Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

February 28, 2012

Harrogate Parkrun 5k

Normally not a fan of short-distance races.  That kind of speed just hurts too much.  And I'm not sure I've ever actually run a 5k before either.  2 miles? Check.  10k? Check.  Half-marathon, Marathon, ultramarathon, 100 miles?  Check, check, check, check.    So I guess it's high time I filled a blank spot in my distance gap (ignoring the fact that my daily run to work is almost exactly 3 miles, after all I'm not racing THAT).

The Harrogate Parkrun is in its 6th event already, and over 100 runners were there at the start.  The 3 laps course was partly trail, partly tarmac, with a section rerouted to protect the sprouting crocuses and daffodils.   These flowers make the Harrogate Stray look amazing right now, by the way. 

The parkrun craze is sweeping the UK, and cities all over are starting up these grassroots runs.  No entry fee, no prizes, no fuss.  Just register, show up and run, get your barcode scanned at the finish and compare your results to others online.  If you want to, anyway.

I wasn't even that coordinated, as I hadn't even bothered to register.   I showed up with a properly barcoded friend, ran the distance, then just melted out of the finish shoot to no fanfare. 

25:33 isn't going to be an award-winning time in anyone's book, but then again it got me out for a run on a day when maybe I wouldn't have.   Plus I now have a slow 5k PB that I should be easily able to beat in future parkruns.  (Especially as I've been struggling with anemia, so curing that should give me some free speed :)

February 27, 2012

How Stean Gorge Walk

On a beautiful sunny but wintery day we just had to get out and see some more of the local area.  As neither one of us felt particularily energetic, though, we settled on a short hike/scramble around How Stean Gorge.  

At almost 6 pounds the entry fee was a little hard on the wallet, but it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable afternoons we've had in a long time.  We caught the weather at a perfect combination.  Cold enough to make icicles, calm and sunny for great lighting, plus low water levels and dry conditions for perfect rock scrambling without much ice. 

So we got to play in the gorge for a few hours, with only a few splashes include from some invisible black ice.  Our feet stayed dry and the icicles were just fascinating.  It would be a great spot to come back to in the summer sun with a picnic!   Hope you like the pics! 

More photos are on Flickr here

February 26, 2012

Dark/White MTB Orienteering, 3 hr, 26 Feb 12

After watching the weather forcast for Sunday steadily getting brighter and drier, I just had to sign up the Dark/White MTB Orienteering.   Plus I wanted to have a go at racing by myself again and attempt navigation all on my own.   The 3 hour race format was to grab as many points as possible and get back on time.  Seemed short and simple after my longer adventure races and with no transition involved my car wasn't as crammed full with kit as usual!

True to the forecast it was sunny, cool, and calm as we drove down that morning.  I had convinced Rob to come along by telling tales of how beautiful the scenery was along Stanage Edge (plus I wanted photos and he takes better ones than me by far!) I was one of the first to register, and set off as soon as the start table opened, which was actually earlier than 9 a.m. but I guess it doesn't matter at all with dibbers. 

I had visited this area just once before on a Dark/White Run Orienteering event back in January.  The bike course was larger, of course, but I found myself using many of the same trails/roads, so it was nice to know a little about the area as that always helps with the navigation. 

Most of the course was on roads, to be sure.  I won't complain about that as I'm still a roadie at heart, although my fat wheels did feel a little slow on tarmac.   Mixed into it were some really nice trails, which usually always required riding up or down a hill.  It is quite hilly around there...if only the race wouldn't have started at the TOP of the hill!  

It was a bit hard to regulate temperature with the steep climbs and windy downhills.  I wore a wind/waterproof top which kept me warm on the downhills, but also created that sensation of "boil in a bag" sweating on uphills.  Can't wait for the weather to get a bit warmer again so we can all shed a few layers of clothing.  Summer can't come soon enough....

With no teammate to catch my mistakes, I found myself watching the map quite carefully, measuring distance traveled on my odometer, and carefully checking intersections.  It helped out immediately, as three guys ahead of me rode right by my second control, and were far lower than me when I dibbed, scratching their heads and wondering where they were! 

