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).


Thursday, February 02, 2017

Restless ness

It's been weeks since I did a rambling, what was this week post. January was a roller coaster of work and play. A fantastic month. I didn't have the time to sit down and write. I might have been recovering but was too fuzzy to do the things I had completed any justice until much later.

So January slid by in a jumble of sporting events and producing my first clean fuels energy installation at work.

Tomorrow it goes live and when everything is completely finished with papers in place and rubber stamps, I will be immensely proud of it with due credit to those who paved the way before me.

Sportfully, after Tigger Torr, my legs were done for. If I couldn't walk Monday, you should have seen me Tuesday. I was a walking joke. The  ministry of funny walks had nothing on me. With another race this weekend I became genuinely concerned about the state of my muscles and refused to leave the office or use stairs for 3 days.

You might think that this made me stiff but I felt like every time I moved I was doing more damage, so I didn't move except to go to bed, to / from the car and office where I used the lift.

On Tuesday I attended yoga class but made my excuses most of the way through. On Wednesday morning I did at least manage a swim, persuading myself that immersion in cold water and gentle movement were just what my legs needed. In reality, swimming 1km in spite of dragging my useless legs through the water behind me like a  deadweight was exactly the confidence boost i needed. To add to the restorative process, I added 5 minutes in the sauna... why don't I do this more often?

Today I finally walked down the stairs with my feet pointing forward and found a spring in my step. I had a tentative skip through the office to test things out then drove up to Middlesbrough where I have enjoyed another pleasant outing in the hills overlooking the city.

It was mercifully dry because I brought trainers. I  found the footpath behind the hotel and walked for an hour in the simple light of my head torch - sometimes even without that.

I found some great bivi spots but as a raging wind storm arrived I was moderately glad I had a hotel and warm meal to return to.

The exercise forecast for tomorrow doesn’t look good except for a day working outdoors in a howling wind. From there it's home and prep for Sundays race. That's going to be a completely different event. It's 15 miles. I am not ready for 15 miles of racing so I am out to enjoy myself. It will be the hair of the dog to last weekend's binge session. I am looking forward to surviving this one better.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Tigger Torr

Friday: Go swimming in the morning and am proud to knock out a whole mile.  Get outside and my hips are aching and I decide I deserve the massage that's overdue a week to recover from my christmas-holidays-training-and-race-fest.

I tell my physio just how much I'm looking forwards to my first running race since I grew new muscles in my legs and learned how to use them.

He asked what my race was.  I said I'd entered Tigger Torr.  He said, "Ah, this weekend".  Oh, well there you go then.

The results of my physio appointment were really positive.  The deep tissue massage I had booked turned into a slap-fest verging on the edges of assault as Marcus brought the blood to the surface to reduce the swelling associated with the massage and leave my legs "all zingy" (and pink) ready for Sunday's race.  My eyes were all welling and stingy by the time he'd finished.

Saturday: rested and made a pact with myself to properly *race* on Sunday.  I'm doing one or more a month for the next 6 months so I might as well start somewhere.

I got packed, I plotted a map.  I was ready.  There was a lot of waiting and then we set off and I breathed and I breathed hard.  So much for racing this thing.  I was well into my limits and streams of people were peeling past me until finally I hit mud and got into my stride within a group.

After the first road crossing we were faced with two options.  Many people went left and cut off a corner but they seemed to start to queue on the narrow track and so I stayed on the wide open path and cut my own pace along the corner.

Onto the moor now and half of the pack turned right off the trail and the other half continued on the wide open track.  This time I was surrounded by people going my pace and less of us seem to take the short cut route.  It is also a line I wished I had taken on the boxing day bogtrott so today seemed like good a time as any.

First checkpoint achieved after a subtsantial time wading through heather along a trod.  A few people ran past me as the group ahead slowly moved away but I didn't want to raise my game much at that point.

I exchanged a few places with a bloke in a pink teeshirt and bounded past a few guys coming off burbage rocks as my downhilling skills outweighed my slower pace.  They were still pretty good though.  Here's me: now mixing with people of my own ability!

