Thursday, 30 April 2015

A Day in the Dales

My poor battered shin!

With fell running not exactly being my forte, I know that I have to get out of my comfort zone a bit and get some more experience on the hills. However, So far this year, I seem to have just confimed my "Calamity Jane" status. Not only was there the hand incident in Yorkshire, but a day out on some of the Welsh 3000s last weekend saw me come a cropper again. To be fair, I think the weather played a decent part in it.....not so much the frost and ice, or the limited visibility, but the gusts of wind. Some were over 40mph - and when one of those gusts catches you on a ridge with one foot in the air, there's a good chance that your foot won't land exactly where you had intended it to. Surprise, surprise....that's exactly what happened to me, but there was little I could do except get up and keep on going. It was only when my right shin swelled to 2cm larger than my left that I realised what a hard knock I'd given it!

Still, sitting at home feeling sorry for myself wasn't going to get me very far, so I girded my loins to face the Yorkshire Three Peaks Race this weekend. A Welsh friend of mine had suggested it to me as a good training experience....though we might have slightly different perspectives on what makes a good run, as he's actually an accomplished runner (finishing a narrow second on race day!!). The race itself covers about 23.5 miles over the three peaks of Pen-Y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough so there's well over 5200 feet of climbing involved.
The week of beautiful warm, dry sunny weather boded well for the race, but as luck would have it, there was heavy rain all Friday evening and night. We got soaked through just walking down to the field for registration and so retreated to the van for a hot cuppa and to change into race kit (I decided to start with my waterproof jacket on....and didn't take it off until I was back in the van changing after the race....but at least wearing my waterproof buff and gloves meant that I had less compulsory kit to actually carry in my bumbag!).
The race itself started at 10:30am, under the finish gantry, which meant that we had a short uphill run across a field and then we were on the "main" road through Horton In Ribblesdale. Ant (Anthony Bethell) and I started at a sensible position in the field as we knew we were not frontline contenders, and over to the side in case there was any pushing and shoving off the start. We worked our way around people on the short section of road, which is a very useful start to the race as it nicely spreads the field out to avoid a bottleneck at the far end of the village when all 1000 runners turn off the road onto a rough track towards Pen-Y-Ghent. It was nice to be able to chat to someone as we started the climb up to the first summit, as he could point out other runners to me as we moved past them. I had no idea of what our pace was, but it seemed to be comfortable going, though I did notice that although we were consistently passing people, nobody seemd to be passing us, but I guessed that the faster runners had started further forward in the field.

Yippee....a road start!!

