Friday, March 24, 2017

The Magnificent 7

Recce fresh / Racing tired

1 - Hangram - 7:16 vs 6:47
2 - Blake Street - 1:44 vs 1:28
3 - Thrush Street - 2:35 vs 2:12
4 - West Lane - 11:30 vs 10:28
5 - Jawbone Hill - 11:24 vs 10:14
6 - Hagg Hill - 4:47 + 2:49 = 7:38 vs 7:45
7 - Foxhill - 4:12 vs 11:56 vs a different route


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Clumber Duathlon 2017

A new race for me this one.  It usually clashes with the offroad duathlons in the Lake District, now faded into obscurity.  Possibly this is a good thing as (much to my annoyance) I tend to do quite well at the cleaner stuff.

I haven't done much training for this.  My running base was good and then I went skiing and everything fell apart.  Quite often skiing makes cycling better but I've spent so little time on the bike since skiing (except for short road rides to work) I am not really in good bike shape either... or so I thought.

I managed a run-bike-run two weeks ago and enjoyed myself immensely but then screwed my shoulder up sneezing in the cold last week and have been off running (except once) ever since.  That one outing resulted in a stiff back, knee and hip all down my right side where I over-compensated for the pain in my left shoulder.

So I had no idea how today was going to go except I expected to get dropped out of the back of the women's field in a shot and that I would suffer on the bike.  I didn't so much get spat out the back as dangled about in the mid-field being passed by the next wave of men.  I drafted on the return trips - both laps, same woman (clearly she wasn't learning!).  The first lap, I put some effort in to stick with her to the end of the run then realised we had another lap to do.  I let her go whilst we had a tail wind then caught her up again at the turnaround point and drafted her all the way back a second time.  Damn that second lap seemed long.

I consumed some bar and an energy gel.

Next, the bike.  I forged through a group of around 5 people fannying about getting on their bikes and hopped on and away.  Spent the entire ride passing the same people.  I was flying on the flat and downhill stretches and still struggling on the up hills.  Add to that, every time I attempted to put any effort in, one, the other or both legs would go into cramp that threatened to knock me off my bike from time to time.

I always managed to keep them at bay by easing off the pedalling or freewheeling a stretch but those same people kept drifting back past me.  There was some serious banter going on by the fifth time I passed the same people... something about me being on a downhill bike.

I forced down as much fluid as I could and bolstered it with another gel and eventually took on some more energy bar.  After around 35 minutes and into the second lap I actually started to feel normal.  Also something to do with a change in philosophy around where I put my effort in and where I coasted.

I can't remember whether those people I was playing cat and mouse with were behind me or in front but I did start making up some new places on the final stretch into the park and back into the headwind.  Through the last avenues of the park, all strewn with pine needles and bits of grass and speed bumps, marshalls were shouting at me to slow down but what they didn't realise was any cessation of pedalling would cause my legs to cramp upon which, I was much more a danger to others and myself than the speeding, competent rolling me - even if I was on a twitchy tt bike on gravel.

Finally, the dismount line, more people yelling at me whereupon I competently rolled to hop off the bike with a stride across the line and ran into transition against the cramp.  The change of shoes was a very welcome opportunity to bend over and stretch my hamstrings.  And, check me out!  First race of the season I actually remembered to take my helmet off!

Hobbled into the second run but soon found my pace again.  Shocked by how much easier it was to run than ride.  I passed one or two other women but that was it.  After that, I just managed to hold my place - or that's what it felt like.  There were still plenty of guys passing by but they didn't matter as I'd already had a 2 minute head start on them so they were all going to be travelling faster than me.

It was so nice to only be doing one lap but the 5km turn around point was so much further ahead than the 2.5km turnaround for the sprint race.  I was glad I had my watch to pace my distance.  The run back was net down hill so I enjoyed it immensely.  Final straight and one of the guys sprinted to pass me, duh, mate, you're at least 2 minutes ahead of me but anyway, well done, you think you beat a girl.  Congrats.

Got my Erdinger.

Job done.

Run 1 - 52:15min 7th fastest run
Bike - 1:17:14h
Run 2 - 26:18min. 11th fastest run

T1 - 1:47(55th - need to run with my gloves on!).  T2 - 1:13 (35th)

Absolutely bugger all idea of the results compared to everyone else due to computer meltdown.  Hey ho. Tomorrow is another day.

Results in: Overall - 2:38:46 335/459, 51/95, 11/21
Run 1 - 379, 61, 14
Bike - 327, 43, 8
Run 2 - 319, 53, 12

Winner's time in AG 2:28:23 which puts me in with a fleeting chance of a trip to Spain this summer to represent the country again!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Things to be proud of this week

In pursuit of "experiences not things", when my seat post broke this week I took time to go to my local bike shop and found a bit that cost me £2 in their beer-fund tip pot instead of £50 for a new (much coveted Thompson) seat post.