We were all checking on a guy who had hurt is arm and for a moment I thought he was having a heart attack and felt guilty about not stopping but there were plenty of other racers around and he was still making his way over to marshalls, not *actually* collapsing in the heather.

We scrabbled up the muddy side of Burbage valley and over to Higger Torr then over to Winyards Nick without really noticing it to be honest.  Small changes in position didn't matter until this point when I looked at my watch and made the ridiculous conclusion that with 6 miles done, we only had half as much again to go.  Wrong - I'd only done 6km and still had 9km to go. I didn't realise this at that point though and resolved to keep going at the same pace - even to pick it up a little bit!

We got to the south end of the course at Burbage Bridge and then set off North again where we had the joy of cheering on other racers on their way down - where we could look up.  I shook hands with the marshall as I passed around them and then had the joy of discovering I was ahead of TSK - both of us confused as to how I had got ahead.  Still, there wasn't far to go so I had to keep pushing right?

Climbing off Carl Wark I saw Jen who is a twitter friend that I haven't *actually* *met* yet and is also wife to the nice man who slapped me on Friday.  I squealed a hello as I recognised some blonde hair behind a camera lens attached by a lead to a cantankerous beagle who was voicing his boredom of taking fotos of fell racers.  I should have stopped for a hug but I was sweaty and I felt like I was probably doing quite well and a hug may have been flippant, surprising and a little forward - given the sweaty! - even if she is a fellow runner.

Where we crossed Burbage brook and I acquired a tail through the slush who I then held up as I protected my knees going over the river scramble.  I was looking forwards to legitimately following the path that I'd accidentally taken on the boxing day bogtrott - for real this time.



It didn't disappoint.  My new muscles found routes from rock to rock through the heather and around the hill walkers, really not sure what was going on around them.  Now to venture out across Houndkirk Moor where it suddenly became blatantly obvious that the run was not going to be 10km long at all.

Still, I'd given it some to get here and I wasn't about to give up now.  I at least wanted to hold my place and we all plugged away through the bracken in a long, colourful line.  Occasionally someone came past and occasionally I raised my game and stuck with them until the next pack of people where I either stuck with it or faded into the group and waited for the next fast wave to catch.

We finally hit the Houndkirk Road again - that big wide open track and this time I chose the cut-through route because we were a thinner field.  As we approached the road I saw the change to teh route - no longer retracing our steps back to a short, flat run along the main road but instead, running through a small quarry.  A lady passed me and I complained that my knee was about to divorce me.  She said, "me too" and then proceeded to run away from me.

"It's just cramp in the little knee muscles" I thought and carried on running, trying to relax it into going away... but it stayed... and it got worse.  I hobbled a bit over the rises and then we were back on the road.  It felt like a good thing and I allowed myself to open up my stride a little bit and run fast.  As a fell-runner it pains me sometimes that I'm quite fast on flat roads.  It's like being a rockstar who's quite good at maths.  Cool but a little bit prim and proper at the same time.  Speeds hit 6.7 miles per hour and then we turned onto the Long Line Lane and a downhill.  My knees were hurting anyway so I just opened up.  The stride went long and I threw all regard for the condition of my legs tomorrow out of the window in favour of speed.

I kept hearing the woman behind me on my shoulder catching me up and every time I thought, "well if she comes past me at this speed, there's nothing more I can do" and she never came past.  Men did but I didn't care.   I just wanted to hold onto that ladies' place.  The speed hit 8 miles per hour.

For a brief respite we turned back into the muddy lower pitch of the rugby field and I looked up to see the wall of death - a wood chipped slope of around 5% leading from the lower pitch to the middle pitch.  I joked to the guy to my right that this was the worst hill of the race.  He hadn't looked up, he didn't see it coming, he went backwards with a groan and I never saw him again.

My knee was proper screaming now and all that time I could feel the next place runners breathing down my neck. It wasn't about women's places any more it was about all places and I finally opened up to whatever sprint I had left.  It wasn't much but it was enough not to let me be caught on the middle field.  I checked in then stopped my watch and leant on the shoulders of hte finisher in front of me - just in case my knee collapsed completely.

