Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

November 29, 2011

{Windy} Little Langdale to Windermere Run/Canoe, Lake District

It was back to extreme weather conditions, as my adventure racing teammate Gavin and I headed out on Sunday from Langdale for a combined day of running and canoeing.  In a bit of car shuffling, we had dropped my vehicle near Windermere Canoe and Kayak, before driving out to the start of our run.  Although the weather forecast showed the gale force winds speeds should be dropping, the morning was still very gusty.  Our plan was to do a long run over to Windermere Canoe and Kayak, then rent a Canoe for the rest of the daylight hours.  We decided to head for the hills first,and hope the winds dropped as we climbed.  Right.  The gusts started hitting us on the climb out of Little Langdale Tarn, as we climbed up {aptly named} Wet Side Edge toward Great Carrs.   The force of the gusts was enough to push me backwards a few times, and we knew we needed to be cautious next to the cliffs on the ridge.  Luckily the trail was wide in most places so we could stay well back from the edge. 

When we turned east to go over Swirl How, the wind completely took control of our progress and swept us onward like leaves in front of a leaf blower.  We linked arms, leaned back into the wind, and attempted to slow our progress to something that resembled a controlled walk.  It was difficult, as the screaming wind was so strong we couldn't shout a word to each other.   I don't think I could have even walked in the other direction, as the compression zone of wind over the crest of the hill was close to a solid wall of force.  Guessing from a few other nasty encounters with high winds (A certain Open 5 back in Febuary comes to mind) that we were fighting up to 70 mph winds and knew we needed to get to lower elevations soon. It was an no-brainer to skip Wetherlam summit and head straight down to Coniston.

Anyway, dipping down over the brow of the hill immediately lessened the gusts, and we could once again communicate and not fear getting blown off a cliff.   It also raised the temperature as we descended, thank goodness.  I had underestimated the wind chill effect and had wet, frozen feet and hands.  This wasn't helped by the recent rains had turned every path into an improptu streambed, with occasional hidden boggy section that swallowed my shoes whole.  My feet were soaked within minutes, but constant new cold water dips weren't helping either.  I was carrying a walking, ok let's be a little more sophisticated here trekking pole, so that helped me feel a few bottomless pits in advance and avoid them.   I let Gavin run ahead of me, so I could also avoid the bogs that he fell into while laughing at him.  Although if the truth be told, I was the only one to really take a slider into the muck that day! 

The trail brought us down past Levers Water, where a sudden gust made me wonder if I had avoided the cliffs only to get blown into a reservoir!  The wind literally pushed water out of the lake and into the atmosphere before swirling it over and down the dam...it was quite a sight to see.  No camera, either...but this time I would have needed video to capture the day properly. 

Once into Grizedale Forest, the weather was no longer an issue, as the wind dropped (finally).  With an hour or so left to run before arriving on the west side of Windermere, Gavin suddenly wondered if the ferry was running today.  I had to confess I hadn't given it a thought, and we gravely contemplated how much longer our run would have to be to get back to the car {since we weren't willing to swim}. 

Lucky us, the ferry was working, although waiting for it just a few minutes chilled us right down.  Total run was 17 miles in 5 hours.   At the car, we added a few layers before renting a canoe and setting off into reservoir.  The water was much calmer now, and we paddled around Belle Isle without much trouble.   Since our major adventure races next summer will require canoes, we hope to get familiar with them (hah!) as much as possible.   What we concluded is that paddling a canoe is a pain in the butt...or should I say knees.  There is no comfortable way to sit, and even the moderate winds on the water were blowing us all over the place.  My GPS said we did 3.5 miles in an hour of paddling, but since that included a lot of lazy S curves I'm sure it was more like 3 miles of useable distance.   Plus we've got to figure out how to strap our bicycles into the canoes for at least part of the race.  Perhaps we should wait for warmer weather before falling into the lake while attempting that maneuver!

November 28, 2011

Spofforth Pinnacles Walk

I'm attempting this week to be a bit less extreme, and also realizing that there is a lot of my local area that I haven't yet explored.  This time I went out with Rob and a couple of friends to do a local walk, figuring that I would be provided with plenty of photos and even have breath left over to chat while walking instead of running.  The weather didn't really work out, though, as it was rather windy, overcast, and damp.  I don't think any of us would have braved the weather if we all hadn't agreed in advance to meet up!

