Sunday, 18 September 2011

Ponton Plod 2011 - DNF

It would be easy to dwell on the negatives of pulling out of the Ponton Plod and although I am disappointed it happened at a relatively good time in the running year. The previous Wednesday I had been out on a usual 5 mile lunch time run when a mile or so in I plugged my foot in a pothole and twisted my ankle. I've an increasing history of left ankle sprains, each time the ligaments seem to get weaker and weaker. I managed to carry on running, although my foot was sore it was only a minor twist and I went back to work with only a little swelling. I resolved to rest until race day the following Sunday. By Sunday the swelling was gone and I travelled to Great Ponton, near Grantham optimistic about my chances to run well. I had run round the 27 mile route  a few weeks previously (see report below) so I knew the route well. The sun was negotiating the cloud, it was cool and ideal for running. After registration I returned to the car and taped up my ankles using more tape than usual on the left side. There's a debate about the advantages and disadvantages of ankle taping. There's an argument that taping gives extra support but alternatively some consider taping counter productive because it interferes with the ligaments natural ability to strengthen itself. I am a fan. I use 5cm zinc oxide tape which doesn't affect my running movement but gives me psychological confidence to run across uneven ground. With the exception of today I haven't turned my ankle whilst using tape. 
Running well to Buckminster
The Ponton Plod has 12, 17 and 27 mile options. I ran out through Stoke Rochford and watched three runners in front peel off along the 17 mile route. I had considered that I was now at the front of 27mile field but on reaching the first checkpoint at Buckminster Water Tower I was surprised to learn there was a runner ahead who had blitzed through about twenty minutes earlier! I was later to find out that he is a 2:35 marathon runner and he was certainly showing his form. I plodded on towards Saltby the sun had come out, it was a lovely cool bright day and I was running strong and happy. The route between Saltby and Croxton Kerrial crosses uneven ground. The trail is full of hard mud clumps hidden under long grass. I was conscious that my ankle was weak due to the previous Wednesday's minor incident and I was being careful with my foot plant. I almost made it to Croxton Kerrial. There is no warning when it happens and it doesn't matter how hard you are concentrating, all of a sudden the foot turns inward it feels as if the joint momentarily dislocates followed by a grim popping sound that makes me wince thinking about it. I tried to carry on, sometimes I can but today the sprain was obviously worse as it hadn't healed properly from the previous Wednesday. I limped into the checkpoint at Croxton Kerrial and retired.
I was more disappointed because it was such a good day for off road running, perhaps one of the last sunny days before the horrors of winter. Thankfully my partner came to pick me up, in the meantime I enjoyed a cup of tea and a slice of cake. I returned to Great Ponton and to pick up my bag and reluctantly took advantage of some delicious parsnip and apple soup and apple pie and cream. It was good but it doesn't taste the same when you haven't earned it. Many of the 12 and 17 mile entrants had returned and were basking in the sunshine and their glory. The Ponton Plod is a great event, organised by Stuart Ashley and friends from Notfast Runners. Stuart is a long time long distance walker his achievements include completions of two LDWA '100's" and even a Bullock Smithy! The Plod is to be recommended, well organised, a decent mainly runnable route and great food at the finish. Just mind out for the ankle twisters!        

Monday, 5 September 2011

Bullock Smithy 2011

Steve Holt and friends get ready to strike the anvil.
Some 250 people made their way to Devonshire Park in Hazel Grove to take part in the annual 56 mile hike through the Peak District. The anvil was struck at midday on Saturday releasing entrants out towards the Peak District National Park. The weather was humid with a covering of cloud and the threat of a storm that never materialised.

