Sunday, 22 April 2018

Teenager With Altitude 2018

Odd name. Great Race. When I first heard of this race, my initial thought was... that's a silly name. I can't see myself ever doing that one. Eventually I saw the route map. And the fact there were only 75 entries per year... it is now a firm favourite of mine, so it is a shame that this was the last edition of the race.
GDH lot at the start
Sadly one half of the organising couple - Steve Cliff - passed away from MND earlier this year. His Wife Wynn conceded that a final race- along with Anniversary Waltz, was indeed fitting, and raised a stupendous amount of cash for charity in the process. However, in its current form it is now being wound down.

The route starts from Stair, where you aren't given any warm up before the climb to Causey Pike, which pretty much sets the scene for the rest of the race. As has been the case for the past 3 years that I have done this race, the weather was beautiful and clear, the sun was shining and sunlotion and a hat were the definite order of the day. (I used p20 lotion- doesn't seem to wash off with sweat, and despite wearing a vest for the first time this year, I came back with no sunburn... it really is good stuff).

Chris behind me for a short time...
The last couple of weeks I've been struggling a bit with a flu/cold thing which has left me exhausted. I've done nowhere near enough miles in training, my feet are soft, and I'm generally a bit weaker than I was for previous versions of Teenager. Going into it I figured that a 3:20 would be amazingly good going, considering the 3:11 and 3:12 of yesteryear. A nice day out in the hills then, I was thinking.
Unfortunately when the starter whistle goes and everyone heaves off into the distance, you don't think that, and I went off like a bull in a china shop, knowing that without the training the whole thing was going to hurt... so I might as well get in some hard going before things really ended up going pearshaped.

Up Causey Pike we went, and it was great to see that Simon Harding from Macc Harriers was out on the hill again after a bit of a break, so we had a quick chat on the way up... although I was a little faster than him at this stage, I was certain that I'd see him again at some point on the course.
 Chris Webb was a little ahead of me on the climb, but down t'other side he stuck to the path and I careered through the rough stuff and gained the time back, gradually catching him, so that eventually we ran together, with Scoffer over to Grasmoor. The sun was high, and the work was hard, but I was pretty happy with where I was in the field, especially as I was catching Adam Perry up (and not through speed...more through different route choice).

The views from Grasmoor were amazing, though we didn't really get much of a chance to enjoy them, as we clattered off down and around to Whiteless Pike.
Whiteless Pike

My big toes were beginning to hurt by this stage as the shoes I was wearing were NOT holding my feet still... yes, it seems that Inov8 have changed their sole units and uppers AGAIN, but more of that at a later date. Suffice to say the design (whether they say it has changed or not) doesn't hold my foot in place any more, so I was smashing my toes against the front of the shoe on all the descents. Cue Whiteless Pike, the biggest, gnarliest descent of the race. My quads were already a bit trashed, my toes were sore and my heels were developing hotspots. Not massively conducive to going downhill at speed. Looking at comparisons, I was more than a minute slower than my previous races just on that section. Strength is certainly down, and my descending ability has taken a turn for the worse. It isn't the head that is the problem, it is lack of strength... so I know where to start training again.

Through the stream at the bottom and up the pass, and the string between me, Chris, Scoffer and Adam had snapped, and off they went up High Snockrigg at a pace while I lagged behind. Classically the worst point of my race, I felt like I was going ok, even though I wasn't keeping pace with them, though times don't lie, and that was my slowest ascent of that hill ever, (which may have been why I felt so good!).

I hit the high point of the hill with Konrad on my tail. We ran together for all of 2 minutes before parting ways for differing ascents of Robinson. I took the Righthand line, he took the Left. Aha! Finally we'll workout which of the lines is faster. I ran as far as possible up the incline before starting to walk, and put my head down and got stuck in... up and up (it's a blinking big hill... especially compared to the stuff we have in Derbyshire). Up towards the top and a Bottle of water Toting Rhys F-R. So... which was the fastest line? Neither. We both reached Rhys within about 5 seconds of each other, absolutely nothing in it.

