15th Oct Rowbothams Round Rotherham 50 Mile Race

Waking up on a Gym floor at 4:15 am is a novel way to prepare for a 50 mile Ultra race. But it is one of the nice quirks of the Rowbotham’s Round Rotherham 50 mile Race. After slowly waking due to the growing noise of the registration of the walkers just yards away for there earlier start of 06:00, I managed to have my breakfast of lukewarm coffee and 3 Alpen cereal bars. It was a very cold morning and I started to turn my attention to the clothes I would start in; I decided on compression shorts, a lightweight Pertex Montane jacket over a t-shirt, and a light hat with a cap over it. This proved to be just about right.
So at 06:50 I reluctantly left the warmth and bright lights of the gym, for the cold and dark of the car park outside. After a short race briefing we were off in the first of glimmers of daylight. I ran with Ross, who I know from the UTMB for the first 2 miles, then settled into a slightly faster pace and went away from him. Unexpectedly I did not see him again until after the finish. I did not know the route, and with no proper route markings I had to hold strip maps in my hand to make sure I was on the correct route. At the start with so many other runners around this wasn’t as necessary as later on, but I still did it just to try and relate the pictorial style maps to what was on the ground, so that I could do it easier when it was more vital later on.
Up to the first checkpoint I was with a large group of runners. But as we neared CP2 I headed off to try and catch a guy that clearly new the route. I never made a great effort but it was enough to drop a group of about 5 runners that I had been with for a while. Once I had earned this break I didn’t want to slow down to make the navigation easier so I followed the red vested runner for about 3 miles, never getting nearer than about 200 meters, which is not quite near enough to mean I could just follow. I continued like this, losing a bit of ground to him as he went through checkpoints slightly quicker than me. After the halfway CP I thought I was closing in on him across the open fields so I took off my jacket and hat. Whilst faffing about I lost more ground to him and decided that I would make an effort to catch him.
I was still enjoying the beautiful day, the mist hanging in the valley, as we moved through countryside to urban areas along canals and through fields. It was a really mixed terrain route, but mainly flat. But the strain of having to read these maps and not being able to close this gap was getting too me. My nice even pace had now been upped to more of a pushed effort. I made a few errors across roads onto new fields, and frustratingly still couldn’t get nearer than 200 meters. It was a bit of a blinkered effort, my whole race had narrowed down to catching this guy in front. Silly really but at the time it seemed to make perfect sense. At this point I was still running at about 7 hour pace. But this was about to change.
I caught him whilst feeling that I had myself slowed and was now feeling too tired for this point in the race. Just before Langold Lake at the 31 mile point, and after actively chasing him for about 10 miles I finally said Hi. I could tell he was going through a bad spell at the same time as me. The 30 mile point must be a tough time in a runnable ultra-race like this. We were both now in “survival mode” still running, as we had the whole way, but at a slower pace. We did walk some of the stiffer climbs. But we ran most of it. At times I felt that I could run faster, but I was worried that the pains in my side from earlier would return ( a lactic acid build up in the abs I think ). So we carried on like this with him navigating effortlessly most of the time apart from one point where I corrected us.
About 2 miles from the end Andy James ran past with some relay runners. It took me a bit too long to think of doing the same as Andy, but eventually I did make a push for the end. I left my running guide behind and made for the finish. I was now moving well and managed a good running rhythm to the finish, which rather quirkily is back in the gym at a desk. The marshal recorded my time of 7 hours 34 mins, and informed me that I was 10 th out of 264 runners and walkers. I am pleased with that. But couldn’t help thinking that if I had, had a good day and not pushed too much at the halfway point I may have been a lot nearer 7 hours. Never mind that’s for next time.
I welcomed my running partner, Ian from Scotland in, he was about 2 minutes behind, then I had a chat with Ian Symmington (a friend of Ross) and found that he had won in 6 hours 43. He overtook the leader Ian Bishop at the 2nd to last CP and Ian Bishop never knew so was surprised at the final CP to find he was 5 minutes behind the leader. It was a very crafty move by Ian Symmington, great stuff. 

Top : About 10 miles in and its still a bit cold.

Bottom left : The strip maps fanned out                          Bottom right : the proof i did it.