Despite the warm humid conditions the course record of 8:55 set earlier by Andy Trigg fell to a classy performance from Stockport Harrier, James Scott-Buccleuch who blitzed the course in 8 hours and 46 minutes. Stockport Harriers dominated the event taking the Windgather team trophy with a combined time of 28 hours and 29 minutes much to the upset of Macclesfield Harriers who have held the team trophy for some 15 years previously. Philomena Smith of Goyt Valley Striders was first lady home in 12 hours 23 minutes sporting a fluorescent head band to light her way. For all the heroic stories of the runners up front spare a thought for 15 year old Orla Hague who accompanied by her Dad, Andy used the full 24 hours to complete the event, a fine achievement. The Bullock Smithy 2011 was another great success overshadowed to a degree with the news that a friend had fallen at Miller's Dale breaking her jaw in four places and requiring surgery. All the best for a speedy recovery.
Approaching Brand Top with Julian Brown
Steve Temple climbs Bow Stones later finishing in 10 hours 10 minutes
I felt good through the first few stages. The initial climb to Bow Stones passed quickly and I paused only briefly at the first check point to take some liquid. As I descended towards the Moorside Hotel I could see the front runners who had already established a lead as they crossed out in the distance towards Whaley Moor. I felt strong climbing Chinley Churn and managed a trot across to Big Stone to the check point at 10 miles. The route then descends to peep-o-day before the biggest climb of the day to Edale Cross at 1800 feet. Things were going well and I pushed on taking a few risks down the steep stepped Jacob's Ladder. I ran too fast into Edale and started to pay the price. Despite two cartons of rice pudding and fruit and copious amounts of juice I began to struggle on the steep climb to Hollins Cross. By Castleton I became a bit dejected, the wheels seemed to be coming off and I was only 20 miles in with
1st place - James Scott-Buccleuch 8:46 wow...
36 to go. I left Castleton for my preferred route up Cave Dale, some prefer a steep climb up Goosehill followed by a more even runnable plateau. At Cave Dale I was caught by Nigel Aston who seemed to be running strong. We watched a dog that had chased a sheep up the steep valley side and was involved in a protracted stand off. The sheep occasionally butted the dog as the dog stalked and yelped. Eventually the owners began to climb the steep valley side to catch the dog. A child cried with worry in case the dog became so occupied that it wouldn't come back. We didn't see the conclusion we had a Bullock Smithy to continue!
I was still struggling and  trying to work what was making me feel so ropey so early in the event, the legs were fine but energy levels seemed lacking. Nigel ran ahead and when I finally approached the summit of Cave Dale I saw Julian Brown in the distance. Julian had taken the Goosehill route and despite leaving Castleton shortly behind me, he arrived at the summit of the valley quicker. The sight of two compatriots making distance on me added to my woes and I contemplated if things might get so bad that I might have to retire, such thoughts are usual 30 miles in but not after only 20 or so miles. I decided to take a bit more time at Peak Forest checkpoint taking on plenty of food and the first High Five energy powder of the day. I shuffled out of checkpoint 7 at 24 miles and up the road eating a banana.
Crossing the stile at the top I glanced behind to see another entrant gaining on me. By now the food and powder were taking affect and I decided it was make or break time. I didn't want to be passed again. I would have to kick into a steady pace and maintain it to Miller's Dale or my event would be shot. I began to jog steadily until I was able to run and gradually picked up the pace. I know through experience that a common feature of ultra running is that you can feel dejected, demoralised and knackered one minute and quite elated and full of bounce the next. I pushed on with renewed vigour gaining on and eventually passing Nigel Aston just before Miller's Dale. 100 paces walking then 100 paces running was the recipe for the stiff climb to the A6, I squatted at the top to relive the strain in my muscles and then pushed on knowing that there were flater runnable sections to Chelmorton and on to Earl Sterndale, things were looking up. A doughnut at Chelmorton checkpoint helped me to catch up with Julian Brown of Macclesfield Harriers. Julian had cycled 800 miles (yes 800 miles) the previous week in an event called Paris-Brest-Paris completing the event in 78 hours, an achievement so big that I struggle to understand the perspective of it, incredible.
Just after Cumberland Cottage (43 miles)

I ran with Julian from Earl Sterndale at 35 miles back to the finish and was grateful for the company. I felt good leaving Earl Sterndale and my early race woes were but a distant memory. We kept a good pace to Brand Top following the sound of the barking dogs in the distance. Julian took the road out of Brand Top but I preferred the fields, for the second time Julian's route choice prevailed and I had to put some work in on the way to Three Shires Head in order to catch him up. Further motivation was provided by knowing that we would arrive at Cumberland Cottage before night fall making the descent through Cumberland Cut more manageable.
Nigel Aston with support crew
It was good to see my partner taking a video of us shortly after leaving Cumberland Cottage at 43 miles before the monotonous slog towards Walker Barn. I was too tiredto face Charity Lane and opted for the slightly longer but less hilly road route to Walker Barn. On reaching Walker Barn at 47 miles and only 9 miles left to run I worked out that a sub 10 hour time wasn't really possible. I was far from bothered, it took any pressure off the last few stages. The last thing I wanted to be doing was bombing down the Middlewood Way touch and go for sub 10, I was simply too tired for the effort today. As we arrived at Walker Barn, Steve Temple was just leaving. I hadn't seen Steve since Edale some 29 miles earlier (and I didn't see him again until the finish!) I donned my leggins which usually gives me a couple of miles respite from leg strain and we shuffled on to Whiteley Green stealing through the lanes and passageways of Bollington using local knowledge. By Whiteley Green at 51 miles I was pretty tired and encouraged Julian to run on, despite his 800 mile cycling epic he was running stronger than I and I watched his headlamp disappear down the disused railway track.
Finish 10:19, high five Trev!
The last 5 miles of the Bullock Smithy involves some 2-3 miles of disused railway in the dark it all looks the same, it's straight and it goes on forever. The only way to deal with it is to keep your head down, switch off and keep momentum, one foot in front of the other, repeat. Gladly I seemed to arrive in Higher Poynton a bit quicker than previous years and on climbing the steps to the road I met Julian again. We ran on steadily through Higher Poynton and down the pot holed Towers Lane to the A6 and the final half mile to the finish. As usual I was very glad to finish, this year in a time of 10 hours 19 minutes, joint eighth position. We retired for the legendary "fry-up" preceded by congratulating the Stockport Harriers who were celebrating their fine achievements with Stella and Champagne!
Geoff Pettengell runs home topless
Many thanks to the organisers and volunteers especially the check point staff and congratulations to all who completed the event especially those who walked through the night and took the best part of the allowed 24 hours to complete the event. Next year's Bullock Smithy will no doubt take place on the first full weekend in September. Me? never again....well perhaps one more....