Joining the Anniversary Waltz-ers is always fun because you're not sure if you're running at your pace, at their pace, or faster or slower than normal... Halfway down Robinson, with my feet sliding all over the place I HAD to stop and try to tighten my shoes. Konrad zoomed off into the distance as I sat there pulling on shoe laces, getting slightly more tightness around my feet.
I caught back up with the waltzers that were passing me, but Konrad was gone into the distance.
Up onto Hindscarth, eating more shotblokz than perhaps is healthy, then the descent and ascent to Dalehead and the most amazing view of the Lake District... where you can see the entire ridge that you're about to run down.
Best view in the Lakes?

I was seriously slowing down by this point, as was my headspace... I took a rubbish line off Dale Head, going far too far to the right and losing a load of time which really didn't do me much good. (I must look at that line one day!) As we hit the climb to HighSpy who should appear, but Simon Harding. Aha! I knew he would catch me up at some point, I was quite glad that it was this far into the race though... Simon Ripon on the Waltz was also there, and we were fairly well matched for the entire ridge to the end. To be fair it was mainly me going "Im exhausted" and him going "come on Tim - dyou want some food?".
Joss was up on top of High Spy, so it was good to see him out on the hills cheering us on. The rest of the ridge to Catbells was pretty much me following a trail of loads of runners, trying not to fall over and desperately trying to get the end without heat exhaustion. A gel went down, along with the rest of the shotblokz. My feet hurt, my legs felt battered, hamstrings were trying to cramp at every other step... so this was really a bit of crisis management for about 6k or so. All good practice for Jura I suppose.
It was my slowest descent to the finish ever, and I crossed the line in 3:19. Just about where I hoped I would be given the best scenario for my current fitness. 14th overall, which I was a little surprised at.

I haven't felt that bad at the end of a race for quite some time. A combination of lack of fitness, the heat and getting over a cold probably all contributed to the fact I was walking around like a zombie and just wanted to sit/lie down for a very long time. Still, with a few decent weeks of work I might be a little more up to speed for the Old County Tops, and then Jura. We shall see.

Monday, 26 March 2018

4 inns "walk" 2018

A few months ago Julien had the great idea of doing the 4 Inns walk. A little bit of history - it has been going for 61 years. 60 years ago 3 scouts died in the Alport valley due to exposure and this was part of the reason why the Peak District Mountain Rescue Organisation came to form, and was also instrumental in the formation of Glossop Mountain Rescue as a team as well.
It is perhaps because of this tragic event that the kit list required is (in my opinion) ridiculously long and complex, despite the fact that times have moved on, but that is a bone to pick for another day.

The event is organised and run by Derbyshire scouts, and as such, food is a big part of the event with Breakfasts and dinners being put on by a superb catering team. If you're going to do this, do it for the food. Don't do it if you don't like getting up early, or if you don't like running/walking with other people.
Our team of 3 consisted of me, Jules and Chris Webb (who I partnered in the OCT last year). In the weeks leading up to the 4 inns I realised that I was woefully unprepared, not really having done huge amounts of miles, and really not having been on the hill much in the past few months. Truth be told I was a little worried, despite having done a bit of a recce of some of the route over Bleaklow and Kinder with Julien. That being said, in the last few days up to the race I simply sat down and accepted the fact that no, I might not be as fit as I wanted to be, but could still get out there and suffer. So that is what I prepared to do. Running at your own pace - easy. Running at a pace set by others... well.... that's another thing.