We parked in the village of Spofforth and started our walk north along the River Crimple.  The first couple of miles were quite muddy, although we were sheltered from the worst of the weather by our low position in the valley floor. From the river, we headed up to Brown Hill wood and then on to Birkham wood via the old highway-turned-bridleway.  It was nice walking except for the four busy road crossings which kept us waiting for a while.

The path back via Plompton Hall led us by pigs, ponies, minature goats and a bunch of chickens, which was mildly entertaining as the sky kept getting darker and wetter.  Finally we were into the Spofforth Pinnacles, which are oddly-shaped boulders strewn about a pasture resembling a giant's game of shuffleboard.

The pinnacles were supposed to be the highlight of the walk, but with the wind blowing cold rain into our faces we were all ready to get back to the car.  I must confess that we walked the road back the last mile or so to avoid getting the sticky mud along the river reunited with our boots.  Definitely a place to revisit with a picnic on a nice summer day. 

Thanks to Jim and Gill for suggesting this walk on their Blog.

November 23, 2011

Night Biking and Lighting Test

Finally got to try out my new lights for nighttime adventure racing.  The last couple of weeks it's been very foggy and quite dangerous for biking at all, much less at night.   Luckily, last night was perfectly clear with great visibility.   Even the stars were out!  And the wind was almost nil.

The mountain bike is in the shop for some repairs, so the test became a true road ride.  I tried to select quiet roads that wouldn't have much traffic on them, as pitch blackness and high speed vehicles, even with headlights, don't make a good combination with bicycles.   My time-trial road bike wasn't great for a light test either, with the aerobars in front, but I made it work!

I had two new lights to test, the Inova T2 and the  SSC-P7 LED Bike Light.  Both of these lights have regulated outputs, so the light will continue to have constant brightness until the batteries go completely dead (or close to, anyway).  I also used a an old headlamp mounted to my helmet for seeing the sides of the road, digging in my pack, etc.  At about $50 each, these lights are MUCH cheaper than some lighting options, which is how I ended up with a couple to experiment with, at that price I can afford to have a backup!

Photo courtesy of Spyder Tactical Supply

The Inova T2 looks like a heavy-duty flashlight, but yet weighs just over 4 ounces.  It runs on CR123 Batteries, which are small and cheap (when purchased wholesale).  With 155 Lumen output on high, it was quite bright, more than enough for road riding.  I attached it to my bike via a Fenix flashlight mount, which would have work great on a regular bike but on my TT bike there weren't a lot of mounting options, so it did bounce around a bit more than normal.  The mount could also be fastened to a helmet and worn while running, although I haven't tried that yet. 

Run time is 4 hours on high and 32 hours on low.

Photo courtesy of Deal Extreme
(as if that isn't obvious)!

The SSC-P7 is waterproof and has a rechargable battery, which is great for a single ride but a bummer for a multiple night adventure race.  This also weighs 4 ounces (not sure if that includes the battery pack), but at 900 Lumens it really lights up the night.   In fact I wasn't sure if it would blind oncoming drivers, so I only turned it on when there weren't any cars around!  

Run time is 3-4 hours on high on a full charge,  low and strobelight functions will last much longer.

At first I thought that the Inova was a bit dim for biking, but then I realized I had been riding with it on the low setting (19 lumens) rather than on high (155 lumens)!  Doh! Big difference!  In an adventure race, I would ideally want two bike-mounted lights, with one as a backup.  That's in addition to the helmet-mounted light and blinking red rear light.  

I think the Inova T2 and P7 compliment each other well, in that I could run the T2 continuously, replace the batteries as needed, and only turn on the P7 when I need some serious light, as in a fast descent or technical off-road section.  I'm not sure how the P7 will hold up to wear and tear, it seems pretty delicate, only time will tell.  The T2 is a solid flashlight and I suspect it could bounce off the ground and continue working just fine.

Thanks to Ron Eaglin for his suggestions on lighting for adventure racing.