Over the line I caught up with a lady who I had exchanged places with several times and we'd checked on eachother as we passed by when she stopped to tie her laces and when I slowed down to drink from my Camelbak.

I also said hello to fellow tri club mates and waited for TSK to come in.  He had a nice run but not so good a race as he had battled with the faff.

We hobbled to our car, changed shoes and put on a dry top then drove home.

It was only later when I realised how well I had done.  I took 13 minutes off my previous time - despite the course being longer and I finished 15 places higher in my age group.  I was no longer in the second half of the women's pack but in the top third and just sneaked inside the middle third overall, having come in previously behind 300 other people.

There are things to be credited for today and none of them include much running they are:
Pushing heavy bikes up big hills
The favourable weather conditions - still cold but warmer than years gone by.
My Physio's incredible detective work (and no doubt the slapping)
TSK putting me into the inescapable carrot position.

9.56 miles 1:50:29 524m el.

A/G 9th/33
Women 31st / 94
224th overall of 380 finishers.
Much to my delight, I was the 6th Dark Peak women's finisher meaning that my time contributed to the Dark Peak ladies' B-team being in 6th place.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Church? or Chapel?

Prelude

I have tried, moderately, to write up this ride.  The fact is, it would be proper hard work to write it up accurately.  To describe this ride by any fact is doing it injustice for it was a mash of pedal strokes, mud splatters, sideways sunbeams, snowy distant peaks, raindrops in headtorch beams, snuggly tents and sleeping bags our of the storm, coffees brewed fresh in the forest, surprise shelters, friendly strangers, porridge, best friends for life, colourful sheep, mucky ponies, pub food, railway lines, stained glass, Gallic crosses and icy rivers.

Chapel?


Church?

OR 




















Church?

OR...


Chapel?

Llanbrynmwair: a rainy school car park.  Other peoples: eating toast.  I’m given a bottle for my holy water and a half-bottle of red to take communion.  I am also furnished with a Lion Bar and fed tea and toast.  

I change into cycling kit then set about attaching bags to my bike.  A dry bag under the handlebars containing my sleeping bag, a frame bag containing dry leggings, wool tops and knickers (also woollen).  A bottle cage filled with emergency equipment – plasters, painkiller, savlon, a needle, a tampon (good for mopping up all kinds of things), thrush cream (good for all kinds of itches).  Finally, a saddle bag containing half the tent, dried food, down coat and booties, headtorch in a box with some cables and a battery and my mug / brewkit.  My winter addition is two “stemcells”.  They’re shaped like they hold a bike bottle and dangle off the handlebars.  They’re sturdier than it sounds and most accessible so one side contains a tool kit and the other, breakfast oats in a waterproof box and goji berry / walnut mix for munching on.

We say goodbye to the guys huddling from the rain in their van and head off in our coats.
1 mile down the road and I return to the car park and add my rucsac to my back containing 2 litres of water and my waterproof trousers, warm hat, dry gloves energy bars and camera.

We finally get properly underway at 10:20 and by 11:15 have marked off our first checkpoint
.

Further down the road, two guys go straight on as we turn to pick up a bridlepath over to the East.  Much to my embarrassment it goes straight up and I’m convinced that I planned it this way – no worries about a bit of hike-a-bike early on.  I can do easy riding later.  As we head further and further up the 30% slope I become more and more worried that the slope will never end or the path will level out into unrideable forest.  
TSK adding to the scenery

Thankfully, our efforts are rewarded with a spectactular view before the path levels out into an entertaining track through the trees which requires some concentration but is rideable.  

After 5 miles we descend into a little village to claim our Second church and we’ve almost caught a buzzard from the sky, seen an owl and been laughed at by sheep.


For a while we climb away from checkpoint 2 on roads and TSK is almost mown down by an oncoming motorist without any concept of what might be around the next bend.  Over the other side of the hill we descend for some time, eventually overshooting a turn-off onto a bridlepath.  Again we push our bikes up to meet the connecting path we should have taken and swear when we realise if we’d retraced further we’d have had an easy ride.  Still, the path in itself is avoiding some evil chevrons on some evil climbs on the road map so we’re happy, even when having to make up the bridle path because there’s no sign of it on the ground.  