The definition of "shorts"
Our start time was 636. Which meant that our kit check time was 536. Which meant getting to Holmbridge for 5. Which meant getting up at just before 4. Eugh. Especially when the evening prior was spent helping out with an event in the local Brewery. Liquid carbs can be good race prep, or so I convinced myself, but still managed to get to bed before 10. The community hall was heaving with teams and kit checkers. Chris eventually wandered through the door about 20 mins after Jules and I - who were standing there comparing how badly sore our throats were, and who had the worst pre-flu symptoms -  and we were duly kit checked. Yes a Sol bag counts for an individual survival blanket, yes a Blizzard bag is tog 8 and counts as a sleeping bag, yes, a BMC Dark and White Peak map counts even though it doesnt have the first 3km of the route on it - so someone else has to carry a full Dark Peak map as well. No, a polythene bag doesn't count as a survival bag, despite the fact you used it for the Ronde del Sims....

Luckily for our team, just as we were standing around a sign was put up informing us all that Shorts were indeed allowed for the day. Quite what we would have done if they weren't allowed, I don't know. Put on trousers and started cutting off the legs at various lengths until we had a level that was acceptable to the organisers?

Anyhow, eventually our turn came to start, we got counted down and out, and off we went, taking a wrong turn within 100m. (to be fair, it isn't a turning that is even on the Dark Peak map), it probably would have been handy to recce that bit. Oh well. So looking like total amateurs we took off up the lane. Road solid underfoot, we overtook a couple of teams, walking the ups and generally trying to keep an intelligent pace on the flatter sections. On the way up to Wessenden we passed a goodly number of teams, generally exchanging pleasantries, or being ignored by a minority. Not a whole lot of exciting stuff happened, apart from trying to keep our feet dry for as long as possible, but not really managing to, blatting through mud in shoes while others in waterproof boots tottered around it on bits of stone.

Up to nearly the site of the Isle of Skye Inn - the first of the 4 inns, hand in a bit of paper telling them we had gone past, and straight onto the Trigger route down the flags to Black hill. "D'you run over here much mate?" was a question... "not really" was out response... "these flags are proper 'orrible".
"yup - that's why we don't run here much".
"this is why we don't run here much...."

Down the flags, overtaking teams, a bit of a walk up to Black hill, and the mist clung around and over the moor. Perfect. We took off down a decent line which with a bit of undulation would take us to Tooleyshaw moss, the next checkpoint. The ground was boggy and gnarly, just the kind of stuff we like running on, and we made good time, chatting away and enjoying the mist. Down and up, over to the trig point that isn't a trig point, drop off the route card thing and we're told we are the first team through. Fab. We must have passed a couple more teams in the mist and didn't even see them. From now on we wouldn't see another team all race. Less like a race and more like a long day in the hills. Nice.

Crossing the dam at Torside
We jogged down to the old YHA at Crowden- a remarkably short distance to the next checkpoint, where we picked up a couple of sandwiches (with Chris showing a real weakness for Corned Beef) and headed off down towards the Woodhead on the track that eventually becomes the Pennine Way. Over Torside dam, up through the next checkpoint and onto Bleaklow.

We know this bit relatively well, living in Glossop so we pretty much stomped across from Torside to Dowstone to the wreck and the Pennine way in short order. Great stuff underfoot, generally feeling good about the day though wishing for a bit more mist - the cloud had lifted by this point and we were hoping for some serious clag. Ah well, you can't have everything. By this time Jules was feeling a little more ropey and my sore throat was coming on a bit while Chris was merrily yomping away across the moor with nary a care in the world.
Jules in his natural environment.
We congratulated ourselves on getting such a nailed-on line across Bleaklow that we totally screwed up the next bit down towards Drs Gate by dint of micro nav-ving looking for a specific trod in TOTALLY the wrong place and ending up running pretty much direct to Nether North Grain, having to detour a fair amount to actually get to the correct clough for the Checkpoint. Perhaps 5 mins extra of peat bashing, but not really too much of an issue. We dropped into Drs Gate Culvert from a new and exciting line which the CP team had never seen before (to be fair, you wouldn't unless you had got slightly misdirected on the moor). More food, sandwiches, and a sausage roll for Chris and off we went down the worst, most tedious and certainly the most dangerous part of the entire route, 2km straight down Snake road. Nice.
Food stop at Drs Gate culvert
Woodhead road was shut on Saturday which meant there was a greater volume of traffic on the Snake. We were running and tried to get it over and done with as quickly as possible, but still managed to nearly get run over by about 5 cars who refused to budge over the central line. I know that no-one has ever died on the 4 inns on the road, but they have on the moor, hence the ridiculous kit list. However- running down an A road is not safe in any way shape or form. Considering the fact there is a path running down Lady Clough in a pretty much parallel fashion makes it even more ridiculous. The fact that "traditionally" the route went down Snake should not be reason for sending 70 teams of 3-4 people down the A57 on a Saturday morning afternoon. It is inherently unsafe and I really hope they change it before someone is killed, it would be a thorougly preventable tragedy. /rant

