Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

July 24, 2012

Slovenia Paragliding, June 2012

A wonderful week of Paragliding in June with Jarek of Antofaya Expeditions.   It's taken me this long to finish the video from footage "borrowed" from the other guys flying with me :)

The best flight of the week was a 55km journey from Stol launch. We crossed the border into Italy(!), and then turned back to return to Stol, continuing past it to land in Kobarid near the hotel.  Wonderful flying and no need for a long car journey to get home again, which is always nice.   A few photos are below, but the video says it much better!

When it wasn't flyable we got to visit some beautiful rivers!

The Soca river below Tolmin
Stol Launch


July 10, 2012

Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon, 7-8 July 2012

Hmmm....bogs.  They are slow, tiring, wet, scary, and dirty.  I'm not a big fan.  Although, to be fair, the Lake District doesn't have proper bogs.  I guess they could be called marshes instead.  Which means they have clear(ish) water instead of black mud, and less chance of sinking up to your eyeballs.  However, the grassy ground just seems to sag with each footstep, allowing water to seep up around the ankles, which gives the constant impression that the whole place just might sink underwater in one gulp.  That's a rather disconcerting feeling, and even after miles of running in such conditions I wasn't comfortable.  As part of my defense, I carried a walking pole, allowing me to poke at suspicious ground before sacrificing a foot. :)

Why was I doing this?  I was up in the Lake District for the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon.  It was supposed to be a pairs event with my friend Sarah, but illness had her volunteering instead of racing. I reluctantly moved to the only class available for solos; the scary, long, hard Klets Class.  There were only two women in this class.  Enough said.  The race was held in Wasdale Head near Wast Water.  It's such a long ways to drive around from Yorkshire, it'd almost be easier to hike in!  But the area is beautiful and well worth the drive...as long as the skies are clear like we had on Saturday.

Homework or race?  Klets sit down to plot their controls...
 The challenge looming ahead of me for the weekend was over 50 km of Lake District peaks, valleys, waterfalls, lakes, marshes, with 3000 meters of ascent.  Between the two days of trekking was a secret camping area, only revealed when the maps were issued.  This meant carrying tent, sleeping bag, cooking stove, warm and waterproof clothing, and any other luxury that participants were willing to bear the weight of.   In a change of strategy, the Klets Class were given controls for both days immediately, giving us choices enroute as long as we picked up all the controls before we finished. 

At the start, bright warm sunshine(!) had us sitting at tables and chairs outdoors in shorts and t-shirts waiting for the starting gun.  Then it was a mad, silent scramble to plot all the controls on our map from the grid coordinates, decide on a course to follow, and head out.  Since it took me a long time to plot my points, almost everyone else was gone when set out.  Gone as it too far up the mountains to even see anymore.  Oh well...I asked for a navigational challenge. 

Photo courtesy of Sharon Mcdonald
The recent monsoonal rains in the UK (June was the wettest month on record....ever) meant that every stream, beck, river, marsh, bog, lake, wetland, cave, and waterfall was running at full spate.  My shoes were constantly squelching water out, when more wasn't soaking back in.  Worst of all was the gurgle of hidden running water...with nary a stream in sight.  The trickling sound would often get louder, until all of a sudden a chasm would open beneath my running feet, with a deep stream of water flowing by.  Relatively deep anyway.  They usually wouldn't swallow me whole, but on several occasions my knees came close to losing my ankles....

The rough ground took a toll on my balance.  I managed to trip over everything it was possible to stub a toe on.  This included, but is not limited to:
Rocks (plenty of 'em in the Lakes)
Ferns (really)
Lumpy grass tufts (hey they are at least a foot high at times!)
Sheep (just kidding, they knew better than to get in my way)
Gorse bushes (really regretted tripping into one of those)

The first half of Saturday was spent in the area of Leg 4 of the Bob Graham.  Flitting in and out of my route were folks from other courses, which sometimes shared similar controls to my route.  At other times I found myself alone in the fells, with soggy ground on every side and not a soul in sight.  In fact it was fun to stop and take a good look in all directions on such a beautiful day.  This was the Lake District was at its best. Waterfalls, high peaks, more marshes, a small lake, or a rushing stream.  The cold clear water tasted so refreshing.  (And that's why my time was so slow...I kept stopping to admire the scenery).   With a 10 hour time limit the first day, I knew I had to get the farthest controls from the finish or I wouldn't finish the full course.  I was racing the clock the last 4 hours, desperately running over the marshes with map in hand.  But time worked with me, and seemed to slow down.  At least I would run what seemed like a kilometer, and only a few minutes would pass.  Luckily I was able to arrive at a bustling mid-camp with a few minutes to spare.