Instead of saying "no" to a fun event in Sheffield where lots of people I admire will be riding bikes, I spent a full day cleaning bikes thinking, "if it's still open this evening I will enter it".  It was open.  I did enter it - much to my horror.  It is less than 24 hours after the start of a national-level duathlon world qualifier event in Clumber park.

I went online to spend a voucher I got for Christmas.  In the end I put 5 items in my cart including a skirt, the shoes that will forever resolve my issues with wearing skirts and a few tops in order to help me make my mind up and one pair of work pants.  The total value was £146.  I removed all items until I was left with the work pants at a much reduced (thank you Aunty Anne) value of £30 to me.

It's a boring and practical present but I will wear them with joy.

I went out and recce'd the ride I've entered.  The point is to race up various hills in Sheffield.  We will then be escorted at an (allegedly) easy pace to the next hill by a lead car.  I rode to the start (as I had intended to do on the day) and in doing so, I inadvertently completed some of the 6th and the whole of the last hill climb of the route.

Retracing some of my steps, I started the ride and got the second climb out of the way without incident - although it became apparent that it would be useful to know where these climbs end so that I can put the proportionate effort into each one.

The third one was rather close to home.  The dreaded Blake Street.  The hard part is avoiding the pub at the top.  Then it was a roller-coaster ride around Walkley to the scary Fern and Thrush Street which has a cobbled top.  At this point I could have fallen into my own back yard but I persevered back around in a circle and into the Loxley Valley for a little jaunt up next to the Garden Centre.  I've only ridden this climb a couple of times and probably bailed out at the garden centre for tea as a result.  I definitely had to dig deep on this one and was glad it was over...

Over the hill to Oughtibridge more like.

I've never linked these two places together (REEEEALLY?) in my head.  I crossed the one way system in Oughtibridge and set off up the climb.  Sooo steep at the beginning.  Me and this hill had history.  I paused to wonder whether to continue.  Where did the route go next?  I zoomed out and discovered that this climb was an out and back.  How would I know I could do this ride if I gave up though?  But I *know* this climb - why bother?  I could rest up for next week.  But something made me keep going - stubbornness, a need to know how hard it will be next week?  I don't know but I was glad I did.  Eventually the road relented and I set about enjoying the climb all the way to the top then looped around and let rip back down the hill (the direction I usually use it).

There was a nice long recovery ride and plenty of downhills to Middlewood before I was confused into thinking I was snagging another hill where the ride cuts around Dunella Road back to Malin Bridge.

Dunella Road is steep and it's not even on the list of climbs that we're racing.  I could hardly get up but thankfully we turn off and descend through the edges of Wadsley to the Rivelin Valley.

Time to go up the Rivelin Valley to the dreaded Hagg Hill.  I never ride up this and it's yet another climb on my doorstep.  This one nearly had me off and walking.  I managed a couple of zig zags in between cars but otherwise I was lurching between standing and sitting and wheezing through my final breath as I rounded the top corner of Hagg Hill.  It's the 6th climb of the day and I bailed out half way and turned for home (the actual race climb continues to the top of Stephen Hill Road which I had ridden in the morning).  Although my intention had been to ride back to the finish and then ride home, my legs weren't going to make it.  I'd done the route (albeit in a funny order) and now I know my limits.

Something tells me I won't be riding out to the start next week but I did it as a leisure ride in 3 hours when the anticipated race time is 4 hours so I should survive, in theory so long as I don't have to wait around too much.  I'll be riding most of the ride in a peloton and there won't be any traffic light stops.  On the flip side, I'll be exhausted from racing the day before.

Last year I said I wouldn't say no to anything and this is just a (somewhat foolish) extension of that.  As part of my vision that this stuff is just things that I do day in / day out (give or take the odd rest day), it all contributes to me getting off the sofa more often than not.

Roll on next week.



Sunday, March 05, 2017

Getting out

In terms of things I am good at, multisport is up there. I am not the best but I am pretty good at doing a bit of diverse training then giving it my all and what comes out at the end is alright, particularly at regular, fast standard distance racing.  Once, just once, this has got me into team GB to race abroad where I did not finish last.

The fact that I id not make that position last year just validated how bloody hard I worked to get in the first time around.

My problem is though, the endurance bug won't go away for me and I am not very good at endurance tri. For a start I won't let myself do any of the big, expensive easier races where I can, potentially test myself against others and for seconds, I am clinically incapable of spending the necessary time in cold water. I love swimming outdoors but I just can't make it last.

I am not interested in spending the hours on long distance running so all my hopes get pinned, regularly, on the prospects of long-distance cycling again.

I am an avid reader of the Audax UK mag that regularly lands on the doorstep. Last year whilst fretting about Torino Nice I electronically followed Lee Craigee around the Highland Trail 550 and Emily Chappell around the Trans Continental Race and realized that this glorious form of racing exists which combines my other three favourite things: cycling, camping and eating.  TNR no longer seemed at all daunting.