Jules was having a bit of difficulty getting food down, a combination of too big-a-mouthful, lack of water and a dry throat and had to drop back a bit to get his breath back as we negotiated the gauntlet that is the Snake. Getting off that damn road couldn't have come soon enough, and eventually we handed in out bits of paper at the Snake Inn - 2nd pub of 4 before diving into the woods, across the river, through the ford and onto Gateside clough up Kinder.
We still have no idea how to get onto the lovely path up onto the edge and bashed through some harder ground - but no matter, it wasn't a deal breaker. I did have a "bit of a time" getting up the steeps to the top, definitely being the weaker member of the team there. Goodness knows what OCT and Jura are going to be like. I need to get some strength back in my legs for them...

Around to the top of Blackshaw and then over 7 min crossing which was heavy in snow and mud right the way across, and then the descent to Edale which we took rather gently. Knees were beginning to feel it as my muscles weren't used to so much up and down recently... good to know that it isn't anything permanent - just muscle fatigue.
Descent to Edale.

Down into Edale and along past the Ramblers (the 3rd of 4 inns) and down the the checkpoint, which was the community centre. As I handed over my bit of paper the checkpoint guy looked at me blankly for a moment, thinking I was a random walker asking for change for the carpark, before realising we were a team and were there to get fed and watered before carrying on.
A quick sandwich and water stop and off we hobbled. Most of the races that any of us had done over this way finished at this community centre - our bodies were certainly saying we should be finished, but unfortunately there was still another Inn to get to, and that was a lot further away than we wanted it to be. Jules was really hanging, my right hip was hurting and we were both, in the privacy of our own thoughts were thinking about stopping there. Chris was joyfully ready to pootle along towards Chapel and we all dragged each other along.

As we started climbing over Chapel Stile it became hotter and more humid. It felt like we had slowed to a crawl, blisters on the feet started to make themselves known and we generally started to suffer. From now on it was pretty much going to be road or track with no proper fell or boggy terrain to give us a break. This was not going to be entirely pleasant. Up through the clay clag of Chapel Stile, across the road and down the bridleway on the other side.
Just as we were going to drop down to pick up the road into Chapel we came across a bloke with a car that was stuck in the mud... "can you give us a push out, gents?" "uh... we're in the middle of a race. But, ok".
So we three got behind the car as the bloke slowly set down his shovel and clambered into his car in the most leisurely fashion before starting it up. We pushed as he rammed it into 1st gear and covered us in mud. Nice. Cramping calfs and hamstrings and a person who doesn't ever appear to have needed to de-stick a car. "stick it in 2nd! Slow revs!" shouts Julien. And sure enough, the car crawls out of the hole and back onto dry land.

Quick, run down the road and see if we can get the feeling back in the legs... and we toddle back off down to the main road. Thankfully, this one has some semblance of a pavement down the side, so we aren't actually on the road as cars rush past us at 60mph.

