Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

September 26, 2011

Rab Mountain Marathon, Wales, 24-25 Sept 2011

A Mountain Marathon isn't really a marathon, unless you want it to be one.  Or two, or three...   Actually it's two days of mountain orienteering, while carrying enough gear to camp in the mountains and cook your own meals.  Mountain Marathons seem to be quite a tradition in the UK, as events fills up and amazing amounts of people are willing to carry their own gear and potentially suffer bad weather while camping with minimal equipment.  While you can do it solo, my friend Sarah convinced me to enter the Rab MM with her a pair, meaning that we could share the weight of tent and stove, toothbrush, etc.

We arrived in northern Wales on Friday night, and wondered if the bad weather was going to make the weekend a nightmare.  Weather forecasts predicted rain, wind, and fog on the mountaintops, oh joy.  While camping near the car that evening, I kept expecting the wind gusts to tear the tent apart, and didn't get a wink of sleep.    Mist arrived the next morning, and the dampness followed us all the way to the start.   After making a chaotic mess on the floor of the school while Sarah and I sorted our gear and hopelessly tried to make our packs lighter, we fit everything in (including way too much food), and set off. 

Yes, the winds were strong.   
So much for the waterproof socks...
Yes, it rained a bit. 
Yes, there was a bit of fog. 
Yes, my pack was heavier than I have ever imagined carrying (while running, at least). 
Yes, the footing was boggy, bumpy, rough, trackless, and unfirm.
Yes, the hills were really steep and torturous. 

But you know what? After a couple of hours I was really enjoying myself, even as I worried that we would get soaking wet in our minimalist tent and freeze to death that night.  :) 

I even (somewhat successfully) used a compass bearing to navigate between a couple of points we went to.  Although I must admit that our navigation was mostly by lemming (i.e. other fools ahead of us marking the points by digging in their packs right next to the dibbers!)

Photo courtesy of Gill Watson

Amazingly enough, the sun came out and the wind dropped in the afternoon, and the views over the sea to Anglesey were clear and beautiful as the tide receded.  Sarah and I had entered the Elite class, meaning that our time limit was an hour longer than most of the entries (truly, we just did it to minimize the time we might have to hunker down in the tent during a long soggy night).  So after 7 hours of racing, as we dropped down into camp, most people had already finished and set up their tents. 

We were quickly hailed by an assorted motley crew of other adventure racers, (including Tom, Gill, Karen, Mick, Dave, Emma, et al), and set up our tent near them.  Water came from a clear, fast flowing stream, and we could finally relax, change into a dry shirt (what luxury!), and get warm in the sunshine.  With several hours left to kill before dark, we all spent the time cooking multiple courses of cous cous, ramen, and hot chocolate, listening to the banter of the camp, and enjoying the nice weather. 

Sarah's tent was indeed minimalist, but we managed to fit in pretty comfortably, and the tight space probably helped keep some heat in against the chilly night.  I only had an old summer sleeping bag so I was grateful I didn't have to take extreme measures to keep warm.   
Gill brings a (plastic) bottle of wine all the way to camp!
The next morning was still calm, sunny, and almost warm.  While it had taken me a few hours to get into the MM mood the day before, this morning I was ready to hit the hills and capture as many points as we could get to in our 6 hour time limit.  Unfortunately, many of the points with high values were repeats of the day before, but we did manage to see new terrain while linking them all together into a fast route. 

The wind picked up significantly during the morning to gusts of over 50 mph, but our route meant it wasn't a headwind too often.  I did make sure to keep a really good grip on my map as it was the only thing not attached to my backpack!

We made really good time by finding a few hidden small trails, and added more points to our route with revised fast pace.  With 40 minutes to the deadline, we were still 4 kilometers from the finish and climbing a big hill.  Our legs were trashed, I was panting like a maniac when we dibbed in at the summit, and then it was a long run down a slope to the final checkpoint and the finish.   Just as I was saying something to the effect of, "If we push we can still make it", I tripped and fell into a bog.  Then had to beg Sarah to give me a hand up, I was laughing too hard and felt like a upside-down turtle!  We carried on, through another bog that almost covered my knees for a few steps, unfortuntely Sarah had to come through the same spot as well! 

At the finish!
10 minutes left and 1k to go, we were running as hard as we could (which meant a geriatric walker could have easily passed us), and saw the finish flags with less than a minute left.  In fact, after getting our results, we realized that we had finished with just 20 seconds before the penalties would have kicked in!

We had been behind our competition after the first day of racing, so didn't expect to pull ahead of them.  So when the Rab reps started pulling out the prizes for the awards ceremony, we wondered if we should stay for it or not.   Well, that was a definite YES after we checked the results sheet and found ourselves in 1st PLACE! 