The scenery outweighs the effort and I snap a picture in case the sun doesn't come out again.



We arrive in a village where there’s an open pub serving lunch.  

Just as our meal is arriving, another rider walks in and we catch up about where we’ve been.  The route over the tops by the wind turbines was no better, in fact sounds much worse, than what we’ve just been through so that’s reassuring.  

Filled with baked potatoes we return outside to discover we’ve locked up the bikes without bringing the key for its release with us.  I go indoors and make pretty eyes at the staff and the chef comes to our rescue with a pair of bolt cutters from the boot of his car.  Turns out his other job is a farrier.
Released, we set off on our third off road ride of the day.  We climb up hill a way before turning off onto a well defined path.  It’s not a great bridleway but there’s some path to it.  It doesn’t last long and soon enough we’re following something that diverges greatly from the direction we were *supposed* to take.  After some very cool downhill slaloms which would be better on skis than mountain bikes we find the track again, just as it disappears into a brackeny hillside behind someone’s house and we have to make 4 2-person lifts of loaded mountain bikes over barbed wire fences before slithering through more bracken to the track at the bottom of the valley.

This track then runs alongside streams and rivers which eventually culminate in one big river crossing.  Whilst all the others have been rideable, this one has a bridge – at least it used to.  The only thing that remains of the bridge are the two concrete blocks either side of the river that the bridge used to stand on.  The alternatives of pushing our bikes across open grassland overlooked by a big house versus retracing our steps up hill, leads us to remove shoes and socks ready for the paddle across the river.  As I’m moving to hang my shoes over my bars, TSK decides to lob his shoes over the river onto dry land. 

Unfortunately one shoe ricochets off the gate on the other side and slowly starts to make its way downstream.  I try and race after it but I’m already in bare feet and slow on rocks even during triathlon races, never mind in a Welsh river in January.  TSK wades in fully socked.  At least shoe number 2 made it and he’s able to make more progress in stocking feet.  The shoe gets momentarily caught on a rock, buying us time and he manages to catch it just as it gets unattached and recommences steady progress down the river.  He helps haul my bike out around the gate and I walk up the mossy slope in bare feet.


I think this is the happiest I was all weekend.  My feet were numb from the cold meaning I was free to “feel” the moss between my toes for I was cold enough not to feel pain but somehow I could still feel the mossy softness, the tickle of tiny fronds of green on my foot pads.  Then once the novelty of that wore off, my feet felt great again back in my wool socks and fleecy leggings.

We dried off, re-shoed and started to push our bikes out of the valley to get the blood flowing to the feet.
Bus house parked up at a local campsite complete with porch, deck and "pond feature"

Walking off the hill climbs

Pee stop

Once we’d accessed a road, we descended down again right up until we started going back up again and then, after some minor lanes and villages, we were in Corris.
This is not actually the church in Corris but it looked like a place of worship and was next to the cafe... by then we didn't care.

And there was a church and outside it were bikes because right next to it there was a  café and it was open and they sold us sweet potato muffins and coffee and life was good.  There were around 6 other riders in there and two leaving.  We assumed their seats then Andrew chatted as I spoon fed my brain to get it to work again.

Finally, Andrew insisted we go back outside and I dawdled as much as was polite.  We’d arrived in Corris way earlier than I expected.  Eventually I realised this was because my route-choice from Corris was an out and back and we would return there just 1.5 hours later after obtaining one more checkpoint and scouting out an overnight camping spot which was later rejected in favour of drier climes.  Andrew reliably informed me that Cadair Idris was above us (through the rain) and he (the mountain) seemed to be generating all kind of wet weather patterns which didn’t necessarily exist on the other side of the valley.  Stopping there, next to a river, did not seem like a good idea. 

TalYLynn Church

We dawdled a bit, thinking about a high mountain pass to the Cross Foxes Inn (which TSK had passed many times but not gone in yet) and going back to Corris.  I eventually reasoned that my plan after Corris was to get offroad and therefore the best bivi spots.