Jules and I were feeling especially rubbish by this point and Chris managed to magic us up some Paracetemol which sustained us into Chapel Checkpoint where more corned beef sandwiches were consumed. Off we went through the most navigationally challenging parts of the whole run... through Chapel en le Frith housing area. Some of us wanted to walk. One of us suggested we "get a shuffle on" or words to that effect, and once more, we dragged our feet forward, squelched blisters into toes again and cast out minds ahead. There was never a sense of humour failure, just a lack of talking and a resigned silence of "well, in order to get this done with, we'd best crack on as fast as possible".
The forsaken climb

Some fairly innocuous terrain followed, bringing us over to Combs, and then up Lesser Lane, a road I have climbed on a bike in the past, and really struggled on. Today was different only in the fact I didn't have a bike. From here, though, everything was pretty close in terms of check off points. From Chapel it isn't far to Whitehall, where more food was consumed, and sugar really started to be a necessity. From Whitehall it really is not far to the reservoirs at the bottom of Shining tor. Our running styles had changed somewhat from the beginning, but pretty much nothing else had. We hadn't taken off our rucksacks once. I had a pair of gloves that got put on and taken off about 100 times, and we had taken sips from our water bottles, but nothing beyond that.

Along the reservoirs we chanced upon Alice from Adventure Pedlars and stopped for a quick chat (ie. a break from putting one foot in front of the other) until the inevitable pull of the hill led us inexorably up Walker Clough. A horrible little climb that goes on at a (at this point of the day) just about un-runnable incline. Looking at the watch I was now counting down the kilometres, which I did with gusto, until I realised that I was counting down to 60km, rather than 65.... ah. So when I say its 10km to go, I really mean it is 15... aha. ha. ha. Funny, eh?
No, apparently not.
Us. Being amused that there is another 5k more than maybe I thought....

So from the top of the Clough we yomped over to the Cat and Fiddle, final Inn of the day, a quick refuel and then a thrash... well, not quite a thrash, more of a yelping hobble down another blinking road, to the only point where we were nearly navigationally embarrassed, but pulled it out of the bag at the last moment by remembering a minor detail about the route.
Cat and Fiddle checkpoint. Sugar. Water. Go.

A final dig over a hill and run down a horribly rutted and crappy bridleway that appears to have been used by 4x4s to create the worst terrain possible for anything, man or beast.
Down a road, across another one and a final run in to the end.

Not a bad time, really, and definitely time for a cup of tea and some food.
Thanks so much to Andrea for transporting us to the start and from the end, to the organising committee of the race and all the checkpoint volunteers, and of course to the catering staff. A great day out.
The best thing about long distance running is NOT long distance running when it is over.

And thanks to Chris for being a "backseat driver" in terms of Nav, but very much a front seat driver in terms of motivation and speed.
I am NOT looking forward to the speed you *think* we're going to be running at on the OCT, but I am looking forward to the challenge. 
Shiny shiny.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Inov8 Sticky Grip! Not a review.


If you are a fellrunner, and you have any presence on any type of social media, you cannot help but have noticed (or, indeed been overwhelmed) by the huge marketing push for Inov8s latest offering. X-talon “sticky grip” in various shapes, forms and sizes. You’ll probably also have noticed that there is the whole Graphene thing coming as well - that is shoes with a new, expensive material that has generally been used to make mobile phones thinner (amongst other stuff), which will apparently revolutionise the fellrunning shoe market.
What to make of all this. The new stuff, the claims, the market bombardment?


It has to be said that I am not the best one to complain about being bombarded by news of better shoe grip.... There have been various times where I’ve opened my mouth and moaned about lack of grip on fell shoes, especially on wet rock, and openly wondered when, oh when will someone create a shoe that ACTUALLY grips on stuff (as opposed to *saying* it grips to stuff). So, if inov8 have genuinely created a rubber that is excellent on grass and mud, and still performs well on wet rock, wow, they really do have something to shout about, and shout they should.


I remember when the x-talons originally came out. An amazing racing shoe that was far ahead of the pack. All the best runners wore them, all the top places in fell races were taken up by runners wearing them. Yes, a load of them got given the shoes to wear, but they were a decent shoe. It puts me in mind of the Kayak rodeo events of the early 2000’s. If you couldn’t cartwheel, you were stuffed, and the best kayak for the job at that time was the pyranha Storm. You wouldn’t get into a top 10 without one. And the best guys got given them.