November 15, 2011

Mary Townley / Pennine Bridleway MTBike Loop, 46 miles

To make the weekend a bit more epic, after the Six Dales Circuit on Saturday, the Mary Townley mountain bike loop was in the cards for Sunday.   I slept in my car the night between, to save myself some mileage on the car, and got to try out my newly-won Rab MM sleeping bag and Klymit Inertia X sleeping mat.  They are both great items of lightweight kit for Mountain Marathons and other ultralight travels.
My adventure racing teammates Jon and Tony showed up before the sun did, and after a bit of frantic kit shuffling (why are they always ready before I am?), we were pedaling off and immediately on our first hill of the day.  The first of many, I should say. 
The Mary Townley Loop is a path which mostly follows the Pennine Bridleway.  Meant for walkers, bicyclists or equestrians, it is a demanding loop, which takes in the great scenery of the South Pennines and perhaps every hill in the area!  We followed the loop in a counter-clockwise direction from Waterfoot, and were soon hike-a-biking up a steep hill.  I’m not sure if there is a preferred route direction, but it did seem like we hiked up a few (ok, a lot) of steep hills, and then had nice gentle descents down some great sections of both singletrack, gravel, and stone causeways.  So I think we picked a good direction as I prefer long, flowing descents.   
I wouldn’t call it a fast loop, though, as the mud, rocks, and uneven stone causeways made for some tough going.   There weren’t many easy sections and the hard stuff never seemed to let up.   From previous visits to the area on the Wuthering Hike and Calderdale Hike, I knew that the views were lovely and the hills all looked scary from the bottom!  Unfortunately, it was foggy almost the whole way around, and we could see nothing but the track ahead of us.  The wind picked up a bit on the tops as well, so for rough causeway sections it was difficult to keep from getting blown off the stones. 
After only 20 miles and almost 4 hours I was starting to wonder if we were going to get back in daylight, and hoping my teammates wouldn’t leave my flagging legs too far behind (they had the maps and the bike tools).  Luckily Unfortunately, my bike chain broke about halfway around, and we spent quite a few minutes trying to force on a quick link without removing too many links.   It was a good chance to catch my breath but the stop got us quite chilly in our damp clothes.   I was secretly hoping the broken chain wasn’t entirely due to the fact that my chain was almost entirely devoid of lube, as I had forgotten to reapply it after the last bike bath.  Oops.   Although calling my chain “dry” when it was constantly coated in water and mud, is something of an oxymoron. 

There were plenty of puddles enroute, which after the first shocking splash can actually be kind of fun to ride through.  Makes us all feel like we are 10-year-old kids again, as if we would would admit to that.  My bright yellow windbreaker was soon mostly brown, and I actually felt proud of how dirty I was getting.  Hmmm.  What I didn't appreciate was the grit that coated my drinking tube, my gloves, and every bit of food that I tried to open with my dirty gloves.  Gummy bears are not supposed to crunch. 
With 10 miles to go I actually started to believe that I would make it around, and I think the trails got a bit less technical and incrementally faster.  Luckily our vehicles were parked in a valley so the last couple of miles were guaranteed to have mostly downhill!  
We arrived back at the car (in daylight!) after 8 hour 35 minutes.  We were completely coated in mud (the splatters on my face lasted until after I arrived home so my husband could laugh uproariously at me!)  In fact there was so much dirt soaking my tights that it acted as an extra layer of warmth…except that it was wet.  Well.   At least my feet were warm, thanks to my vapor barrier sock liners which kept the worst of the cold mud on the outside. 
Would I ride the loop again?  Well…perhaps if I was forced to do so by my teammates in the name of “good training”.   Or perhaps if the views were…visible.  I did carry the camera the whole way, but neglected to ever get it out because: one, we never stopped; two, my hands were too muddy; and three, we couldn’t see anything but our muddy selves.  Let's face it, I'm just not cut out to be a photographer.  If I was sensible I would find someone else to ride with me that both liked to take photos and willing to carry the weight of a camera.   Volunteers?

Also preplanned unfortunate was the fact that my tubeless tires had picked today to suddenly stop self-sealing, and I several times needed a bit of wind added, although the slow leaks were better than having a total flat.  Definitely need to get more goo tire sealant into them before my next ride race. 

November 14, 2011

Six Dales Circuit, 26 miles, 12 Nov 2011

A last minute addition to my calendar, I justified the long drive down to the southern Peak District by combining it with a mountain bike ride in the South Pennines the next day.  Unfortunately that meant sleeping in the car the evening after a marathon, which can be painful, but the Six Dales was surely worth it, as I would discover. 

To backtrack, I pulled into the field parking lot within seconds of Nick Ham, who has completed this LDWA Challenge something like 9 times in the last decade.  His finishing times seem quite fast, and he reasons that the Six Dales Circuit is one of the most runnable trail routes that he's done. 

