Sunday, 29 November 2009

Sunday 29 November. 19 days to go and I don't feel ready...

Another 10,000'+ week, another lack of a proper big day and another period being thwarted by atrocious weather. This week snowdonia battered me around for a bit, a week after the lakes gave me a kicking during the floods.

All in all, I don't feel as ready as I'd like to be with less than three weeks to go.

But that doesn't mean i'm not ready enough for a round. Nor does it mean that the elements won't render any amount of readiness useless in impossible conditions. Today's snow on little Moel Famau, and tales of really bad snow on the Glyderau today make me realise that the odds are much lower for Dec 18/19 2009 than they were for June 30/July 1 2007!

It's a good sign though that 10,000' feels really easy now. This probably means I'm getting no fitter but maintaining a good fitness level and hopefully a degree of hardiness. I sure this continued awful weather that is knocking me about is toughening me up for what it is getting to be an increasingly scary day.

The main thing is that I'm definately feeling strong when I run. I do feel undercooked, but perhaps I'm expecting too much.

There is still time to finish things off though, and a couple of big hill days are planned for this week which i know will help my legs and my head. I need to be happy that I can be fresh(ish) after 8 or 9 hours when the unique demands of a round, as opposed to a normal big day out, start to make themselves felt. I've only done a handful of days that long and I'm worried it's not enough, despite the fact that I've probably done more climbing in total than I did in 2007 before my summer BGR.

I was playing around with my schedule for the big day when I had a call from a friend who will be helping out on the round. He's a terrific runner, a very experienced and wise mountain man and general all round inspirational guy. He didn't realise his general "how's it going?" call did a lot to make me feel better, and boy did I need that. In a typically casual yet convincing few sentences, he made me realise that my preparation should not be measured solely in feet climbed and hours out on my feet. It's not just been four months of over 10,000' of climbing per week. Much of my preparation has been in foul weather, strong winds and poor visibility. Much of it has also been done alone. That toughens you up, physically and mentally. A winter round will be slightly harder physically than a summer one, but mentally it could be far tougher and I should feel like I HAVE prepared for that.

He's right, I have.

And this week was no exception. It was a busy week with a three day training course punching a hole in it (need to get the CV up and moving). The weather also conspired against me. I did get a couple of good off road darkness runs in with my brand new headtorch, a new Petzl Myo XP. There are bigger and brighter (and MUCH more expensive) ones out there but this was very bright and really comfortable to wear. I ran with Steve and Pete on a 7 mile, 2300' ascent route in the pitch black on Wednesday and really enjoyed it. THe paths and trods were easily picked up and i enjoyed the feeling of running in the dark. The darkness does seem to amplify slopes, small rises and distance so i must remember not to be too fazed by the fells at night - they are no bigger than during the day! I also did 6 Tattenhall railways in the dark, a new experience! Going up was ok, but coming straight down in the dark was a tough test of that torch with so many wet leaves and tree roots to potentially slip upon on that impossibly steep slope. Yeah the effort of 10,000' was covered off during the week, but they were particularly hard won.

I also had a shortened outing in Snowdonia. I arrived in Llanberis last Monday all set to do a 10,000' day but the biting wind, wet snow falling hard and saturated ground made for a risky day out on your own so I cut it short and got off with just over 3000' in the bank. I felt like i made a good decision, but was itching to stay out for longer. Frustrating.

A couple of local fellruns over familar ground and some roadruns too made for a decent week all told.

And so next week is my final full week of training before the winter BGR is finally here. It needs to go well. For my head as much as anything.

The plan is to have three days out on the hills this week, one next week and that's that, other than a few short road runs to tick over before a full week of complete rest with a massage before the day comes. Monday will see a 3000' fast run on Moel y Gamelin. Weds a day out on the bigger fells with Nick, probably about 6000'. Friday a 10 hour day in the lakes, starting in the dark, weather permitting.

Then next Monday, 11 days before the off, it's one final day out. Nice and easy paced, a steady 11 hour day over much of the round and some other lakeland fells i;ve been neglecting in the Northwestern Lakes. THen that'll be it.

Equally as important is getting the organising done and communicated. That's tomorrow's job - tables, schedules, emails, kit lists, instructions....I'm looking forward it!