We first heard of bike packing in 2014 when we were returning from a Celtman reccee and fell into a hostel on our way home through bad weather. A man in the bar in cycling kit, looking sorry for himself told us of his woes in this mysterious event which involved a dynamo on his mountain bike and many unsupported days in the highlands to complete a previously undisclosed route. TSK was vaguely interested. I was too consumed by Celtman to consider it at the time but something he said tempted me: not many women do it.

Now, like my friend Claire, I have usually been one to just get out there and do something - if I fancy it. I don't need talks from other women and self help books, training courses, presentations or classes but actually getting my ass in gear to try bike packing took more energy.

20 years ago the Polaris challenge existed and at the time I thought that was mental: a weekend in winter carrying all your kit on your bike with a mate. It was kind of a mountain marathon for bikes. Dan Loftus would totally have done it with me but it never crossed my mind to try... and goddamn it, 1997 was probably when I was most capable at the age of 23.

At that point in my life, travelling with bikes was conceived in the more traditional sense of panniers, racks and a comfortable tent and stove and nothing vaguely you'd want to take off-road. Though I did try once.

In my year out of uni when I had a little cash I had my boyfriend leave me in the Lakes after a climbing club weekend away. On the Monday, I packed my gear into a large rucsac and attempted to ride with it. I quickly realised that wasn't the way to do it and headed straight to the nearest town to buy a rack and panniers and post all non-essential gear - including the rucsac - back home.

From there I cycled to the nearest hill and tried to climb it with my new rig. After a few hours of pushing on High Stile I rolled into the posh campsite above Keswick and declared myself done with mountain bike touring and spent a few days doing road rides before ringing home to beg to be picked up.

So last year, Torino - Nice came and went and it was good and fun. The cyclo cross season passed without adventure and then there was the Barebones Church or Chapel with an equal emphasis on fun. Another flexible route with no particular start or finish.

In amongst my enthusiasm for Triathlon and what I am good at I continue to hanker after long and successive days in the saddle. Lee Craigee's book is published which only serves to encourage that sense of being 'at one' with my ride... and other cliches - that sense of there being nothing else to do but ride, sleep and eat.  I have been hounded by so many eloquent expressions of what this sport means to me.

I have an inkling that given the chance to bring some of the bike packing comfort and mentality to audax, I might manage some of the rides I once considered unattainable. Having sworn off overnight riding in 2010, I can't help but imagine what might be the outcome if I rode with my sleep mat, a lightweight sleeping bag and a bivi. The opportunity of a 30 minute power nap in a woodland over propping myself up in a stinking service station at 4am? Replacing a scout hut occupied by 75 snoring men with a grass verge and my luxury bivi? Makes long distance Audax all seem more possible.

Still, following a cyclocross season of short races and otherwise laziness followed by skiing, I was feeling pretty shit about my ability to ride a bike for any period of time. Shame, because I got up to 65 miles over Christmas and we did 65 very hard miles during Church or Chapel.

It was only 5 week's ago. Writing this, I am wondering what I am moaning about but sadly it really does feel like my endurance riding has decayed to nowt.

And so, with 6 weeks to go we have entered our next adventure and with the knowledge that every training journey has to start somewhere, I proudly set aside today's intended rest day from my triathlon schedule in favour of another ride.

Yesterday 25 miles (plus 15km running which counts towards mountain bike training too right?) 25 miles turned into 31. Today a short easy ride turned into another 20+ miles (missed logging a few) and it wasn't all flat either. The weather contributed extra brownie points by tipping it down on us and whilst my legs suffered from the previous days running my stomach suffered a bout of being a woman all the way from the end of our cake stop to home.

With substantial soggy clothing, cold hands and a good dose of industrial estate riding to get us home I can't claim it as one of my favourite rides but there wad an element of type ii fun to it and mostly I am proud. Proud of myself for getting off the sofa, proud of myself for making the first move, not just for bike packing but for Alpe d'Huez too and proud of myself for starting to be awesome again. Not just normal because maybe even the three sports of triathlon aren't enough. Maybe I need the excuse as to why I am not good at any one thing. From now on though,  I just want to get good at getting out and that will do for me.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Perfect World

There's a bare  space of a wall on the way down the hill from our house. Ironically, it's on the way into town. It's where a window has been bricked over.  Someone has painted a picture frame in the square and inside in tidy, stencilled lettering, written, "the best things in life aren't things".  Over time it has led to the mantra, "Experiences not Things" as I try to save my money for holidays, not stuff.

I have been pretty comfortable for a while now. I earn a reasonable amount of money. I live in a modest house with damp problems but I like where it is and I can afford to buy what I want. I take my job very seriously, I work very hard, sometimes too hard. I don't have to, but it helps, if I want to do well and earn more money. At the same time, I was unhappy. Despite my situation I couldn't afford anything major - the repairs to my house, a stove installation, a new Vanu. Why?