End result, my navigation went perfectly, and I was happy with my route as it offered plenty of shortcuts to the finish as time got short.  BUT, I had forgotten to remember my start time, so I was just guessing when I should be back.  Oops.   It didn't much matter as the ride up the last hill was neverending, and there was no way I could go any faster on it.  So I came in 10 minutes late.   Still 2nd in my age group, and I wasn't full out racing, just enjoying the day. 

Results are here

February 21, 2012

UK AR Ball & Social 2012

After some emphatic persuasion by teammate Sarah that I must attend this year's Adventure Racing Ball (with the promise that I wouldn't be forced to wear a dress)...I gave in and agreed to go.  The event was held at the Thurston Outdoor Education Center near Coniston, which was well up to the task of providing us with food, shelter, hot showers, and multiple places to hang out and chat. 

Bike photos courtesy of Mick Kenyon
 The weekend kicked off on Saturday morning with a mountain bike ride, starting appropriately late in the morning to give me a chance to sleep in.  About 10 keen speedsters set off in the fast group, another 10 riders (including 2 tandems!) decided they were going mostly for the cake at the noon meet-up, and the rest of us found ourselves left in the middle.  There were about 20 of us, and I'm sure we were secretly hoping that our ride would be a "cake" ride as well, but first we had to earn it!  The driving rain stopped a few minutes before we set off, and soon even blue sky was visible amidst fluffy clouds.  Our route took us over Bethecar Moor with fabulous views looking over Coniston, and then up to the visitor's center at Grizedale.  There were plenty of lunch options and muddy riders were welcome, so we spread our dirty selves liberally around the tables and set to.   Have to recommend the vegetarian quiche, it's worth visiting there just for that!  It was a nice change to have time to hang out with fellow racers, without being in a hurry to get going. 

Heading out after lunch was a chilly proposition but immediately we were hike-a-biking up a steep hill to get warm again, almost like it was planned that way?  We then went up and over several more hills, taking in a few random bodies of water and some chilly hilltops before dropping down into Hawkshead.   I must admit with very frozen feet, I was thinking of a shortcut home and an afternoon nap at that point!   But there was some of Grizedale's best singletrack left on our route, and another section of hill-hiking warmed my feet back up, even if it made me wish to be done even more!   Once past some swooping singletrack it was a long fast descent to the event center where we all made a beeline for hot showers and afternoon tea and cake. 

Soon it was time to get dressed for the evening's entertainment.  Wearing borrowed clothing (but no dress, thankfully), it was strange to see everyone dressed up rather than mud-splashed faces.  First it was a curry supper, then out to the barn for a short awards ceremony and dance.

The awards were somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but celebrated some outrageous acheivements on the year by fellow adventure racers.   The EpicTri video was a crowd pleaser, as well as female Fi Spotswood winning the "Go Balls Deep" award...no irony there at all.  I was amazed to hear my own name called for the "Best Newcomer" award...I'm sure I said something inane when handed the microphone, so perhaps it's best I can't remember!  It was a relief to melt back into the crowd, and soon the music started, a ceilidh band called the Striding Edge.   For those of you who have never heard of a ceilidh (pronounced kaylee), it's a Gaelic social evening, with dancing playing a large part.  This was my first experience at a ceilidh, and although I have a big aversion to dancing, with the lively music I found my feet tapping to the music.  Indeed, almost everyone's was, with the majority of the crowd out on the dance floor with almost every song.  There was barely room for the wildly twirling dancers, but with a little encouragement even I joined in for a few dances, grinning like mad and trying not to step on any toes!    The band called it a night at midnight, but the music and partying carried into the wee hours.

A full list of the awards can be found here on Sleepmonsters.

Hiking photos courtesy of Gill Watson and Heather Jackson
 It was a more subdued crowd the next morning, as everyone was in a post-party shock with a bit of sleep deprivation thrown in...come to think of it, not all that different from a long adventure race!  A few folks were going to take advantage of free canoes on offer from the centre, but that sounded a bit cold to most of us. We managed to pull ourselves together for a morning run, which soon got downgraded to a hike with approval from all involved. 