Head torch and silhouette
Where we did bivi shall remain a mystery for the protection of all those involved.  Let’s just say that me refusing to budge far beyond that place and Andrew’s reluctance to eat anything other than pub food meant that in the morning we were back at Corris, wondering casually if the café was open (it wasn’t).

So 12 hours had passed in which we had eaten in a pub, camped outdoors, got rained on all night, snuggled in our tent until dawn rose on account of it being too wet and windy to be drawn to anything else before 7:40am.

I didn’t sleep brilliantly but nor did I sleep atrociously.  I found that my wool top (now damp) being stuffed up my down coat to dry out was only making me colder but somehow when I spread it over my thighs (the only bit of me not covered in double-down) my body temperature improved.  2-man, winter camp tenting in the wet actually worked out and I think snow would have only made it easier so long as it made it less damp not that a lightweight tent can hold *that* much water.

At 7:30 am we packed up and were gone by 8:30.  We rode from Corris along a minor road until we found a forestry commission carpark, furnished with a brew-hut… I mean, infoshelter.  It would have made a perfect bivi spot but you win some /  lose some.  Coffee made on a stove outdoors is so much richer… if a little gravelly.

On the turn to our next pass that day, we met another rider coming down.  I was eager to move on and stay warm but Andrew chatted away as I fumbled with some stuff and then re-arranged the hand warmers in my gloves.  As I fiddled, Andrew asked, “is it steep ahead”.  The guy went quiet.  He was quite obviously gesturing something behind my back, like if he said it out loud I would throw some kind of womany strop and refuse to proceed.  Finally I got him to admit out loud that the climb was a bastard.  I didn’t mind.  It was early, I had miles in the legs.  We set off up the bastard.

TSK later said the man implied that we (or I) would be walking most of it.

It really wasn’t so bad.  OK, there were long sections of steep climbing but I had badass gears on my bike and only stumbled twice.  The first, when I needed to eat as I got the shakes – so I did and I walked whilst I ate because riding, breathing and chewing at the same time is not a skill I posses without choking. 

Once I’d got going again, I also had a wobble as I zig zagged across the road.  My front wheel accidentally turned downhill instead of up and I had to fight so hard not to let the bike take both of us rolling down the hill, that I knew I couldn’t get going again, even if I could get my leg over the bike top tube.  So I walked to the next lower grade section – all of about 10m before getting back on and starting to ride again.  I rode the rest with a mixture of determination, heavy breathing, tactical deployment of my new muscles and being a contrary bitch.

Over the top of the climb, the descent was justifiably insane.  As steep as the uphill, it lasted about 5 minutes (not an Alp) of whoop and some cautious braking, after which we were deposited on a main road - the other side of the hill we'd been debating riding over at 6pm the night before.  We turned North in search of Andrew's target for the day - the Cross Foxes.

This newly refurbished, posh (Telegraph and Guardian reported and recommended bijoux) pub/grill could not have done any more to make us feel welcome.  We left our bikes under the deck and cautiously climbed the stairs into the warm of the conservatory entrance where we dripped onto the slate floor and hung our wet gear over the back of chairs before perching our slightly (though not too) mucky bottoms on tall stools.  The waitress predicted our "hot drinks" order and brought us our food with a smile and friendly chat about where we had been / were going.

We looked nervously at the newly painted cream and pale grey decor, the superb scenic wall art and they stoked the fire and never once mopped the floor or tutted.

Reluctantly we left and formed a plan to head back to base so that we weren't driving home exhausted.  When we realised our legs just weren't in it, the plan was cut even shorter and we started riding over the main road climb back to the HQ.  It doesn't take my brain long to tire of long main roads so by the time the downhill appeared, I was ready for minor lanes and again turned off.  This time I was gambling on a track marked both as a permissive path and "traffic-free cycle route" but not a surfaced road.

I wasn't sure how sure-footed a track it would be but it seemed to contour pretty well and I needed to get off that main road.  It didn't disappoint.  Solid enough to ride all the way yet wet, silent, glistening and sheltered enough to be absolute bliss.  We met one black labrador and his human who had a lovely chat and some purple sheep.