Because when I say, I can afford to buy what I want, I generally did. I moved a bunch of socks into a partially full drawer and weeks later, my sock drawer was overflowing again. I have 2 cycling waterproofs - summer and winter - in excess of £200 value and two less breathable ones that fit in pockets. I have so many sports baselayers I have nowhere to put them and casual tees are reaching breaking point.  There are then the two three windproof tops - 2 for running, 1 for biking as well as gilets and excessive levels of club kit for both biking and tri and duplicate items for fell running. The expensive Rapha fleece leggings I managed to buy with seemingly only one week of winter left to go and to my shame I finally own a mobile that costs as much as a PC.  I do much of this shopping in the depressing months leading up to Christmas, leaving myself wanting for nothing and leaving me searching to find somewhere to put all the stuff I get at Christmas along with the existing shoes and posh clothes I never wear because I don't really do socialising and most of my friends and family are now married and have their kids.  Work skirts and dresses that I don't wear anymore because trousers are most practical for site.

So if I've told you I am a bit broke this year. I am sorry. It is both a lie and true. I don't have any money but I have a lot of things I want... or I think I do.

Appart from the house, I don't have much debt. This suits while I have a company car. My farming background prevents me from getting loans. They make me feel a anxious. A lot. I watch them interminably until they go away, like they will ever change.

This year someone I work for told me that all the hours and effort I had put in were worthless. Where my big oaf of a predecessor was a leader, I was not fit. I have spent the back end of last year clearing up the shit that my predecessor and his "team" left behind.  The person who told me I wasn't getting a promotion did me a massive favour.

After I stopped crying (partially through disappointment but mostly through frustration) I decided that I could stand to work less, even if it meant getting paid less.  I went ahead and put in a flexible leave request. Women of my age are within their rights to request part time working to spend more time with their children. I have always said that I don't have children, I have bicycles. I have decided that I want more time to spend with my bicycles.

To my surprise, my request was granted and 30 days pay will be taken from my salary pro rata over the 12 months starting from February. The original euphoria: of trying to figure out just what exactly I might do with my extra 30 days leave - yoga retreats, days off before holiday to pack instead of wasting my time together with TSK in a grumpy cycle of hunt-the-tent-pegs, days off to recover from races, solo bike packing holidays... oh, the list.  It started to look like the ultimate backpackers adventure. Globe trotting fuelled by momentary lapses of working except not secretarial work in some dull office but a real job, my job, thrown in for good measure. It started to look like my dream.

Then the anxiety struck. Our HR outsourced. Doing something non-standard. First I get the letter to confirm my leave is signed off and to indicate the amount of money to come out of my salary. It's a significant amount - enough to take me below a threshold that I have become used to.  I reassure myself that this will be taken at source and therefore make a much smaller impact on my paycheck.

Next came the letter from the tax man telling me what I would be taxed on next year. I was confused because I seemed to be earning much more than I thought but that  is just my car and health benefits no?

Then my boss asked if I had heard from HR.  I refuse to get up hopes of a promotion after what happened last time so just say no, except for the leave approval, I've heard nothing. I hear nothing from HR for weeks.

As February drew on, y'know. That month. You've no money left because you used it to pay for January's credit card (Christmas) and you just went skiing so March will be worse and you HATE HATE HATE paying the bank anything because you're a farmer's daughter and the banks are scum but still you do a balance transfer for 12 months because it's cheaper than the credit card fee on the ski holiday which you'd have to pay for in March anyway and every year you insist you're going to save up for it but you never do.

Every time I went near a shop I deployed the mantra: experiences not things. Some things still happened but I did an ok job of managing them.

It was a little too late when I realized that, mathematically:

credit card bill > money I may or may not have at the end of the month. 


Still, I took an immense sense of joy from reducing my spending.  In my determination to spend less time at work, things got fixed, not replaced. I took great satisfaction from being at home doing things instead of going out spending and I aimed to ride my bike more instead of driving. This only transpired this week but, better late than never.

This is serious now though. What, I think, is the point of all that extra time off if I can't afford to go on my long list of holidays. Cheap trips aside, I still have to get to the Alps twice and potentially a ferry to Rotterdam and maybe Canada too. Never mind all those great things I want to do with the house.

So it was with great caution that I opened my pay cheque yesterday and with great relief that I discovered that only 1/12 of my present pay has been docked. Not 1.5/12 as I expected or worse, as implied by HR. The hint is that the deduction is small because I am being paid more. Somehow I have landed a small, unconfirmed promotion. Who knows?

Anyway, it seems my lifestyle is safe with its expectations of Alpine holidays and skiing but also the quiet and inexpensive UK excursions and, I have to say, my new found enjoyment of thriftiness.