It was a beautiful day, sunny and clear and cloudless, just begging to be enjoyed.  There was a fresh skiff of snow on the hilltops, so with camera in hand it was our goal to get up to the top of Coniston Old Man.  It was sunny and warm in the valley and the creeks were flowing quickly past the copper mines. I borrowed a map and found myself nominated as navigator, which might explain why we took such a meandering course to get up to the ridge! At any rate, we passed by Levers Water, fortified ourselves with Sarah's cake (a whole tin of it!), took a shortcut up to Black Crag, and then found a bit more snow and ice than we had bargained for.  It was coldly blowing over the top, so we wore what clothing we had brought and hurried to the summit of Old Man for a quick photo.   Even the descent was quite chilly on the north side, with the hordes of weekend warriers slipping on the ice as we made a running descent past them.  Once back in the valley, the party reluctantly broke up and we made our separate ways back home. 

Thanks to Sally & Ant for a superbly organized weekend!

Fairfield Horseshoe recce, 10 miles

This weekend was the annual Adventure Racing Ball & Social 2012.  I managed to get up to the Lake District a bit early on Friday, so Sarah and I were able to go for a run around the FRA Fairfield Horseshoe route.   When we met up in Rydal, Sarah said the tops were looking a bit socked in, and suggested that perhaps it might be better to stay in the valleys?  I must have looked disappointed at that thought, so soon we were heading up into the fog.  It was a slow climb up to Heron Pike, where we took our last views of the lake below us, then got swallowed up in the clouds. 

It was straightforward navigation in clear weather, as we had seen on the Open 24 AR back in July 2011.  Between us, Sarah and I had covered all of this route, and felt confident we could find our way in the fog.  However, when we started heading downhill on a NW compass heading, I knew we had missed a turn to the E over Fairfield, and we backtracked a few steps to continue our circle.  By then the wind was whipping itself up into a frenzy and rain was starting to fall, so I was beginning to regret my choice of getting high in the hills.  Another almost missed turn at Hart Crag, and then we were back on a good trail heading S, and more importantly, down!  Plowing through a few leftover patches of snow had been fun, but unthawing hands and feet was even better.  

Once past High Pike and Low Pike, we decided to head straight for the car near Rydal, cutting off a corner of the route by going cross country through a stand of old-growth forest.  I can be pretty trail-bound at times, as the UK is my first country with open-access lands, but I am learning to appreciate heading out on my own heading, so to speak!  It was only as we dropped lower into the valley that we wondered how we were going to cross the river (which included some infamous gorge jumps in the Open24).  We were soaking wet so even swimming wouldn't have phased us, but managed to find a brige instead and didn't complain!

February 10, 2012

Paraglding, La Palma

Puerto Naos
La Palma is another Canary Island where paragliding is taking off in a big way (pun intended).  Like Tenerife, flying is mostly done on the opposite side of the island from the dominant wind direction, known as flying in the Lee.   Unlike Tenerife, weather on La Palma can be a little unpredictable, so safe flying here requires a keen eye for the current conditions.
As in all new locations where I paraglide, I like to get a good brief from a local pilot or guide.  In La Palma, this meant flying with guide Roger at PalmaClub, located on the beach boardwalk in Puerto Naos.  He started the day with a thorough weather brief, held in fluent German, English, and Spanish.  By the end I almost felt like I could understand all his detailed temperature/elevation/pressure graphs!   Wishful thinking, perhaps, but it was clear that Roger had a good grasp on weather conditions, and that meant we could fly with confidence. 

La Palma is a small oblong island, with a high ridge running from north to south, at times reaching as high as 8,000 ft.  The dominant NE wind usually hits the ridge and clouds form along its length.  These clouds block the wind and make it safe to paraglide in lee conditions.  In the middle of the high ridge the elevation dips a little.  It is this slight dip that causes potential paragliding problems. When the cloud layer stays higher than the ridge, wind gusts could squeeze through the dip and cause problems.  Paragliding is still possible on clear days, but for safety reasons, a spotter must drive up into the valley below the ridge.  This spotter will feel wind gusts in advance of their arrival at lauch and could radio to all pilots to get down and land immediately.