And then there was road again - minor lanes and they crossed the major road and we set off back up the other side of this valley with a plan to zig zag back on ourselves up the valley side then head over into the final run-in to HQ.

In one last stab-in-the-back, just after we'd been distracted by a young shepherd trying to get his flock across the road with a petulant sheep dog and one errant sheep, about the time we were looking for the zig zag road, the Garmin crashed.  Except it crashed surreptitiously so that we cruised past the zig zag and rolled down a fucking big steep hill.  Only when we had reached the bottom did I realise the Garmin had crashed and when I checked, we had to retrace our descent right to the very top.  Not only that but in my frustration I overlooked the fact that we were around 1.5 miles away from obtaining our only checkpoint of the day and with that, we turned too early as well as too late.

The zig zag was bad news.  Not a road at all but a muddy track that went up the valley side at a gradient of silly... over 33% according to Mr Garmin.  We were dismayed.  TSK didn't want to ride, I mean push, it (and neither did I) but I didn't want to go on the main road either.  We hadn't come all the way to Wales to ride on main roads and I was convinced this road turned into the lovely yellow B road which took us directly back to HQ.  Where the hell did it turn into a yellow road? (Garmin puts a big pink line over the route so you can't actually tell what road surface you're supposed to be riding on).

I zoomed out so I could see the road behind the big pink line, briefly and concluded that we had no more than 500m of pushing up this hill before it evened out and turned into a minor road.  We made a pact to do it and I prayed to the Karma that it would pan out and prayed to OS that their maps were accurate.
The views were worth it.
It was so steep I reverted to counting steps in between rest stops.  At first, 10 steps.  Then 5 steps, and rest.  It was so far to the top.  We were both, only just, managing to stay upright.  Then there it was, the gates, the view, the why, THE TARMAC.  I took the picture, less for the view but more to exercise the pride in taking myself to such a tired place and coming out the other side better for it.

The muddy splodge on my bag is where the whole thing toppled over into the mud and poo.  Oh well.

Down to a farmyard and through flocks of pheasants then onto the main road again briefly before turning off onto my B-road which cut across an evil valley (this time just a rideable 8%) before following the path of the river (gently uphill).  After a while there were no more evil climbs on it and TSK just about forgave me enough to enjoy the solitude of the b-road since we saw only 3 cars for the next 7 miles.  We considered stopping in the occasional layby / grassy field to brew up more coffee and instant food but instead chowed down on the nose-bag residing in my stem cells and the odd energy bar, just to get us the last 5km into the finish.

Ian Fitz was back.  My life completed, leaving before him and returning after him and within seconds he had sewn the seed of my next bike packing adventure in May. 

The next group to return to base were over the moon to be almost the last tribe back and had a sprint to the line amongst themselves in which a fat bike won.  We didn't steal their thunder by revealing, to the others in the HQ, that this group had been in the cafe when we arrived in Corris on Saturday and in the pub when we returned there 1.5 hours later.

We ate more tea and toast and changed into civilian clothing for the long drive home then climbed into our car with the cow poo and sweaty clothing and took it in turns to drive shifts.  

More than anything else this weekend reintroduced me to the joy of being outdoors just for the sake of being outdoors.  Reminded me that not every trip is going to be a disastrous wash out (because for all the rain, this wasn't a wash-out).  It was enjoyable and basic and mainly, real.

I can't wait for the next adventure.

60 miles, 2500m climbing
29 hours on the run of which...
8 hours riding (allegedly)
10 hours sleeping / fidgeting
11 hours faffing, brewing up, peeing and eating



Sunday, January 08, 2017

Middle of the night contentment

It's 3:18am to be precise.

I'm sitting on my kitchen floor although - unlike many sessions sitting on my kitchen floor at 3am recently - this isn't a sad thing.  To my right is a banana which I am eating to refuel after the National Cyclo-cross championships which took place today in Bradford.  I didn't have my greatest race - those came last week for some reason - but I did have an OK race.  I am still to figure out whether it was faster than last time or not.