And so, still looking forward to holidays and home refubishments and maybe I will save something so I don't feel permanently broke and who knows, one day we may stop living in a puddle and have a lovely wood burning stove to suit.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Luxury in small doses - Necessities in large doses

Saturday - travel plus run 5km

We booked a fairly budget ski holiday this year.  OK OK, last year we lucked out where Neilsen were "testing out" a new luxury spa hotel and had upgraded all guests for free to extra large balcony rooms.  This year we were in a "standard basic" hotel for the same money.  But this year we booked the airport hotel and valet parking for our 4:30am start and bloody hell did we enjoy it.  Drop the car off for strangers to manage, big comfy bed, posh meal, saunter through the airport.  The downside? By the time we arrived at our resort we had been in climatically controlled environments for 24 hours - hotel, airport, plane, bus.  Ugh. So we went for a run.

Just as we were going out the hotelier advised us of a pedestrian walkway that routes all through town.  Perfect!  Traffic free running, past a castle then a turnaround and retrace our steps to the hotel.  Snowy, crisp, beautiful and kudos from our rep who couldn't believe we'd been out for a run after our 24 hours (including 6 hours sleep) of travelling.

Sunday - St Christina - 23 miles downhill skiing.

Everyone walks to the lift on the first day right? Chiampioni cable car and skiing.  Getting the leggies back, remembering to do my boots up, stuff like that... oh, and looking for some tree runs.  There may have been a little wading!  We started to hanker after walk routes.



We moved upto Col Raiser to knock off all the runs in the area, played on a slalom route and had coffee and cake in the sun where we decided to call it quits after a lot of staring into the distance and wondering if we could hike it to Alpe de Susi, which we could just see over in the next valley.




We roamed into Ortisei ski area for the 10km run from top to bottom which was a dream and then headed back to Santa Christina.  Screwed up our efforts to hop onto snow for a hike back to the hotel and ended up walking down the hiking route in our boots before catching a bus from the central bus stop back to Selva Val Gardena.  

Typical that our boots were the muddiest in the boot room.


Chicken with chips last night improved into the best tasting Carpaccio since the vineyards in Penticton.  The aroma of horseraddish.  It was AMAZING.

Unfortuately it was a promising start and I didn't really get that mouth-watering excitement about any other dish all week.

Monday - Ortisei and Mt de Susi 32 miles including a bunch of cross country

Took the bus back to Ortisei then the cablecar to Alpe de Susi.  On the first lift we saw a 'cross country map as we sidled overhead on the chair lift so we skied to it and skinned off across the plateau to Saltira hut for a coffee then on to the main cross country area.



As a ticket man was checking passes (you need a different ticket for cross country which we weren't about to buy on top of the 500 Euro's we'd just spent on downhill lift tickets) we continued by on the walking path, figuring they can't stop you walking on a national park footpath for free.  We debated whether to stop at the mountain restaurant for early lunch at 11 but it felt too early so we continued.  



Like an oasis in the desert, after 30 minutes we crested a hill to find one of those perfect hiker caf├ęs lurking just out of sight.  Delicious food for less than 20 Euro.  

Back on the trail we lurched towards impressive looking towers with the intention of skiing around and beyond if we could but there was no way!  As my toes started to burn from an injury I picked up in the (now lost in time) snowy UK winter of 2015, I began to dread the return journey to lifts, downhill and afternoon respite.  Just as TSK started to complain about his back, we crested a hill and again, like an oasis, found a lift and downhill routes all back to civilisation... well, the rest of the Alpe de Susi area.  

We returned via lift to Ortisei and bus back to the hotel where we slept all afternoon... me with my foot in the air.

Tuesday - Sella Ronde downhill 27 miles including lifts.

Sella Ronde was on TSK's repeat list.  I must've been really tired from the previous day's effort because I followed him around like a lost puppy and, TBH, a lot of the scenery was lost on me.

...I don't know why
There was a lot of queuing, it being half term, and a lot of shoving so I didn't enjoy the lifts at all.  A lot of people we talked to said they were going to attempt the whole Ronde route on Thursday when their kids were in ski school.  We immediately vowed not to do anything touristy on Thursday which was a bugger since I had my eye on the hidden valley route again.


Castles in the snow.


I guess in retrospect it's sweet that I spent Valentine's day paying more attention to my husband than the view.

Our neighbours in the hotel dining room took the time to leave little chocolate hearts at everyone's place.  

Sweet touch!

Wednesday - Vallongia cross country ski 13.4 miles

Someone let me get on the bus before suggesting that we walk back the way we've just come and buy lunch.  Someone (me) ignored that person and continued regardless.  Still, we had a bag of sweetened pineapple, a few nuts and a bit of chocolate - what could go wrong?

Set out on our "easy" walk up the Vallongia - after a few downhill routes to get there.  Avoided ticket man by following the path again.  We were so much more confident this year on the skins and the snow was hard packed, meaning we didn't have to break trail and half walked / half glided across the open fields, into woodland and beyond the places we recognised from last year.







We skied out on to the open plateau, far from any other nordic skiers and finally, around 12:00 approached a small patch of sunshine which was finally braking the frozen valley sides.  A Norwegian stopped for a brief, pidgin English chat and said, "This weather is just for us".  Little did we know that outside our valhallah, the rest of the resort was basking in +6 deg C temperatures.  