So, I have a plan to take me to the end. I'm nervous and want that to turn to excitement. Couple more long days and i reckon that'll do it. Now all i need is the weather to be kind.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Sunday 22 November. Time is running out.

Blencathra in the late afternoon sun, once the flood-bearing storms had finally cleared.

For all sorts of reasons, this has been a week of very little training, just one outing. A good one, which proved that I'm both fit and hardy, and also proved that the mountain judgement is still there, but I've fallen well short of my aims this week and of my consistent 10,000 feet+ of ascent per week.

It's not catastrophic, it's not an injury or an illness, but the window for getting another couple of 10 hour+ days in is closing fast.

I blame global warming. Well I do, sort of, spuriously. I also blame the in-laws, for having the audacity to come down and decorate our hall and landing at great effort and generosity. I also blame job hunting - unemployment was to give me chances to train but an interview (which is VERY promising) meant i couldn't train that day.

In-law duty meant that i couldn't spend all day every day buggering off to the lakes and leaving them wielding paintbrushes and sandpaper. So it meant negotiating an all-eggs-in-one-basket approach to training this week, i.e. getting up to the lakes on Thursday evening and getting a big day on Friday, starting in the small hours.

This is where global warming comes in. I hoped to get to Keswick on Thursday evening, get into the YHA, get to sleep, wake at 4am and get moving by 4.30, embarking on a 12 hour trip. The emphasis on big days out is really important to help me finish my preparation and with less than a month to go and with only one 10 hour+ day in the bank, (but over nine days of over 7 hours) it's vital.

The floods put paid to that. Arrival in Keswick on Thursday night was quite incredible. I pulled up on the bridge over the Greta on station road to find that access to the youth hostel was impossible (i had to resort to a BandB, the ignomany!). The river was flicking the underside of the bridge, which was an awe inspiring and terrifying sight. That river resembled an alpine post-glacial torrent, grey and violently fast and more malevolent for being in the dark. Everything was wet. The bowling green was a river bed, the roads were streams and the chances of a long day out were looking bleak.

Keswick and St Johns in the Vale under floodwater

Dutifully, i woke at four and looked out of the window. It was a horror. Lashing rain, gales and, worryingly, helicopters above helping those stricken in the floods. I decided to give the mountain rescue lads a night in (or, more likely, one less thing to do!) and wait till daylight. It was a little less wild but still raining hard when i set off up Clough Head, resolving to get a 6,000' day in by running to Dollywaggon Pike and back. The rain and hail were relentless at first and it didn't surprise me to find I had the Helvellyn range to myself. I pushed on, finding that despite the gale force wind and full pack, I was miles up on the 23 hour schedule. I felt really strong, really good. I ran some of the climbs and dealt with the weather pretty well.

By the time i returned to the car, 5 hours after leaving it, i felt like i'd hardly been out, despite 18 miles and 6000' in my legs in that weather. That is exactly how i'm hoping to feel after one leg of the BGR so in that sense it was a reassuring dress rehearsal. But i'm troubled by the fact that i'm running out of time for the big days.

Next week sees me doing a three day course and weekend away. Somehow I need to get some 10,000' days in, not just more 10,000' weeks. It's great that 10,000' a week seems easy now, but it really is not enough.

So, Monday and Snowdonia beckon, and a 2 day BGR the week after that...planetary forces permitting...

Monday, 16 November 2009

Monday 16 November. Just about hanging on in there.

It's Monday and I'm somehow left thinking that last week's training was below par. I managed 12,500' of climbing and am feeling strong but somehow I feel uneasy.

I didn't manage a really big day. Life and and a weird lack of motivation have conspired to get in the way. It's been a tough old week.

This culminated in a new and unpleasant experience for me on Sunday. I drove out to Moel Famau to run on a fine morning and just couldn't bring myself to get out of the car and run. I was lethargic and supremely unmotivated. So, I drove home and went to the shops before coming home and cookiung a roast. Call myself a fellrunner!

There are a number of reasons for this. I am tiring a bit of the same old routes, I'm a bit tired full stop (not achey, just flat and needing my sleep), I'm troubled by my continued lack of success on the job market (interviews to come, so there is some hope) and I'm feeling generally like I need a rest.