Thankfully, on the two days I flew in La Palma, the clouds cooperated and it was safe flying for all involved. In fact, paragliding is possible about 330 days a year, so it's a pretty consistent place to fly.  Above Puerto Naos is a small ridge about 600 feet high.  It is possible to launch from there and thermal up, but the best views come from a higher launch. On the slopes of the main ridge above Jedey, is another takeoff, at about 2500 feet.   First it meant a hairy drive up a narrow, bumpy volcanic path.  Once we arrived safely at a tiny parking area (the drive up is always the most dangerous part of paragliding in my opinion), it was short hike up to launch.  The take-off was a steep slope of loose volcanic scree, with trees on both sides and a few small ones encroaching into our launch space.  Clearly this was not a place to mess around, top land, or otherwise screw up. 

Tandem pilot Danny provided the launch brief while Roger stayed on the LZ to keep and eye on weather conditions and man the radio.   It was possibly the most complicated and thorough launch brief I've ever had.  I'd already noticed that there were a lot of flags and streamers around, both at launch and scattered around the volcanic cones on our drive up.  Danny explained that there were 5 streamers which would help determine a good time to launch.  Three in front of me should all be blowing my way, the flag near the picnic table should be sideways to show there were no crosswinds, and the streamer high up above me would prove that there was no dominent wind blowing down the mountain. 

Lava fields and banana plantations, but no LZ except at the beach.
Part of the brief was an emphasis that there was NO LZ short of the beach.   Except in an emergency, of course, but all options would involve some form of damage to myself or my wing, not to mention hours picking my lines out of rocks.  Lets see, there were new lava flows (sharp) old lava flows (cactus), tall, tall trees (uh, tall), banana plantations (with sharp sticks holding up each tree), and banana plantations covered with netting (very expensive, as well as sharp).  I resolved not to land short of the beach. 

All of this sounded a little scary, but Danny reassured me the good news was that the slope down to the beach was steeper than the glide ratio of my wing, meaning that I would have no trouble staying safe.  The bad news was that from the air, the slope looked deceptively flat. So sometimes it took new pilots a few flights before they felt confident flying low to the terrain, yet with room to spare once turning to fly out toward the sea. 

My launch went smoothly, and I immediately knew the terror of feeling very close to the ground, with all of its unlandable beauty.   But soon enough I had found a thermal to take me higher, with time to appreciate the views of volcanos, lava, pine forests, ocean, and valleys.  Oh, and the bananas.  I was fascinated with the volcano cones and lava flows, and endlessly enchanted with the green forests. 

The soft thermals were just enough to stay afloat without working too hard, and cross country flights were possible quite a ways south along the ridge.  With Roger on the radio calling out frequent LZ wind reports, I flew for about 2 hours until my freezing fingers drove me down to land.   I had packed lightly for my holiday, and sorely missed my flight suit and heavier gloves. 

The LZ
The LZ was a big parking lot behind the beach, with more streamers to guide me into a safe landing.  In a pinch the beach is also a huge spot to land, as long as the tide is out!  After feeling the cold it was nice to get warm again on the black sand beach.  What more could you ask for?!?!

Two days later I had another 2 hour flight, this time a bit warmer with more sunshine, yet still with the safety of clouds covering the ridge.  I could have flown more, both those days and the other days that we were on the island, but of course there were hiking trails to discover too!  

Happy flying!

This short video shows a bit more of the awesome landscape!

February 6, 2012

Open 5 Adventure Race, North Pennines, 5 Feb 2012

I've always wondered what it feels like to bonk hit the wall.  In a race, that is.  (My British teammates have appraised me as to their meaning of that word, and that assuredly isn't what I meant!)   A more appropriate definition is here
Photos courtesy of James Kirby and Open Adventure

However, before the Warcop Haglöfs Open 5 (days before, in fact) I was more concerned about just getting to the race, as snowfall predictions were sounding dire. 

When race day dawned with just an inch of snow (and I was already on location courtesy of a fellow racer's 4x4), I was so happy that the race wasn't canceled, I didn't worry about anything else.