The Norwegian warned us that "beyond there is a point where you have to return".  He skied away and we sat under a tree, in a small circle of dry pine needles and ate our pineapple chunks and nuts.

We continued into the steep ascent that lay beyond the plateau.  Further than we went last year for sure.  The path narrowed and I wondered about the ski down.  No room for turns or snowplough through the trees and not enough snow to support a good tree-run ski.  It was getting a bit sketchy.


So we chucked our skis off the trail into a snow drift and continued on foot. Unfortunately we then topped out onto another plateau.

TSK spotting the view
Frozen
 I insisted on continuing enough to photograph a frozen waterfall and secretly berated myself for not buying that lunch before we returned to our skis to strap them to our rucksacs for the narrow descent.
Me, rekindling the relationship with my mountaineering rucksac of the 90's.

Once back on the flat, we slid and glided back to the parking area of the cross-country ski area.  We will have to return another year to develop this route further.
in the meantime, we enjoyed ice crystals as fine as moth wings.
We ate lunch in tee shirts on the sun deck of the (now open) nordic ski centre before heading off up the steep sunny side of the valley to walk to Dannoi.  The snow got thinner and more tennuous and we took excuses to walk on foot, not skis, up to the ruin of the Wolkenstein castle (fort) before giving up on skis completely, strapping them to rucsacks and descending to the Skiway which was being regenerated with snow brought into the resort on a truck.


We nodded reverently at the driver of the pow-machine as we slid the remaining distance down to our hotel.

Thursday - Val di Fassa 50mile ski downhill

Val di Fassa is a tiny ski area off the main Selle Ronde with a few hotels at its extreme.  I agreed to go ski there on the basis that we wouldn't have to ever stay there in the future.  If it turned out to be amazing I could always reconsider.  It seemed like a good easy day.





As anticipated, the Thursday rush on the Selle Ronde was in full force and the two final lifts to get into Val di Fassa were excruciating.  Lifts that seem to be made for the elderly - cable cars that dock at the speed of a cross-channel ferry and slide away on their travel even slower to avoid disquieting those less steady on their feet..  


However, once beyond these natural cattle grids, the Valley was dreamily quiet and it really was very beautiful.  



Amongst the beauty we found a mountain restaurant offering healthy veggie pasta and demolished fig and beetroot pasta dishes before going on to ski the entire area in two hours.  We must've been shifting some though as we covered a total of 50 miles (including lifts) which is my furthest ever travelled on (or with) a pair of skis by 12 miles.


The great thing about short days is they end in bars, with hot chocolate, with rum in.

Friday - last day blow out ski mountaineering to pic de Comica

Andrew agreed it would be a nice idea to finally ski from our door so we hiked around the corner and joined the path 30B.  We skinned for some time around the suburbs of St Christina until we emerged at the Valentine's day castle and spent a good 30 minutes trying to get off the path onto the piste and then off the piste onto a path.


More uphill hiking - now at least on some kind of trail until we finally emerged at the Monte Pana lift area for lunch.  As a location for bunny slopes and cross country, there was just a snack bar but we were already pretty tired and wanted to get going so we stomached short espressos, microwave pizzas dolled up with fresh rocket and cherry tomatoes and french fries with a peach iced tea for sugar.

We walked around a path I'd skied down earlier in the week - mainly to take a look at goats that were bleating and dancing around in the snow.  We then acquired the 'cross country ski trails which led us to following route 30.  Sadly, this followed a road so we used cross country skiing and touristy paths to try and keep the best track of the road.


The forest trail we found was keeping us far more entertained than following the road itself so that's what we stuck to.  We knew we were off route but were having too much fun to care. 

When we popped out of the trees, I was still adamant on heading for Monte Susi to claim that we'd skied from our door to the most remote end of the resort.  TSK had other ideas and headed off towards Mont de Sura.  I was pretty annoyed but realising how tired he was, I followed and eventually conceded (once we rose above the scenery) that it was the smart move.  Monte Susi was on the other side of a steep valley and still some un-tracked distance away.  Neither of us would have been fit for anything if we'd attempted it and we would have been pushing the boundaries of sensible skiing, potentially descending the closed runs late in the evening when we were tired and the piste bashers are trying to do their job.

The consolation prize was that we would achieve a Col and I was pretty sure that on this day, no-one else had got this close to the towering cliffs that make up the skyline of the Dolomites.


We gained the ridge and walked on up to a wall of rock, mud, ice and a little snow.  It was pretty tenuous.  The route around it would have involved us skiing around a boulder field which neither of us was really up for.  I offered to go ahead and see if there was anything over the top for us to exit onto rather than lead him up something awful only to have to retrace our steps.

He nodded enthusiastically, I left my skis and took a run at the slope ahead whilst he caught me up.  The slither of icy snow narrowed to 6 inches so I used rocks and poles to scrabble through a few heart-stopping moments when my rubber-soled ski mountaineering boot toes refused to hold and my life dangled on the grip of a ski pole tip.  