We were grinning like loons when our names were called and we walked up to receive our prizes, which were Rab down sleeping bags.  Perfect timing for me as I had been eyeing them after sleeping chilly in my old bag anyway!  Hmmm, perhaps now I'll have to do another MM, just to use the new sleeping bag!  :)

Results are HERE
Sarah and I after the first day, with the field of tents already set up in the valley (to the left of the photo)

1st in Elite Women's category, and our booty, a Rab down sleeping bag!
(Photos courtesy of Sarah Keast, and thanks for carrying the camera so I didn't have to!)

I want one of these! (Klymit Inertia X sleeping mat)

Additional Photos of Saturday and Sunday here, we made it into a few of them! (below)

Definitely want one of these sleeping mats!

At the finish!

September 2, 2011

Adidas TERREX Coast To Coast 2011, Day 4

Continued from Coast to Coast, Day 3

Stage 14: Cycle through Vale of York

The final day started with a cold, early morning bike over to Osmotherley and down to Swainby.  The extra early start mean leaving shortly after 5 a.m. for some, but I had moved up a few places on the board (yay!) and headed out at 5:36.  It was still dark enough to need lights, but there was no traffic and again we had a tailwind.  My legs were feeling pretty tortured after 3 days of racing so I took it easy to get warmed up for the following run stage.  It sure felt like it was all uphill, though, and my pace was much slower than I had anticipated.  My goal for the day was to finish in under 30 hours total racing, which mean I would need under about 6 hours 30 minutes on the day. 

Stage 15: Run over Carlton Bank
The run stage finally arrived and there was a chilly wind blowing us up the North Yorkshire Moors.  The bogs of the Dales were long gone, replaced with level paving stones and an obvious path along the Cleveland Way over Carlton Bank.  I had come this way as part of the Osmotherley Phoenix in 2010, so I recognized a good bit of the route and could worry a bit less about my direction finding.  I still managed to go off trail while scrambling up some rocks, but quite minimal and I wanted to see some heather up close, really!  Back on the flagstones, they led all the way down to the road where a steep descent brought us to the next transition area. 

Yup, I always run with my eyes closed...can see the beautiful blooming heather better that way...

Stage 16: MTB across North Yorkshire Moors
With the last run done, it was just our cycle legs which would carry us the rest of the way to Robin Hood's Bay.  Going back up the steep road to the Cleveland Way meant a hike-a-bike for me, but as I was walking up faster than the guy riding in front of me I figured I was the smart one.  Back on the trail, it really was more hike-a-bike with some choosing to carry the bikes up the steep steps.   It wasn't as tough as I had feared, though, and I pulled away from the teams behind me once reaching the path along the moors.  It was level fast riding along the trail and the disused railway, and I made good progress towards my time goals here. 

A few muddy shortcuts and some tarmac sections bridged me over to the long descent to Glaisdale.  By this time I was tired and sore, but also wishing somehow that there was another day of racing as I was having so much fun!  The path was rocky and muddy but also fast, and with my 29er wheels I kept ahead of the teams behind me, managing to get through both MTB stages without falling off!  Progress! 

Stage 17: Cycle along Esk Valley

The camera crew records my finish!
 With clean road tyres I soon found myself pushing my bike up the last steep hill on the final stage.  I tried to do some math in my head (hard to do when exercising, really) and concluded that there was plenty of time to reach the finish for under 30 hours, but pride kept me racing hard.  Unfortunately my tired legs didn't have much left in them, and I strugged to keep up with teams around me riding with MTB tyres.  Finally we were on the graveled old railway which leads up and over the moor, and the ocean came into sight!   My shoes were waiting for me in the transition area, and I tore out of there down the hill toward the finish.   My muscles were all but giving up on me by that point but I knew in two minutes I could finally finish.  I guess my brain was shutting down as well because I forgot to dib in at the finish line and had to go back and get it!  At any rate it was a relief to wear the finisher's medal and clap for the teams starting to stream in.

Trying to breath after 4 days of hard racing...
 I was happy to have held off the leaders for the day as within 5 minutes it seemed most of the front-runners were sprinting in.  The finish area started heaving with people and I found a spot on the grass to watch all the action.  After everyone finished, we had the awards ceremony, and amazingly enough I held in there to finish third in the women's category.  Although there was no photo finish needed, as I was over 4 hours behind Sally in 2nd and 6 hours ahead of Ruth in 4th. 

From left to right:  Sally Ozanne (2nd), Fiona McBryde (1st), Dawn Westrum (3rd)
Stage 4 results are here      Overall results are here  

After I got home, I did some race analysis, and figured out that of 4-5 hours I lost to the women ahead of me, one full hour of it was in transition!  Ouch!!  I thought I had been getting through tranisition pretty fast, and Rob was starting to get the hang of it by the last couple of days.  But I'll have to get faster at those for sure.

My Excel Spreadsheet of all the results + transition times is here

Also lost quite a bit of time on the kayak as I was using a plastic sea kayak and the fast competitors all had surf skis.  Probably lost another hour or two there.  Also lost quite a bit of time on the run sections but no excuses, I guess they are just faster than me as I came into the race as fit as I had every been.   Was psyched that I kept up with them on the biking sections for the most part. 