Wellies help in the tunnel....

Well, except the tunnel.  We had been warned about a tunnel under the A66 between the registration and transition areas.   My race partner Sarah saved the day with an extra pair of galoshes, or wellies as they are known in the UK.  Although I must confess that I've always known them as "pig-kicking boots", since they were the only things our pigs (back on the Iowa farm) couldn't bite through when loading them onto the truck to take to market.  Pigs are stubborn creatures...think they can sense they really don't want to get on that truck.  But I digress.

It was a long cold 3 mile ride to transition, including the dreaded tunnel.  My wellies were relative unknowns, so I crab-walked along the concrete edges while pushing my bike through the middle, and managed (yay!) to keep my feet dry.  For the moment.    This ride took a bit longer than we though, while carrying all our transition gear, so our start was later than normal, but finally we were off and running.  

Well, almost...first Sarah commandeered James Kirby's camera backpack to use as a place to write control scores on her map.   He seemed to take it with good humor...but you notice that there are no photos of us the rest of the race.  Hmmm.  (just kidding, James...seems you went on the higher fells and we were glad we made the decision not to be sliding around up there!)

The run was an absolute joy, as an inch of snow was fun without being too much of a hindrance.   Well, at least it cushioned the fall when I went sliding down a hillside.  

It became immediately apparent that I was wearing too much clothing, including the chemical handwarmers (added after our freezing misadventures in the Bacup Open 5 two months before).  Off came the gloves and hat, and I was sweating through my heavy Paramo waterproof jacket immediately.  Yes, I know waterproofs tops are required kit, but what made me think I needed to actually wear it on a day when the sun was shining and the wind calm?!?!     The jacket got stuffed in the pack after a big hill climb, and suddenly I was running with just long-sleeved base layer in the middle of winter! 

Run nav went great, although I wasn't feeling that spunky, and we were back in our usual 2:15 to save the rest of the time for the bike.   We were inspired to run faster at times by the sound of gunfire, provided by military troops out on training maneuvers (on a Sunday?).  Controls placed on tanks and bunkers made us wonder if we might be little moving targets for the guys wearing camoflage! 

Anyway, with plenty of time on the bike, we had a figure of eight to make, with a trip past the finish in the middle to make us drool in anticipation.   We could have made our route a true circle, but that would have involved a huge hike-a-bike up onto the fell where the snow was much heavier.  We had concluded earlier during our run up said hill, that we absolutely didn't want to waste time biking there.  It was a good decision as other teams spent hours pushing through snow. 

Unfortunately we blew by a control early in the bike route and overshot it by at least a kilometer.  Ok, so I was following lots of snowy bike tracks and another racer up ahead of me.  (Turns out non-racing people ride bikes too...and that particular racer had lost his control descriptions and was in la-la land).   Oops.  

On our next point, we were concerned about missing a turn, and so we turned too soon.  Another oops.  10 minutes of mishaps wasn't feeling too good, but the second loop was shorter.  We blew past the finish with an hour to go, looking for 4 big controls to the south.  Our run route had already taken us by a couple of them, so we were confident they were on tarmac roads and easy to find.  Well, except for the last one.  That was a hike-a-bike.  And there were hills.  Not big ones but the kind that go up and down so fast that the legs never recover. 

I knew we were in trouble when we still had 3 miles of hills to ride with just a few minutes left on the clock.   It was time to put our heads down and just speed home to the finish.  Except I wasn't speeding anywhere, and to my thirsty chagrin, my drinking tube was only producing fumes.  My legs felt like jello and I literally wanted to lay down on the side of the road and just...take a nap.  The final hill up to the finish was small...and I could barely ride up it with Sarah easily pulling ahead of me (probably in disgust).  Definitely hit the wall big time and even bounced backwards :(  10 minutes late to the finish was a big blow to our score. 

Took a few minutes of total rest before I could speak...and about 24 hours of eating and drinking before I felt alive again.  Guess I totally forgot to eat, besides a few gummies and some drink mix in my bottle.   The long ride to the start added to our exercise, and the cold, wet feet didn't help after the snow melted into mud on the trails. 