The course did start out very runnable, but also quite breathtaking.  Our first descent dropped us into Biggin Dale and then sharply into Wolfscote Dale.   Both of these valley were steep-sided and narrow, with just enough space in the bottom for a path and a small stream.   I was fascinated by the valleys as they looked a big hand had cut them out with a sharp knife...and told myself that I needed to come back with hubby in tow for a dayhike.  Because of course I didn't want to stop and admire the view, I was on a mission to see how fast I could run this "runnable" course.

Beresford Dale passed by without any fuss, and I was making good time, almost a minute faster per mile than my usual long-distance pace.  The trail made a few sharp ups and downs for a bit until the second checkpoint at Monyash, where I gave away a few hard-won minutes by waiting in line for a cheesy hot oatcake, a specialty of the area.  It didn't disappoint!

Next came a long (miles and miles) descent of Lathkill Dale, which was rocky underfoot but still runnable.  I'm partial to forests and rivers, so the terrain was heaven for me, and the leaves were liberally sprinkled with bright fall colors.   Then it was into Bradford Dale, which was definitely uphill but still gradual.  Having covered almost 20 miles in 3 1/2 hours, I was on pace for a very quick time.  The last checkpoint in Middleton was an out and back up and down a steep hill, and from there my pace slowed way down.  The trail went from smooth and runnable to a muddy uphill slog that never seemed to end.  My shoes must have weighed an extra pound from all the mud stuck to them, and I started getting quite tired from the quick miles I had just done. 

So sorry, Long Dale, but you just aren't as nice as all the other Dales.  Although, to be fair, even when I got on a road section I still felt like I was slogging through mud.  Wait, maybe that was the stuff still stuck to my shoes...  My time slipped away a bit at the end, but by sprinting in the last couple of fields I still managed to finish in 5 hours flat.  Definitely have to say the weather helped with the fast time, by being mild, sunny, windless, and generally beautiful!

I was surprised that Nick had only finished 18 minutes faster than I had, as he took off like a rocket at the start.  Met Helen Skelton post-race as well, winner of the Runfurther series this year, although she had walked today's route as part of injury rehab.   Nick and Helen were both headed over the next day for the Runfurther Series awards ceremony after the Roaches Fell race, as Nick had finished the Grand Slam for the second time in 2011. With nowhere to get to, I stuck around in the hall quite a while afterwards, talking with Nick, Helen, and Roger Taylor, plus snacking on cakes and a filling meal of vegetarian curry and soup!

Even with the last ugly miles, I really enjoyed the route and will put it on my calendar again in coming years...

I will shamelessly offer up Nick Ham's photos here, as I hate being weighed down with a camera, even on such a beautiful day!

November 9, 2011

Haglöfs 2011/12 Open 5 Series Leaders!

Female Pairs Series Leaders!!!!

This is probably temporary, so flaunt it while you got it, right?

(Notice I even lucked out with the photo, it's Jon and I from the Open 24 back in July)

http://www.openadventure.com/ ...Some editing done to make relevant portions fit in the photo ;-)

November 8, 2011

Open 5 Adventure Race, Shropshire Hills, 6 Nov 2011

The second race of the Haglöfs 2011/2012 Open5 Series was held in Church Stretton in Shropshire. Sarah and I had a very early start to make the long trek down from up north, which we were dreading.  But even the drive was beautiful, as a brilliant sunrise gave us views of fog-covered valleys with the tops of trees breaking through.  It promised to be a perfect day, with light winds and a cloud-LESS sky.  How often does that happen!?!