Pic de Comica
Then there was the shin deep snow that my boots now punched through and finally I stood on the summit of Pic de Comica, not feeling at all amused.  There was no time to celebrate now, as I ran over the top to be absolutely sure there was no cliff face between us and the sweetly humming chair lift at the top of Mont de Sura.  Hurragh!  A clean run-out.  A short, non too technical off piste descent onto a lovely rolling blue piste.  

I ran back from whence I came, this time shortening my poles to minimum length thinking that, should I plummet down the rocky ice slope, I could at least attempt to use them like an ice axe. The side effect was, they put my body into the perfect position for down-hilling and I managed every step in control.  As I reached TSK I noticed two people bringing themselves up behind us.

TSK was persuaded that my description of the route ahead was easier than retracing our steps so far through poorly conditioned snow and coming away without the prize of the col - though I'm sure that wasn't at the fore of his mind.  I also mentioned the couple behind us in a hope that this would reassure him we had assistance available if we needed to seek help.

We strapped the skis to our rucksacs again and kicked and swore our way up the rocky slope, across the shin deep snow and finally up to the Pic.  

The two behind us had obviously decided better of our alpine trek and entirely disappeared from sight.  Perhaps I imagined them.  The sense of satisfaction was immense for me.  I believe it probably came later for Andrew.

Looking over towards Monte Susi, TSK prepares for the descent.
The downhill off the top was too thin, therefore disappointing.  The pride in sliding off the top of the highest point, right at the bottom of the massive Dolomite crags - all under our own power - was immensely satisfying.  We hadn't seen another person for 3 hours and suddenly we were silently dropping in from the backcountry to head to the base with the Half Term holiday crowds.

We dressed in downhill clothing and rocked up at our favourite hot chocolate spot to order more rum.  It was a day for being inside and eating strudel.



I can absolutely say that we totally nailed the last day.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Mickelden Straddle Fell Race - The "sensible" race

I've been trying to do this race for some years.  I think I entered it once and when the day came, I had a narsty cold and the weather was not good enough to accommodate 15 miles of bleuragh.  I attempted to enter it another time and probably found it to be full.  I have had years where I'm just nowhere near capable of a 15 mile fell race in February after a winter of hibernation and vicious cyclo-cross racing.

This year, we both entered early and we were both fit and healthy for it except for the slight hindrance, for me, that I haven't really done much running training for a 15 mile fell race - although that's what I said about last week's Tigger Torr 9.6 mile fell race which I finished remarkably well and concluded that pushing fully-loaded mountain bikes around Welsh hills for an entire weekend was perfectly adequate preparation for any fell race going.

I still wasn't convinced though.  I raced Tigger Torr so hard that it took me until Thursday to be able to walk down stairs normally and Friday to reacquire any kind of spring in my step but I said I'd show up and run it at a regulated pace.  I mean, I could definately do 15 miles at a  nice steady pace.  Then I discovered the cutoff.

TSK wasn't worried about it but I was a little concerned.  Last week it took me 57 minutes to do the same distance to the cut off.  This time I had 1h 10 mins on legs that weren't really that fresh.  Still, so long as I kept above 4.3 miles per hour I'd be OK.  I set myself a target of 5mph to allow for the faff - which often besets one of us on a race.

I gave TSK a lecture about the faff which he suffered from last time and reminded him he was racing.  Still, we both started the race in too many layers - he in a windproof and me wearing an extra teeshirt I didn't really need.

The race started on a rather tame forest trail and a LOT of people ran past me.  I wasn't going to get drawn into going too fast.  Every time I felt tempted to let rip, I thought of my ambition to be able to ride my bike on Monday... perhaps Tuesday... or at least do yoga on Tuesday.  I was going to talk to TSK as he came past but he never did and then I noticed his bright orange jacket ahead and I thought, sneaky bugger" but I let it go.  I was perfectly happy for him to beat me over this distance because he is doing a long distance race, not me.  He's been training for this, not me and I wanted to be able to ride that bike tomorrow.

I was thinking about it so hard I nearly missed the first turn through some trees before re-gaining the trail and the sharp downhill to the stream (taking it easy not to batter my legs) before the climbing begain in earnest.  After 2.5 miles I stopped to take the teeshirt off.  5 people I had passed on the last climb came by but then I ran back past them fairly quickly at my own pace.  The only problem was, I wasn't really paying attention to the way I was going.  I was watching my pace.  6.3mph had dropped to 5.6mph average and by the time I got to the top of the climb it had further dropped to 5.1mph and my calves were aching so bad.

Still, the moorland was upon us and flattened out.  Hopping across stones and climbing up peat hags to avoid bogs was still faster than trying to run up hill and checkpoint 1 at 5 miles was achieved in 58min:33secs.  The path was so attention-consuming that I forgot about my aching calves for a bit and set about the downhill to Howden reservoir with gusto, although still controlling the speed so as not to smash my quads and calves around like I did last week.  It was a much smoother descent and at the bottom of it I acquired a friend.