Most happy that I never got lost, didn't have a flat, didn't get injured, and Rob never got lost either!   Never ever expected to win, was really just hoping to finish, so the 3rd place was just extra credit.  This was a my longest race ever, but I finished feeling pretty strong and confident, so definitely already looking ahead to to the 2 day non-stop Swift and 4-5 day Sting in Sterling next year! 

But most of all, really just enjoyed every minute of my journey across England!
Rob and I both happy to reach the finish line!

The Team winners

From Sea to Sea on the Coast to Coast....

Adidas TERREX Coast To Coast 2011, Day 3

Continued from Coast to Coast, Day 2

Stage 11: Run over Nine Standards
Well, to start the day off we had a run out of Kirkby Stephen up to the Nine Standards Rigg. 
Home territory!
  I had been up to the peak before on the Yomp Mountain Challenge in 2010, but it had been so foggy that day I hadn't even realized that there was anything but a random checkpoint on top of a hill!  So it was nice to see the 9 rock cairns silhouetted against the sun as we climbed up to them.  It was a gentle gradient but after 2 days of racing for over 8 hours each day, I took it nice and steady to save some running legs for the downhill half. 

It was a bit muddy getting up to the top but nothing too serious...at least until we dibbed in at the cairns and started down the east side.  In a bit of confusion, the race briefing the evening before directed us to take the summer route, but the directions given turned out to be the winter route on the signage.  Anyway, everyone ahead of me was following the winter route so I went that way too.  Immediately there were lines of black scars crossing the route, each one a bog which may or may not eat your shoes for breakfast.  I saw the guy ahead of me sink in past his knees, offered to pull him out (!), and then made sure I stayed well away from that spot.  Also tightened my shoe laces to make sure they stayed on me feet.  It was a long, muddy run down to the creek and then along the trail following the water.   I fell into bogs a few times and was caked in mud from the knees down...even took a bit of a spill, luckily in clean water!

The last few miles of the run seemed to drag on forever, as this was the longest run section of the C2C and also the boggiest.  I was happy to finally see my bike even if it would mean more mud! 

Stage 12: MTB along Swaledale
I had been dreading the MTB stages a bit as I haven't had more than a few months of mountain biking experience and still don't feel too confident off-road on the really technical stuff.  However I was pleasantly surprised at the route and was able to ride most of it and enjoy it.  The first half of the stage was along a river valley with wonderfull views of the steeps cliffs and dales around us.  I had never visited that part of the Yorkshire Dales so it was an introduction to the terrain in my own backyard! 

There were plenty of mud puddles involved in the route but the skies were clear and blue, it wasn't too windy, and for the most part the winds were behind us.  Climbing out of the valley was a really steep push up a grassy bank (dropping the bike would have meant chasing it back down the hill a hundred yards!).  Once out on the moor, the path was mostly rideable again, and the purple heather was beautiful.  I started hearing the helicoptor nearby, and sure enough, looking behind me showed 2 yellow jerseys of the leading team catching up. 

Transition at Castle Bolton
 Earning the top of the hill was wonderful, as it meant a long, gradual descent down to the next transition at Castle Bolton.  I swept along at top speed and managed not to rattle anything loose (like my water bottle), catching a few last boggy sections right before getting waved in by Rob to get my wheels swapped over for the road section. 

Stage 13: Cycle through the Vale of York
It was a shorter day with only 3 stages (appropriate for the 3rd day), and I was feeling strong as I rode away from the Castle.  It was open route choice over to Northallerton; but with a pinch point at where we could cross the Motorway, there was a pretty obvious route.  By this time the wind was blowing pretty strong, but with a westerly route direction it was mostly a tailwind and quite flat as well.  I punched the accelerator and covered the 32 miles in 1 hour 47 minutes.  I don't think my MTB will ever average that speed again...  I came into town after putting some time back into Alex (Solo #15), as we had a friendly competition going on mid-pack, only to lose a few minutes waiting for a train.  I was in good company though with a few race leaders stopped there as well.  I was still able to finish with a time under 7 hours total, which had been my goal for the day.  At the finish, there was no Rob waiting for me, and it turned out he would arrive 25 minutes after me, totally surprised that I had beat him there!

I sat in the sunshine at the finish and watched the rest of the racers come in, reflecting that I had enjoyed every stage of the race so far.  None of the stages had been so long that I got tired of them, and after a couple of hours it was always time to switch to another discipline and head out again.  The thought of this race had terrified me back when I signed up for it, but now it was turning into a pleasant weekend of racing and a wonderful way of seeing the terrain of my new country. 

Day 3 results are here

Coming up next... Coast to Coast, Day 4

Waiting for Rob at the finish....

Road wheels on and ready for the tarmac