My only previous visit to this area was on the LDWA Housman 100, which featured the Long Mynd ridge from about mile 73-80.  You may recall that during this part I was bawling my eyes out this was a pretty tough section of the 100 miler for me, and I didn't have good memories of the ridge at all.  I was hoping to change that today.
From a little research on the ‘net, I had discovered that the Long Mynd area was well-known for its great mountain biking trails (and also hopefully discovered which trails were better avoided!)   At registration I was gratified to see that the MTB map covered the exact area that I had predicted, and felt as prepared as I could be without having recce’d the area ahead of time.  We messed around studying the map until we almost ran out of time in the start window, and began to hurry it up.  The sun was out, but it still felt quite chilly, so a reluctance to strip down to our race clothing might have held us up a bit!
For our second Open5 together, Sarah and I had made some adjustments to our kit to match our speed to each other.   Turns out this meant I was carrying the pack on the run, while Sarah was floating free as a bird with no luggage bouncing on her back!   We had also reluctantly agreed to leave the camera at home, which I’m sure saved us 20 minutes at least 30 seconds.  Although it really was a shame, with the brilliant sunshine we sure could have taken some blurry wonderful photos while running down the singletrack!   The plan worked out perfectly, though, we ran at the same speed through a run course that had it all…lovely trails, great views, and a bit of heather-bashing. 
Several run-ins with our biggest competition, Fi and Fiona (were they following us?) gave us motivation to keep the pace high and nab all the points we could.    We discovered afterwards that we had run/ridden almost identical routes as they had, which gave a very positive spin to our navigational choices.
Our run route went a bit long and we were back into transition in 2 hours 10 minutes.   A quick change of shoes and some map faffing (Sarah had left her map board at home, but who knew that zip ties work just as well?) and we were headed out again.   Within a mile I realized that my back tyre was really low, and Sarah came to the rescue by actually knowing how to use the CO2 pump that I had always carried with me and never needed to use.   (Note to self…try out gear at home).  Within minutes we were back on the road.
From that point it was a long slog up a grassy trail all the way to the top of the Mynd.  Far from having a nice ride along the ridge, the controls then took us down/up, down/up, down/up, and up some more.    To keep stay close together on the hills, we pulled out the tow rope and tried it out for the first time.  Just a length of cord tied to my backpack, with Sarah holding the other end at her handlebars, it worked quite well.  Although I never felt much pull on it, so I think just having it there gave a physiological boost and helped match our speeds.
Time started running out on us while we were still high on the ridge, and reluctantly we had to sacrifice last control on our list, which included the best downhill singletrack in the area.  Bummer.  We took a shorter route instead, but still found ourselves dibbing the last control high on the ridge with only 15 minutes to go.  I started to worry.  The descent was a long, steep, never-ending grassy pasture track, and as I rattled down with my brakes clenched, I made a mental note to check my brake pads after the race.  Finally we bottomed out and hit (I mean, we opened) our first (and last) gate of the whole race. 
Back on the road, we had 3k or so to go with just 5 minutes left on the clock.   You guessed it, that wasn’t enough time.   My watch gave me the bad-news splits, and although we pedaled our little hearts out, we finished over 6 minutes late.   Dibbing in, we were still thrilled to see a score of 491, meaning that we had left less than 100 points out on the course.  It was another perfect race, as our final control still gave us more points than we lost in late penalties. 
We were still stuffing our starving bodies with jacket potatoes and sticky toffee pudding (kudos to the caterers!) when the awards ceremony started.  Event planner Jims’ face made a big “O” as he looked at the scores for the women’s pairs, and he commented that it was very close.   Having tied for first the last event, we were getting used to this (!), and waited for the 3rd place score to be read out.  490 points for Jill and Sharon (3rd again).  YES…that meant we were 2nd (again).   Fiona and Fi took first, but were only 3 points ahead of us.  Turns out they had taken a wrong turn near the finish and came in late as well.  We had expected them to be way ahead of us, so 3 points felt like nothing. 

Two close seconds put us in the lead for the series, although in our category I predict it's going to take 3 perfect 100s to actually win.  We're sitting at 199.39 after 2 so we'll see if our other races go as well (fingers crossed!)

We hid from the camerawomen this race and hence there are no photos of us, but I've stolen borrowed a few others from the Open Adventure photographers.  Mostly they just showcase the absolutely brilliant sunshine and wonderful views we had while racing!  Results and photos here.

November 4, 2011

Coast to Coast AR Television Broadcast dates

You may have noticed a film crew out during your last running race or triathlon.  Dream Team Television covers many popular fell running, triathlon and adventure racing events in the UK.  I certainly ran into a few cameramen (not literally!) during the 4 days of the Adidas TERREX Coast to Coast Adventure Race.   Even got to wave to the helicopter as the race leaders passed me going over a heather-covered moor. 
Dream Team broadcasts air on UK Channel 4 throughout the year.   Here's the link, notice that times and dates may change http://www.dreamteamtelevision.co.uk/broadcast-dates/
I may be featured in one of their next productions, as I finished third woman in the Coast to Coast Adventure Race back in August! 
adidas TERREX Coast to Coast
Part 1 – Sunday November 13th 6.55–7.20 on Channel 4
Part 2 - Sunday November 20th 0730 am (or could be at 0655)

(If you don't have UK TV then hopefully there will be an online version available later)

I can't wait to see it, as this was the coolest race I've ever done, loved every minute!