's advice. 

Fellow Reservoir Runner Peter and his teammate Jacqueline finally caught up to me with about 8 miles to go, after saying that they would "take it steady" from the start.  I was glad to have some company, and they helped push the pace a little, so the last few miles (which can take forever in an ultradistance race!) seemed to pass quite quickly.   The raindrops waited to fall until we could taste the stew back at the finish line.   At that point I didn't care if it rained all the way driving home (it did), as I had made it round, in just over 7 hours.  Sloshy stomach or not, my legs felt strong, and I think I am starting the year out fine, towards my soon-approaching goal of the 100 miler at the end of May.

March 7, 2011

Windy bicycling and kayaking, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands

Unlike our first trip to Fuerteventura, where there wasn't a cloud in the sky and the wind was calm, we got a full dose of wind and clouds this week.  But it was still warm and dry, and I wasn't about to lose an opportunity go to bicycling outside, instead of on my trainer.    I rented a mountain bike in downtown Corralejo, and since all roads lead south from here, well, I headed south.  The strong winds were at my back, and the sun came out enough to make my arms start to burn.  So it was a fast journey at first. 

I had it in my mind to go about 100 miles on my dusty rental, just to get down to the mountain roads that I had enjoyed so much during the last visit.   However, the bike shop hadn't opened until 10 a.m. that morning, so I knew I would be running short of daylight if my pace dropped.  I climbed steadily to the highest road on the island, and my favorite curving road through Betancuria was just down the other side of the hill.  Stopping at the overlook, which was chock full of other bicyclists and busloads of tourists, I realized that the wind was going to significantly slow my journey back home, and that I probably would end up riding after sunset.  With no light, that wasn't a great idea.  Change of plans.

Luckily, my husband and our friends were out and about in the car, and we agreed to meet at a tiny black sand beach they had discovered the day before.  Heading back to Las Molinas against the wind, I was lucky enough to arrive within minutes of their rental car. We played on the beach for a while, watched the waves crashing high on the cliffs, and then had a late lunch in the tiny unnamed restaurant serving the fresh catch of the day. 

I had saved myself a few minutes by shaving some miles out of my intended route, but I still had a long way of fighting the wind to get back to the hotel.  I left my companions still shooting photos of the waves, and headed out again.  This time is was a very slow pedal back again, going at half the speed and cursing the wind.   But, the roads were wide and smooth, the traffic minimal, and the desert scenery was awesome. 

I do admit to a feeling of relief as I hit the last hill down into town after 67 miles, with cracked lips and a strong desire to escape from the buffeting winds. 

Trying to safely get through the surf into open water

A few days later, I noticed that there was a kayak near the hotel pool, and asked if I could rent it.  The surf and winds had been high all week, so conditions weren't great. But as a future Adventure Racer, I figured I needed all the experience I could get with paddling, as it's harder (and colder) to get into the water in England.  I think it should have been possible for me to take the kayak out to sea and around Isla Los Lobos, which isn't very far away, but the staff convinced me that the conditions and currents would be very rough and quite dangerous.  After getting into the kayak and starting to paddle, I fully agreed with them.  The waves were quite high, and paddling against the wind and surf took a lot of strength.  I'm sure I could have made it out to the island, but getting back might have been another story altogther....

Anyway, I had a rough hour's paddling out into the bay, and then called it a day.   Unfortunately for me, the next morning as we were flying out, the winds dropped and the ocean was much calmer.  I would have had a much easier time of it then...asi es la vida.

My kakak and I getting lost in the waves
View from our airplane window as we were leaving...

March 6, 2011

Sand dune run to crater summit, Fuerteventura (times 2!)

I won't be in the Sahara this April for the week-long Marathon des Sables, but I thought it would be fun to experiment with how hard it might be to run in the sand.  I have been contemplating running the Marathon des Sables someday, although it is frightfully expensive and also has a long waiting list.  That doesn't stop me from dreaming about it, so a sand run sounded like a great challenge. Luckily, I again found myself visiting Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands.  This time our hotel was right on the edge of Corralejo, with a large area of sand dunes just a few meters away.  

Starting the run was as easy as crossing the road in front of my hotel and heading south.  At the distant end of the dunes was a large crater, which gave me a reference to head for even in the dune valleys. The sand in the dunes was quite firm, as I zig-zagged around a few bushes and cactus.  Winter in the Canary Islands is the wettest part of the year (it's still a very dry desert), and recent rainshowers had caused a few new green shoots to pop out of the sand.  I tried to avoid stepping on any of them, growing things are hard to come by around here.
A large crater to head for as I start into the dunes
 There are a few issues with desert running, namely the sun, the heat, the wind, the hot sand, and the blisters.  Out in the dunes, it was windy and sandy, but the clouds kept the sun and heat to a very minimal level.  I think this made it easier to run without getting hot feet and blisters (and I didn't).  The clouds make the dunes very monochromatic, and my depth perception was way off.  It was sometimes hard to tell if the sand in front of me was sloping up or down.  But once in a while the sun would peak out, throwing some wild colors into the dunes with dark blue skies behind them.  It was magical.

The crater's not that far away, why not climb it as well?

As sometimes happens when I head out, the running felt really good, and the end of the dunes appeared way before I was ready to turn around and head back to the hotel.  I decided to turn it into an epic day out.  So I started assessing the volcano crater I had been heading for, wondering if I could make it to the summit as part of my run.  This particular crater sits alongside the road that runs through the dunes, and I had been eyeing it each time we had passed in the car.  So it wasn't entirely a surprise to me that my feet continued heading straight for it. 

To get there, first I had to cross a low ridge of hills covered with jagged volcanic rocks.  They were dark reddish colored, but covered with lively shades of orange lichen.  I concentrated on not breaking my ankles as the rocks rolled around beneath my feet.  Then I came to a cliff overlooking a dry river bed.  It wasn't too high, so I picked my way down along some rocks that had fallen off and made piles along the edge.  The other side of the wadi was the start of the hill, and the slope was pretty gentle, although covered with more small rocks.  There were also all sorts of shells and other strange bones on the ground, although I hadn't seen even one other person out there. 

Shadows in the sand dunes
The wind, which had blown at my back all the way through the dunes, picked up viciously as I neared the horseshoe lip of the summit.  I had great views of the island and ocean, the dunes far below me, and the neighboring islands.  Corralejo and its hotels were tiny specks in the distance.   The wind flapping my windbreaker ensured just a short stay on the summit, though, and then it was a quick run down the side slope and over to the road. 

To continue the feeling of adventure, I crossed the main road and stayed alongside the beach, which wound all the way back around to my hotel.  But I quickly sort of regretted this choice, as the tide was high, and the sand on the beach was soft and very hard to run in.   Unlike the packed sand of the trackless dunes, this had been churned up by countless beachgoers.  With the wind blowing in my face, I was reduced to a walk.  But hey, I was still on a beach on a desert island...it was great watching the waves crash on the shore, and the kiteboarders do their thing out on the water.

My route came out to about 13 miles of sand, sun, wind, and rocks.  It was such an epic journey, that I did it all over again the next afternoon!  And no blisters yet.  Sahara, here I come (someday).

Returning along the beach, with Lanzarote in the distance

View of the crater and some of the dunes from our plane window as we left :(