To my left side is a mug of valerian tea to help me get back to sleep in a bit.  The effect of valerian tea on cats is similar to catnip.  To the extent that I start to think valerian is actually catnip.  My large cat is therefore rolling around by my side - stoned, slightly mesmerised, playful and flirty.  Typing is difficult for me because I've got one eye on my tea bag tag to make sure she doesn't just tug the mug over.

Despite being awake at 3am I am in a really happy place.

Yes it was work that woke me up but I have let things go this week and once awake, the best thing for me to do was to get up, get properly awake and remind myself that none of this is a problem.  It has all been fixed.  I am moving on.

So I started thinking about what is next to look forwards to.  There are two cyclocrosses left in Yorkshire over the next two coming weeks but only one is a league event so next weekend we are having a break from that and instead, disappearing into the welsh hills to take on an extraordinary bike packing adventure.

I wholly can't wait and am looking forwards to spending tomorrow planning the whole thing - whilst obviously being completely incapable of planning for weather conditions because WALES and because it's a whole week away yet.

I am happy because I have a home, I am just about holding on to my job (erm...) and because I have adventures to look forwards to.  I feel freer and more positive now than I have in a while  and I don't actually feel like I need much more.  I can sit on my kitchen floor and feel content.  The house feels more like a cabin now than it ever has.

Monday, January 02, 2017

2017 in numbers and photos

70 miles swum
3095 miles on a bike
481 miles run
200 miles of other things


January

I took a lot of pictures of the canal to wash away the dubious nature of winter training.

February

In stark contrast to February which turned into the most glorious and beautiful ski trip I have ever known.


March

 We went to Kielder to recce an Ironman course.  I love making this post every year because although we went to Kielder on 29th March, this picture makes the spring seem so close.


April

Stockton and my first race in GB kit where I was relieved to find out that it works.

May

Goes down as the second best month of the year.  The training, the sun, representing my country and a great holiday.






June

Kielder was back in full Iron-distance force.  I did the best I could.  There is little more to say.  Chuffed beyond belief to have finished a second one - proving the first wasn't fluke and exercising the demons that this is not my distance.


 

July

With all the endurance of an Ironman in me I set about enjoying everything, including my ride out to run the Great Hucklow Fell Race, The inaugral Legend Half Triathlon (which sowed the seeds of intention for 2017) and the Holme Moss Fell Race.




August

I was back to standard distance racing with a last-ditch attempt to qualify for the European Championships 2017 again.  At first I thought I'd qualified and then it transpired that a junior (in the 35 - 39 category) was moving up next year and had pushed me out by 24 seconds.

Far from being angry or disapointed at this, I took it in my stride - mostly because triathlon racing is purely empirical.  Rules are rules and if you're not fast enough, you're not fast enough.  Opinion doesn't come into it.



September

Best month.  Best holiday ever. Torino Nice Rally broke me but filled my heart.







Annual pilgrimage to the Yorkshire Dales.  Less than annual pilgrimage closer to breaking the 5 hour mark this year spurred me on to do bigger and better things next year.

October

As Britain voted to exit the EU I chose exactly the wrong time to enter the Alpe d'Huez Triathlon next year.  Sometimes when you need a goal you gotta get a goal but potentially, I paid more for my entry fee than anyone else in the UK.


Oh, and cyclo-cross started.
which is fun because I get to play with the big girls (all of which are smaller than me).

November

Must have been a slog as I have few nice photos to show for it.  TSK went to help with pedal cars and I got one nice MTB ride done and had an early, tentative tri training kind of a run (which then got abandoned as the 'cross season hotted up).


December

Work got silly, I got silly, everything came crashing in on me and then I made Christmas happen.  I ignored all the shit.  Built a life and lived it.  All I have to do is keep the momentum and keep my calm.  Keep hold of life.

I kept hold of the threads of actually managing to combine business and pleasure a few times this year and started to find that the more I rode towards 2017, the better 2016 got.  Now I'm hoping to carry it all forward in the ethos of never stop trying.