The 20 points in penalties made our 2nd place finish (losing 1st by only 5 points) look like a missed opportunity.   I'm sure Sarah will be stuffing cake down my face the next time we race together! 
Results are here
More of James' awesome photos are here

Read Lucy's (Team Accelerate) blog here
Rosemary Byde's blog here
Simon Walker's video of the day can be found here
Madman's first Open5 race is blogged here

Another trip through the tunnel on the way back to the car.

February 5, 2012

Los Tilos Tunnels, La Palma

On an island with many must-do hikes, Los Tilos still looms large in every guidebook.  It has it all. Gushing waterfalls, water channels, black tunnels, sheer cliffs, flooded trails, deep canyons, and beautiful vistas. 

Unfortunately it is tough to get to the head of the trail, as a rough gravel road is the only way up and 4x4 taxis charge 60 euros per carload to make the ascent.  Ouch.  I suppose that if the road was paved, more people would hike the dangerous trail, so perhaps this is a method of crowd control.  The other way up to the trail is an arduous ascent or decent down the canyon to Los Tiles visitor center.  Either way, it is difficult to make a circular hike of it without a padded wallet or two sturdy cars. Rob and I had neither the dual cars or the wish to waste money on a taxi, so we did it the only other way it can be done, a huge 16 mile hiking circuit which took a lot of effort and almost 8 hours.  It was still worth it. 

Parking at Los Tilos, we climbed up the canyon for a steady 3 hours, with an steady rain dipping down on us from the canopy of trees.  The overcast weather meant that we were denied any views, but the wetness seemed appropriate in what was after all a rainforest.  
Finally we arrived at the head of the roaring springs, which were gushing straight out of the side of the mountain, collected up in a handmade water channel which hugged the side of the mountain.  La Palma is one of the few canary islands with natural springs.  The water from the Marcos and Cordero springs in this canyon provides water for the towns and farms near the coast.

The "Wet" Tunnel
We had seen water canals in Tenerife, but those had been mainly dry.  This one was full to the brim, and when the canal dropped sharply, the water was a frothly mass pouring down the hillside.  I wondered if this was where someone got the idea for a slide at a water park....hmmm. 

There are 12 tunnels in the trail along the water channel, which we were happy to see was almost on level ground after the leg-sapping climb to get up to it.   The second tunnel we encountered was also the only time we saw any other hikers along the whole trail. 

The people we met were wild-eyed, dripping wet, and carrying headlamps.  Sure enough, we had arrived at the "wet" tunnel.  The ceiling was pouring water, the trail was flooded with fast moving streams, and the tunnel "windows" looked out over a sheer cliff.  We suited up with waterproof jackets and braved the opening.  Balancing along the canal top didn't keep our feet dry but felt more reassuring than the streams flowing by on both sides.  I'm sure we were a bit wild-eyed as well when we popped out the other end!

The tunnels continued, some long, short, wide, narrow, high, and quite low.  We were progressing quite well in the beam of our dim headlamps (why do I never bring anything brighter along!?!) when I missed a protruding bump in the ceiling and brained myself so loudly that Rob heard the crash up ahead of me.  Luckily my thick cap kept me from a knockout blow which would have tumbled me into the canal, to be fished out in much worse shape. 

After two hours of sheer cliffs, smothering tunnels, and the endless flow of water, we arrived at the end of the trail and the start of the gravel road.  While the big excitement was over, only a bird could reach our car from where we were at the moment.   So, the trail was now a long descent back down into town on the PRLP 6.  Luckily the sun came out and it was finally able to warm my freezing fingers and toes.  The descent was marred only by the final 2 kilometer climb to our car on the road, which of course we knew about and dreaded in advance, having driven it that morning. 

Even with the 3 hour ascent I would do this hike again, it's that awesome.  Although a shared taxi up to the start is probably preferred. 

Hike #25 in Walk! La Palma hiking guide.  OR  Walk #31 in Walking On La Palma suggests the whole route we walked rather than just the "exciting" parts of the circle.  However this guide dulls down the exciting bits, so ignore the boring description and just get out there and find a way hike the tunnels!