Will the grip make me a better runner?

2 years ago I stood on the start line of Teenager with Altitude. It is a long race in the Lake District across some fairly challenging terrain. There is a lot of up and down, a bit of bog and it is generally somewhere you want a decent amount of grip. I had mudclaws on. Adam Perry - yes- he of Helm hill - stood there at the start line in a pair of terraclaws - which are lovely on trail, but on out and out fell? Not so much. I wasn’t going to say that I didn’t expect him to do well - I’m not that naiive… but I expected him to perhaps struggle a bit. We set off, I got to the top of the first hill before him. Then he nailed me on the next 14 miles and came 4th. I was 12th. Did the perceived lack of grip hold him back? Not a bit of it. If you’re a good enough runner, you’ll just get on with it…. Which brings me to….


Will they make me faster?

Let’s just think about this for a moment. In sports like cycling, kayaking etc, yes, to a point, the kit does make a difference. Im not saying that I’d beat Geraint Thomas up a hill on a bike if I was on a Pinarello and he was on a Chopper, but the kit does make a bit of a difference. This is why I enjoy running, it is more about your physiology and the amount you train than the kit. Although there *is* kit choice, at the end of the day, whether you are better or worse does not come down to what you are able to afford, it comes down, pretty much entirely to how much you train. Another short anecdote… summer fell race, everyone is on the line. Someone turns up in a pair of sandals, baggy shorts and a cotton t-shirt. Destroys the field. Comes 1st. (I believe he might have been British Champ at some point - or maybe Im misremembering the story). Anyhow, there wasn’t a massive rush out to buy the new Inov8 Jerusalem running sandals. It was just accepted that he was an excellent runner and, dammit, he could run in whatever he damn well wanted and he could still win.

So when the likes of sponsored runners start winning races in these shoes, and say they are the best things since the original x-talon came out, and that wow- these will revolutionise your running experience, personally, I’d be holding my head to one side and wondering a bit. Are they winning because of the shoe? Is it because they are a fairly decent runner anyway?

I suspect the latter.

And damn, if I was given a new shoe to try, develop and demonstrate, I would probably be ranting and raving about how good it was as well.


Is the grip all that good?

To be fair - never touched it - I don’t know. I do have this perspective though… sticky rubber tends to be short lived. That seems to be what makes it sticky. 5:10 C4 rubber on climbing shoes has always been awesome. My perception is that it used to be even stickier than it is now, but the amount of shoes you had to buy was absurd because the rubber wore out so fast. You could walk up walls in them though…. If Inov8 have made a really sticky rubber that doesn’t wear out in 6 months, I’ll be proper impressed. If they’ve made a shoe that actually holds together for that long, again, I’ll be impressed. I haven't seen that kind of workmanship on inov8s for quite a while.


Worth the cash?

This is entirely my ill-educated viewpoint. From a person who has not worn, or even touched a pair of sticky grips, I have to say, I really don’t know how they fit, what the grip is like, or anything like that. Personally, I recently had some money and the need to buy a new pair of shoes. The choice -£110 on a pair of sticky grips, or £50 on a pair of old school mudclaws and £60 on old school x-talons.

I must be turning a bit Yorkshire. I went for the 2 older pairs instead of the new tech.
At the level I am running at, for the moment, a snazzy pair of “cutting edge” shoes is not going to make me any faster. It won’t make me enjoy my runs any more than I currently do, and 2 pairs of shoes will tide me over for more running than a single pair.


The bottom line…

I might buy some when my current shoes wear out, but until then, I think I’ll cope. The whole Graphene thing is going to be interesting, if only because I’ve heard prices of £150 and £160 being bandied around. Jeez… I like the idea of innovation - but not at any price…. That just seems a bit much. (I may be wrong about the price point though - tis just rumour).

If this is a game changer, then yes, inov8 will have the right to shout from the roof tops… call me a cynic, but the whole massive ad campaign just seems a bit too contrived to me.

a thing of the past?