When I look back at my recent training, I can see why. No easier weeks, not many rest days, some long days and some hard running. I think backing off for a couple of days is not going to stop me getting round. So Sunday was indeed a day of rest.

Despite beating myself up, as I seem to be wont to do, I had a reasonable week's training, after a very tough week last week.

Monday was mentally difficult - the day after the Roaches and a big week. I could have rested up but decided to go for some railways - just 3, to test how my legs were doing. I assumed I would struggle up that 1000' of steep steep climbing and was actually ok. I was delighted to find my legs responding well despite feeling really heavy. A good sign.

Tuesday was an enforced rest day because of lots of things to do

Weds - 2:15 in the Clywdian Hills, about 3200' ascent and a steady pace in the wet. Ran well at the start. Looking back at my training log, climbing Moel Famau in under 18 mins from the bottom car park was previously a decent effort. On Weds, i reigned in the effort and yet popped out on the summit in 16:10 which was a genuine surprise. I think that you expect to find running easier when you get fit, whereas it never gets an easier, but the times come down....

THurs - a steady 6 mile road run, all i had time for. Didn;t feel too good.

Fri - Was planning to do a solo bash at Legs 1 and 2 of the BGR, my big day for the week, but Richard Kenworthy called me and asked if he could come up and do Leg 1 with me as he's going to be with me on the day and he wanted to check it out. I'm really glad i sacrificed half a big day out for Richard's company (not to mention Bramble, his brilliant Jack Russell!) because i really did need to lighten up. We pottered round just about on the 23.5 hour schedule without any major effort on my part and just enjoyed the day. Whilst it wasn't a long run, it was good to feel that 5200' of ascent pass by without any tiredness.

Sat - very very heavy rain, and a shortage of motivation! I headed out for Moel y Gamelin and did 4 reps of it's short, steep and rough western slope (a 500 foot climb) having climbed there from teh valley so a 3000'+ day. I really didn;t want to go but felt OK once i got going and ran strongly up those steep, loose reps.

Sunday - nowt. All good intentions, but something stopped me going out that day...

Total - 12,500', about 40 miles.

This coming week i'm going to get out and do another 12 hour day/night. Probably legs 2 a bit of 3 (to Esk Hause) and then a bit of 4 (Gable to Honister) and all of leg 5 to Keswick. Hopefully!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Sunday 8 November. Ups and downs, lots of them...

Mickleden from Rossett Pike at dawn during a 13 hour run over legs 3 and 4 of the BGR This picture looks much better if you click on it....

Despite the fact that the last 8 days have contained some 24,000 feet of climbing, the most I've done thus far during the lead up to this increasingly real and terrifying prospect, this week has been a test for the head more than the body.

And not before time.

Knocking out over 10,000 feet each week and reducing my times on my well established training runs has been a route back into fitness and a bedrock for the winter round, but that's not enough on its own. Now it's getting closer, it's about getting out there and getting your head right.

That means long days. It also means darkness, and bad weather. It also means keeping going when you're knackered and a bit fed up. Wednesday was all about that.

I got to Keswick on Tuesday and had a bit of time that night and so managed to do quick run up High Seat, Bleaberry Fell and Walla Crag in the dark. A good chance to test my headtorch, and it's clear I need a better one. Any excuse to buy more gear....

Keswick from Bleaberry Fell, in the dark, obviously, looking a bit like hot coles on a fire (if you squint)

As for Wednesday....I was going to do the Cumbrian Traverse, but stuff to do meant i had to get a circular route in instead as i didn't have time to faff around moving cars, getting buses etc. So, I decided to get up very early on Wednesday and start in the dark, do a circular route from Rosthwaite which took in legs 3 and 4 and then to come back to Rosthwaite on the roads. This adds up to about 13,500' of climbing and 35 miles.

I have to say that starting at 4am in the dark during heavy rain was probably the start I needed from a training point of view, but it was not the one I wanted! It was tough going, with the recent heavy rain making for slow ground conditions which included greasy, trecherous boulder fields and streams in spate to negotiate. More difficult was my mood: i was in no mood for this. I went around, eating up the peaks one by one and roughly being on or ahead of the 23 hour scehule. But it felt harder than it should have, and i got real worried about my ability to do a winter round. Thoughts of postponement started to leak in.