I lost Ant somewhere on the ascent (which wasn't hard to do as the weather deteriorated so that even with my hood zipped up, I still felt that one side of my face was freezing in the driving rain, and the visibility was down to just a few metres!) so presumed that he'd forged on ahead and I wouldn't see him again until after we finished back in Horton. Not being able to see the summit checkpoint until you were almost tripping over the marshals made for interesting bottlenecks at the dibbers......and it's amazing how irritated you can become by a hold-up of only a few seconds considering the length of the race (my private pre-race target was to try to finish under the 4 hour mark).
The inital descent didn't seem to be too bad , but that was just because I couldn't see what was ahead of me, as it soon steepened and the tussocky grass became more rocky. I grinned to myself as a marshal warned us to take it easy on the slippery terrain....there was no way I would be taking it anything but easy, but I think he was aiming his comments more at all the runners flinging themselves past me with gay abandon. Even when we were back on the trail we had run up, I took it more carefully than most, as I know my propensity to trip over even the most innocuous of rocks and didn't want to write myself off so early in the event. Still, by the time the steep descent was behind us, only 3 ladies had shot past me (all of whom looked like "proper" fell runners) so this gave me a wee confidence boost.
I realised that my earlier assumption had been wrong when Ant bounded past me down the hill, but as we then had several miles of more gentle undulations on trail, grass, rocks, mud and rough tracks, I caught him back up again....and I also managed to reel two of the ladies back into within eyesight (well it also helped that it was much clearer back down in the valley!). A 1.5K section on the main (well, actually it's quite a minor) road gave us some chatting time and a bit of banter as a runner I know from Carlisle (Steve Angus) passed us by. Tracy (Dean) was there in a layby as "supersupport" and managed to simultaneously take pictures, give Ant some jellybabies, and hand me a gel and bottle. This meant that I could gulp some down and then throw it away tidily at the checkpoint just up the road (Ribblehead) where other people were picking up their drinks. I was amazed to hear that I was in 6th position at that checkpoint......but thinking negatively, I worked out that meant I'd probably gone off way too fast up the first hill and might pay for it later.
The section from Ribblehead to Whernside was "interesting" to say the least. A lot of people come to support family and friends near this checkpoint so you start off with a bit of crowd-dodging (combined with puddle-dodging) on the narrow trail and then have to try to look athletic as you ascend a series of steps in full view of the supporters. After an underpass under the railway, there is a river to ford, a farm gate to hurdle, and a bog to splash through....and that's all before you start the ascent of Whernside proper.
I always seem to surprise myself with my ascending relative to those around me in the field, as I keep on running as long as I can while others start walking, and even when I end up "hands on knees walking" I still seem to be travelling at a decent speed. Not a single person passed me in the whole ascent (even at the top when I had to use my hands to haul myself up -  it was almost as steep as a ladder and I worried about falling off the hillside backwards on a couple of occasons) and I gained many places (including an all important female one!). As I powered past Steve, he asked me what my decending ability was like, and the only answer I had was a truthful "appalling"!
The weather had closed in again, and so it appeared to be a climb up into the unknown until suddenly you landed almost on top of the marshals in their high-viz jackets (full respect to them standing up there as it was now starting to snow!). I think they were trying to encourage runners but reporting that it was the end of that climb, but unfortunately it was the downhill that I was dreading! Several of the men that I had encouraged on the way up then shot past me on the way down, including Ant and Steve, (with Steve commenting that my descending wasn't "that bad", it was just "average" - I wasn't sure whether I was meant to take that as a compliment or not) and I slipped back into 6th female position again ;-(  I spotted the familiar vest of Claire Gordon (my Scottish team mate from Pike's Peak last summer) away in the distance below me and so managed to catch her up just by the next checkpoint, and we commiserated each other on how much we hated technical descents.
Chicking Steve © Mick Kenyon
A quick slurp of drink from Tracy at the road crossing/checkpoint and I was off towards Ingleborough, the last of the three peaks (though again it was shrouded in cloud and so almost invisible). My legs still felt remarkably fresh across the grassy slopes and again I managed to keep running on the boardwalks and paving slabs even when they ascended and became more step-like (well, most of the time). It seemed like several of us had been to-ing and fro-ing all day. It is obviously more noticeable when you pass the same lady every ascent, only to be caught again on every descents, so this time I asked her for "1/4 of her descending ability". The cloud lulled me into a false belief that a steep scramble would bring me out near to the summit, but it did land me next to a supporter handing out very welcome jelly babies. This time I got to give Steve a pep talk as I passed by and then I suddenly I heard an encouraging shout from Ant who came bounding out of the clag in the opposite direction. Not far behind him was another lady  - I'd never in my wildest dreams thought I'd see one of the top 3 ladies so late in the race. As it turns out, I was only 40s behind her at the top of Ingleborough.....though obviously this opened up to several minutes by the time we got back down to the bottom. There was some tape showing the general direction to leave the summit, which was a godsend really, as it was rather disoriemtating to be in a complete whiteout!
About to be overtaken again © Mick Kenyon
It was on this descent that I'd tripped and cracked my hand 6 weeks earlier. I knew it had been due to me failing to pick up my feet as my legs had been tired, so I was determined not to make the same mistake again. Luckily there was nobody running anywhere near me, or else they'd have heard me chanting "pick up your feet, pick up your feet" over and over again. It might have sounded stupid, but it worked, as I passed through the area safely. Looking back, I realise that it probably took up an awful lot of mental energy worrying about it, as the relatively straightforward few miles to run in from there seemed interminable to me, and the finihs couldn't come soon enough. My nemesis didn't pass me until the last couple of miles, but she was much more on the ball picking her way through rocks and mud than I was - still no falling, but I did stumble and lurch into a wall at one point ;-(
In the finish funnel
I was rather worried that I had gone the wrong way as there seemed to be nobody around at all, but luckily some men caught me up with a mile to go which meant that I could be a bit more confident and pick up the pace again as the finishing field came into sight in the distance. A final small hill to power up and down (with a cheer from Ant who'd run out to spot me) and I was into the finishing funnel with a smile on my face!
Somehow I'd managed to finish in 5th place (and hence then had a  compulsory kit check) and smashed my pre-race target despite the conditions (my dipper download was 3:44:44) so I was over the moon!! No injuries, a confidence boost, some hill training and all in all a great day out with friends - what else could you ask for on a wet, windy Saturday in April?

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