2nd October The Ian Hodgson Relay

It is always great to compete in relays. Running, in the main is a very individual sport, but the relays give us a chance to compete as a Bowland Fell Runners team. I particularly like the Ian Hodgson Relay as it is a true Fell relay run, on proper fell terrain. I last competed in this in 2007 for an injury / illness hit Bowland A team, and I loved it. So when asked to compete again for a mixed team I was really pleased.
After a less than useful midweek recce of the final leg, I waited with Ali Welsh in squally showers at Hartsop for the leg 3 runners to come in. It was cold and there was mist on the tops so after a discussion with Ali we decided on a low risk strategy of, cutting up off the track early and onto the ridge leading to Hart crag. We also decided to follow the high line around the top of Cofa Pike as the faster line could cost us time in poor visibility.
Soon enough Rowena and Emma were racing towards us with the dibber, and Ali and I were off down the farm track to start the climb of Hart Crag. I was still in a hat jacket and gloves, which would all come off within 10 minutes of running. Over the bridge and then we finally decided to definitely cut up onto the ridge early. This was a tough steep climb, but it did gain us height fast. The jury is still out on whether this is faster than the route straight up the valley. Most teams seemed to think this to be the case as they chose that route. Only 2 other teams near us chose the same line. As we neared Hart Crag we entered the mist, which we would be in until the descent of St Sunday Crag, making the top difficult to spot; but after this Ali found some good lines around to and over Fairfield.
We were both running strong at times battling the wind and mist to spot the lines. But we made it to St Sundays crag in good enough nick to run the ascent and catch a few teams, and one at the very top. Ali picked a great descent line, allowing them to go first and choose a bad line, and we overtook that team without seeing them again. It was good to see the finish fields below and after checking over our shoulders we knew that our position was safe. So we ran relaxed into the finish field; which unexpectedly evoked memories of foot races at junior school; to finish the Bowland mixed relay team’s effort. It was a good effort too as we came 5th Mixed team, 30TH overall in 4 hours 52, and collected some prizes for it too. So that capped off a great day, the slate coaster is always a good memento of the day too
Most of the happy mixed team at the finsh in Patterdale. Sarah, Rowena, Me, Ali and Emma

24th September The Sca Fell Pike Race

It had taken me 3 years to get back to having a go at the Sca Fell Pike race. Encouraged by my friend Bill Williamsons invite to join him in having a few beers and camping after the race. To do one of the best fell races and to catch up with a friend was too good an opportunity to miss.

So on Saturday at 1 pm I found myself lined up with about 70 others ready to race up to the highest point in England and back. Bill and I mused over why this race is nowhere near as popular as the Ben and Snowdon race. They attract 500 (limited) and 350 runners respectively every year. My thought on it was that it is a very awkward place to reach; it takes me an hour longer than most other places in the lake district to drive to. This means most people have to make a long journey to it. The other problem, or benefit depending on your view, is that there is no village or town nearby, Wasdale only has a campsite and a pub. I think this adds to the atmosphere of the race but it does not lend itself to a large field of runners. Soon enough we were off racing through the bottom fields to start the climb up Lingmel. The lower section of Lingmel is initially climbed before traversing across Lingmel col and then up the top section of Sca Fell pike.

I set off quite strong and was soon over the style part way up then I slowed as I hit the steep rocky section, in order to get my breathing back under control. I could still see the leader about 50 meters ahead of the field, I was about 100 meters behind the leader. Over the brow and onto the flatter section, I was now glad to be running but not long after starting running I was faced with a dilemma. Just as we entered into the mist half the field infront of me (about 20 runners) went straight on and half went right. I decided to follow right, thinking at the time it didn’t feel correct, and wrong it proved to be. The ground I had left was firm and nice to run on, the ground I was now on was uneven with tussocks. It was hard graft. After about 400 meters of this I was gassed and when we finally joined the proper path again I felt like giving up. I felt like I had made a serious error.

I joined the path just behind Bill and he told me I had only lost 50 meters. I decided that wasn’t too bad and carried on. But my race head was now gone. I was more just keeping a steady pace going, not really racing. I followed Bill to the summit and then down to the bottom of the slippery rocks. When we hit Lingmel col I decided to race to the bottom and picked up a few places. But my heart wasn’t in it. I could have overtook a runner right near the finish, but just couldn’t be bothered with the extra effort knowing I had stuffed up so badly.

Although the course was slightly shorter than 2008, my finishing time was of 1 hour 12 was still fairly good, and my position of 20th was the same with a similar sized field. So not a bad run, but if it wasn’t for the silly error it could have been much better.