The wet boulders on scafell pike were a worry on my own at such an early hour. One slip and i'd vulnerable to exposure as there was noone around to help me. I had plenty of kit, but didn;t want to be alone and immobile on the mountain. I decided therefore to exercise some sound mountain judgement and omit the short detour to the summit of Broad Crag, the roughest summit in Lakeland according to Wainwright with potentially leg breaking boulders at every step. This was a wise move, and a trivial saving in effort, but i still decided to beat myself up for it - as though i was wussing out.

It wasn't the weather, a heavy pack, my speed of progress or even the darkness that creating such a glass-half-empty attitude that day. It was being on my own. It really makes things much harder, and bad patches seem to be more persistent and more difficult to shake off. I had to stay positive and didn't always succeed. For those that have done solo rounds, I salute you.

But i pushed on through a decent dawn before the rain returned with a vengence. Wasdale came and went and a brief window on Red Pike made me feel better.

Wasdale through the mist from Red Pike

Then i saw the only people i saw all day, walkers on Scoat Fell. Amazingly, I knew onw of them - Graham from Dave's BGR support team appearing out of the mist! I felt so much better after a brief chat. It's clear i'm going to need my pacers on the day to keep me going mentally as well as fed physically.

Eventually, it got dark again, and i pushed through. The hardest part was the road back to the car - seemed to drag on forever. Whilst i did well to get that long day in, i was worried about my staying power. Can i do this? It is arguable that going well when it doesn't feel good is perfect preparation. I'd like it to have gone swimmingly, but everything happens for a reason.

I'm glad to say that i wasn't even on the M6 by the time i was starting to think excitedly about my next big day out. I didn't prepare for this run enough. I was dehydrated, hungry and not that fresh after cramming over 6000' into the previous three days. I wrote my mood off to that, remembered the key fact that i actually did the run alone in that bad weather and that I didn't bail out. I also resolved to keep running hard on tired legs because that's the key to doing a round.

It was for that reason that I decided to to the Roaches Fell Race on Sunday, a 4000' rollercoaster across 15 miles of Cheshire and Staffordshire. Racing on heavy legs was going to be another test for the head as well as the legs. I was just going to have to live with the fact i wouldn't race that well. I did hope though that somehow i;d pull a cracking race out the hat!

Well, i knew within half a mile I was going to struggle. My legs were just leaden from the off. Not sore, just unresponsive. I thought that 15 miles was going to be too much and almost binned it. But, I decided to forget that it was a race and just complete the course and to bank the climbing and miles. Sure enough, it got easier as i went round. No major race performance but a good steady run, with some very handy descents. I was almost feeling like turning up the effort towards the end and then my legs went on me. The last 2 miles were a plod. I'd taken no gels or food for the race and i just got slower and slower....

Still, the climbing was banked, the milage was banked and it was done. A real up and down week!


Monday - 1000', up and down Moel Famau, 16:30 up, not bad after 12 railways the day before
Tues - 1750', High Seat - Bleaberry Fell - Walla Crag, night run, felt good
Weds - Big day - BGR legs 3 and 4 as a circular from rosthwaite - 13500' ascent, 33 miles
Thurs, Fri, Sat - Rest
Sun - Roaches - 4000', 15 miles. 2:45 - very slow, steady, tough at the end

Totals - 20,000' ish. Not bad, not bad....

Monday, 2 November 2009

Sunday 1 November. Non-work/life balance...

A Land Rover parked near Bera Bach summit.
When I do get a job, I'm treating myself to an old Landy, just like this one! A real treat to see one on the open fell - no 4*4 tracks up here!

I felt quite fresh after last week's OMM and was ready for a big week of training. This was a really good sign, i.e. that 13 hours on the fells with a pack through tiring terrain under race conditions didn't appear to take too much out of me. But the big week I hoped for didn;t happen, mainly because i need to get a job.

I've been officially redundant for a month now and whilst the settlement and savings mean that things aren't desperate or even tight yet, as they are for many people who would kill to be in my position, it's fair to say that not working is starting to affect my state of mind and confidence. It's absolutely not the only show in town by any means, but unemployment is making me feel like shit.