Which tent is mine?!?!    Photo courtesy of Sharon Mcdonald
 In midcamp, it was thankfully still warm, sunny, and midge-free.  In other words, perfect for camping.   Unfortunately I couldn't figure out how to set up Sarah's lightweight tent.  Luckily, at least 200 other tents there were the exact same model (not even joking) and I asked my nearest neighbor for help!   Once it was set up, I also managed to lose it for a while after heading over to refill my water bottles.  Well, I didn't lose it, I lost myself.  I was standing in the middle of the sea of tents and had no idea where mine was.   A guy near me saw my confused look, and asked rather unhelpfully, "Is it green?!?".

Klets winner Karen Nash relaxes in her tent.
 My new cat food can stove worked like a charm, with 3 oz of fluid I was able to cook 3 meals with enough left to do 2 more.   To save washing up, after boiling some water I cooked and ate my meals out of a ziploc freezer bag.  That also worked fine until I made hot chocolate...trying to drink it out of a plastic bag wasn't terribly smart, especially considering I was laying inside my tent!  I guess I was too tired to think of mixing it in my water bottle?!?

A gentle rain waited to fall on us until late evening when everyone had set up their tents, cooked supper, and chatted up the day.  By that time I was happy to just lay in my tent and be horizontal for a good long time.

Sunday was another nice day, still attempting to get a suntan with just shorts and a t-shirt even atop the hills.  The ground, if it is possible, was even rougher than the previous day. But perhaps I was just tired after 10 hours out the day before!   All the Klets started together and that was the last I saw of them running into the distance.  After estimating I had covered 35 kilometers on Saturday, I still had over 20k to cover the second half of the race.

Wast Water was perfectly calm as I ran around the bottom of the lake and then steeply up the other side.  Once atop the hills again, I took a better line around the forest to the next checkpoint than the competitors around me (hah!), avoiding a long ferny descent and running along a stream instead. The clag was coming down over Scafell but I managed to stay out of the clouds and rain free all the way to the finish.  The final scree descent from the shoulder of Scafell Pike was brutal, but the sea of cars was already in sight by then and I knew I would finish in time.  Final time was 16:11, all controls found, and I wasn't last!
Results are here
Find your event photo here, obviously they're hoping you buy it! 

July 4, 2012

Hiking Slovenia: Krn Summit

Krn dominates over our hotel in Dreznica
 It's a rare day in Slovenia when the wind blows too hard to go paragliding (or so I am told).   But the start of our weeklong flying tour began with two such days, which gave our group the opportunity to visit the coast, and me to bag a big hike up to Krn Peak. 

It was at breakfast that the wind report came down with the bad news, no flying today.  After evaluating the options my mind had settled on standing atop the big peak overlooking the town...nothing else would do.  The hotel owner advised me on a route, but also said that I should have set off 3 hours ago if I wanted to get back before dark.  I told him that I run really fast, and his concerned look only faded slightly.  So I quickly packed up a bag with a lot of water and essentials and set off from our hotel in Dreznica, pretty much straight up the mountain side.  The trail climbed steeply from 500 meters to the summit at 2240 meters, pretty much without a break.  I didn't take one either, except to put on long pants and a fleece in the cool wind. 

3 hours later, and a vertical mile higher, I was standing atop the peak.  So, unfortunately, were the low clouds.  I took a quick glance at the bunkers and caves scattered about the area, then headed down into the next valley.  Evidence of the hard fighting from WWI was still everywhere, in the form of rusty barbed wire, shells laying around (yes I picked a few of them up for inspection!), and monuments to fallen heroes.  The museum in Kobarid is a good place to visit if you are fascinated with such historical things. 

The fun part of the path started just after Krn summit, when I could see down into the valley to the north.  It was no longer the green of pasture and trees, just the stark grey of granite boulders.  And the blue of the lake at the bottom.  Without sunshine, it was all a bit washed out, but I have high hopes for more sunny days to explore this great rock when I return later this summer. 

Small bits of snow were still hanging on, requiring a small detour from the trail and the obligatory snowball throwing.  Mainly it was just a nice path, level for a while then heading down through scree, past some sheep (where are the goats?), and then down some more.  Although it was a Saturday, I barely saw a soul all day, and spent a nice afternoon picking my way down the valley.  A small blue-green lake was a nice diversion, although the mortar shell still aimed over the water was a bit weird!  