I met this older chap on the peak as I caught him up and commented how warm it was, he responded, "I'll say, I'm sweating like a pig!".  So harsh I was taken aback when down at Howden he turned out to be very well spoken.  We talked about Tigger Torr and he said he hadn't entered because of the online entry system and suggested that it might be a sign that he should retire but then I pointed out the beautiful scenery we were running through and asked how he could leave all of "this".

I think I might have swayed him.

We ran together - sometimes chatting and sometimes silent.  I enjoyed his company and his pace so much that I ran ahead to get the gates and he shut them behind us.  I was tempering my speed just a little bit.

We met the marshalls which then shepherded us up Howden Clough and the steep returned.  The first climb at least stretched out my calves and I was pretty surprised to see the guy continuing to tail me up the steeps.  We passed the runner ahead who had been intermittently walking then running off at a right lick, meaning we never actually caught him.  Clearly he didn't have much more of the run in him.

When we got out onto the open hillside, below Howden Edge I seemed to have dropped my tail and reeled in another guy, then a lady who I had been hoping was Andrew (in orange) but really wasn't.  We all stopped together at the path junction and I have to admit I had no idea how far along we were and almost took a wrong turn had it not been for a chap insisting we take the main path.  Much to my embarrasment, checkpoiint 5 was just around the corner.  I had to mask my embarrasment and hope that no=one had seen me stop to get the map out.

The people I'd passed had come back around me but once we were back onto the rocky bog my inner Dark Peaker took over and I passed everyone back as I skimmed across the stones, intermittently scrabbling up to the short heather above to avoid the really boggy slippery sections. It was much easier on my legs running on the tops since the heather is still only 20mm tall here.

I passed a woman who insisted on trying to leap over bogs where her legs weren't long enough and squealing and wailing every time she was submerged upto her knees and beyond.  I had to get around her and her partner who patiently waited, tried to keep pace with me for a bit to spurr her on then resorted to just waiting again.  The descent began and I ran faster and faster.  A quick glance at my watch told me there were still 4 more miles to go but damn I was enjoying this.

Delicate application of my hamstrings made me run much faster and... oh no, there was a path turning!  It said Langsett to my right but... did we come that way???

One of the marshalls, walking along behind me was looking at me earnestly.  No! Not an audience.  There was no-one ahead of me.  The man in a yellow jacket had disappeared.    Argh.  The map was still in my hand so I checked.

It was clear that the turning took me to the wrong end of Langsett and would have left me without check point 6 and therefore disqualified or facing a mile of retracing my steps uncofmortably before I was allowed to run another mile back to the finish.  Squeally woman's husband/partner came into sight and that was enough to stop me worrrying and send my scurrying off down the hillside at a speed approaching full-pelt - well, for a mile 12 effort anyway.  There was no point in taking care through the puddles now.  Mud went everywhere and so did my legs but it was worth it... right up until the point my left foot tripped over a stone and the resulting reaction in my right leg caused an excrutiating cramp to rip through my right calf muscle.  Ow!  I took a little more care.

A few little walks up hill and then the final spiralling descent to the river before climbing back up the other side.  I hazarded a look behind.  No one was there.  I had time in the bank to dawdle my way up the climb and even bypass the slithery path through the trees in favour of the bridlepath surface and space.  A marshal was surprised to see me coming from a different direction but I explained my reasoning and he said he respected me for my descision (I'm not sure he believed me).

There was about a mile to go and what should I see but the man in the yellow jacket walking.  I continued my pace and then he started running again and drifted away.  I kept to my pace.  He walked again and I closed in a bit.  This went on for ages, it seemed, until finally I caught him up and feigned a bit of fatigue.  I wasn't looking for a sprint, didn't fancy one but knew I could probably win it if it happened.

Sure enough, within sight of the finish we both had a bit of a go.  I shouldn't have, given my promise not to destroy myself but hey, you never know whether you're fighting for 124th place, or 99th place.  We propped ourselves up against a table and stretched.

We were given rescue ale and smiles and I went off in search of TSK who finished 4 minutes ahead of me and deeper into the hurt locker, having stayed in the same position for most of the run.

The organisation lavished us with sandwiches and wraps and tea.  When we picked ourselves up to leave, we could only hobble through the carpark.  Absolutely astonished at how quickly I disintegrated from, "Hey, this ain't bad, I'm doing OK here, I'll outsprint this chap" to, "ooh ahh, ooh, I can't move my knees, Ah! My ankles".

We peeled ourselves into clean(ish) clothes and drove home guzzling coffee along the way.  Presriptive long showers and baths were taken and then the bed... half an hour of lying on my back with my feet against the wall and the glow of endorphins and sweet sweet sleep.

I guess I can't claim I'm not ready for a 15 mile race any more.

14.61 miles, 2:58:28. El 723m
Overall: 175/192
Women: 20/29
LV40: 9/14 (making a habit of 9th).