During August and September, the "gardening-leave" salad days of late summer, getting out to train whilst on full pay was a joy! Sure I was coming to terms with a change which was unpleasant in many ways, but it was a real treat to be running and getting paid. I was job hunting too, but running was the real feature, and i got fit after months of losing fitness. Now, the urgency is increasing and the balance between the job that is jobhunting and running needs to be thought out more earnestly.

Last week I was touting myself around various Interim Managenment agencies, and the noises from them were promising. THis meant I couldn't do a 2-dayer or a big night run as planned. That's to come next week. Instead, i made do with more orthodox outings, including a couple of club runs on the road. Thankfully, I managed to get 11,000+ feet of climbing in over two very contrasting days out so the magic quota of 10,000 feet is being hit. But It's 7 weeks to go and now is the time for the long days that test your head...

I also need to start making arrangements, such as booking the hut etc. Think i'll go again with Achille Ratti hut on Dunmail again if it's free. Worked well last time...

As it was, I had a cracking day out in Snowdonia on an old favourite route of mine, a circuit from Aber which takes in Moel Wnion, Drosgyl and the Beras before dropping down to the foot of Yr Elen and climbing steeply up there before climbing Llewellyn and then the 3000'ers north. I threw in the usual minor summits overlooking Aber (ran up them all) to give a 17 mile, 6200 foot day in about 5 hours. I felt great, even a few short days after the OMM, and the night after an interval session on the roads at the club (I did feel the OMM in that).

Foel Grach summit shelter - a stone hut on a 3000' hilltop and a good place for a break and a Mars Bar

The head of the Aber valley, with the famous falls visible

Another road run followed before other things to do meant i couldn't run until Sunday. In order to get to 10,000' for the week, I could have gone to the Clywdian Hills race. Instead, I prepared loads of job stuff before deciding on a bit of power workout - which means Tattenhall railways. The most I'd ever done in one session was 10, and I ran to the top for 9 of those and half of the 10th one. That was just before my summer BGR in 2007. I needed 10 to get to my 10,000' weelkly target, but decided to go for 12, a new record and a very intense 4,000' of climb in very steep 330' bursts. Perhaps I could run them all?

Well, autumn is a different beast to spring when I ran 9 and a half of them. Then it was dry, the ground was perfect and the temperature lovely and warm. This time the railway was full of leaves, recent rain meant the sleepers were slippery as hell and running was impossible without agonisingly slipping back down every other step. So I ran the first half of all of them and walked the second, steeper half.

Well I was leg-weary after just one. The railway doesn't waste any time in exposing how tired you are. However, this was a head-training session. Long rounds are done on tired legs, so I had to keep going on tired legs here. Non elite types probably start to get heavy legs after about 8/9 hours of the BGR. I know I did. But rounds are all about dealing with that feeling, not preventing it. Iin truth, the discomfort I felt on Seargent Man during my summer round didn't get any worse until about Green Gable at which point I knew it was in the bag.

So I kept plodding upwards and back downwards, taking about 10 mins per climb and descent - pretty slow going. I ended up getting into a familar rhythm, my BGR plod. It was a freakish kind of muscle memory, lapsing into a rhythmic climb that is powerful enough to get me up steep slopes yet efficient enough to preserve strength to last over long periods. The hardest climbs were numbers 2 to 5. After that, autopiliot took over as my body remembered. My mind remembered too, and rather than thinking about each railway climb or the watch, I starting thinking about old friends, what I was going to have for tea, how Forest were going to get on against Cardiff (they drew, I was right!) and numerous other things which meant I kept finding myself mildly shocked at being at the top each time.

Finally, it feels like it's all coming back...

Week summary

Mon - rest after OMM
Tues - intervals, road 7.5M - 4*hilly lower loops at Burwardsley, @800' ascent
Weds - Carneddau, 17M, 6,200' - 5 hours, easy paced and felt great. Chilly, some cloud on top.
Thurs - 9.5M, included 2*2mile intervals at 7 min/mile - steady pace only
Fri and Sat - Rest, busy
Sun - 12 Tattenhall Railways, 4,000' ascent

Totals - 11,000' ascent/descent, @40 miles