My original plan was to run all the way down to the Soca valley to the south for a pickup from my tour guide.  However they were at the coast and I love finding ways to go full circle without motorized transport.  So I did some map studying and found a trail that would bring me back to the correct valley.  It didn't include much extra climbing and I wondered why I hadn't seen it immediately.  Off I went through the woods, for a final descent that went on and on and on.  It had sharp switchbacks but was fairly moderately graded, I remember thinking at the time that a mountain bike would have made it more fun. 

Less than 8 hours later I was back at the hotel.  The route was about 15 miles, most of it NOT flat at all.  Lots of great scenery, though!

Some leftover snow

Finishing at the church in Dreznica

Luckily I didn't see this snake until the very end of the loop!
Looking down on Dreznica

July 1, 2012

UK Coast to Coast in a Day, 150 miles, 30 June 2012

I saw two oceans today.   And I cycled between them.  Personal proof positive (as if I needed it) that I really do live on an island now.

But not a small island by any stretch.  The Coast to Coast (In A Day) Sportif cycling route covered exactly 150 miles. It's not a ride for flatlanders either, containing over 15,000 feet of climbing. 

On the plus side, the dominant westerly wind was out in force, blowing us quickly to the east.  Who wouldn't want to ride ALL DAY with a tailwind?!?

The Irish Sea
Starting at around 6 am, I waved goodbye to the Irish Sea in the village of Seascale and headed inland.  In the distance was the first of the 3 national parks on the ride, the Lake District.  Later to come would be the Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors.   Standing in our way immediately were two high passes, with such steep, winding roads that it was impossibly hard to ride up (or down) them. 

After a few flat miles, the hill began, and I was immediately reminded that:
1) My Time Trial bike was not geared appropriately for the mountains
2) I hadn't ridden a road bike since March
3) I was still tired from flying home from Slovenia the day before (those photos coming soon)

You guessed it...I walked up the hill for a few miles.  So did a lot of other riders.  Kudos to those who passed me actually riding, even if they were panting heavily and not going much faster than I was walking.

The downhill was even scarier than the uphill, and I passed one guy actually walking down. I asked him why (yup, it was a ride-your-brakes-heavily-and-go-really-slow) downhill, and he said he had fallen off and couldn't figure out how to get back on! 

Anyway, safely past that there were a few miles of nicely wooded sections which brought us to the Windermere ferry, all much flatter than I had feared.  Once past the ferry there were a few more hills, but in Sedbergh the fun really started.  Somehow from there all the way through Hawes to Northallerton, it was FLAT.  Ok, there were a few small climbs, but for the most part my memory of the middle section is of flying along at over 20mph with a tailwind with most of it feeling downhill.  I kid you not.  So the Yorkshire Dales passed by rather quickly!

There was spotty rain over the course of the day, also some sunshine and the strong western tailwind (the UK daily weather forecast in a nutshell, really).  I managed to avoid the heaviest rain until I was riding in the Vale of York, where I could see a heavy cloud coming my way.  I hope to avoid it by riding quickly (hah!) to the east towards the North Yorkshire Moors, but alas, by that time I wasn't going very fast!  The lightning and thunderstorm overtook me and dumped a quick drenching with a few small bits of hail before heading to the coast.  It was warm enough I didn't bother with a raincoat but suffered with being wet the rest of the ride.   
The North Sea

The North Yorkshire Moors were the sting in the tail of the ride.  Leaving the last aid station (chili and chocolate cake, yum!) there were less than 30 miles left, but they were suprisingly hilly.  Perhaps I had just wished it would be flat the rest of the way.  Lots of ups and downs that lasted until just before the final descent to Whitby.   Oh, and it rained again.  By the end, I was walking up most of the hills, and blaming it unjustly on my limited gearing.  It was very fun to see the North Sea, and the finish line.

Rob was awesome as my suport, being willing to drive me to the western coast for the start, then spend all day waiting for me to finish on the east coast, then drive my broken & tired self home again.  He did get to see some great scenery and get photos along the way (and hide in the car during frequent rain showers!)

Final time was 12:48, luckily under my goal of 13 hours, which was set randomly before I knew much about the route at all!

On a more humbling note, this distance isn't much more than the Tour de France (which started today) riders will cover daily, but they'll do it almost every day for three weeks in a row.   While going twice as fast as I was.  Hmmm.

Results are here, I was 8th female and some where past middle overall.  Just happy to have finished in daylight, really.

At the start

Whitby Harbor
Whitby after the rain showers

The finish in Whitby, look the sun is shining!