Sunday, 26 August 2012

Bullock Smithy 2012 preview (and another significant event)

The first full weekend in September is the date traditionally reserved for the Bullock Smithy Hike. The event involves a 56 mile circuit through the Peak District which starts and finishes at Hazel Grove in Stockport and is organised by the dependable and well organised, 3rd Hazel Grove Scout Group. This year the date has further significance within the ultra running community as it is shared with both the Ultra Trail Tour du Mont Blanc (UTMB) and more significantly the Dragon's Back race in Wales. The Dragon's Back is a 200 mile endurance epic that has only been run once before in 1992. It begins at 7am on Sunday morning three hours before the Bullock Smithy presentation!
The Dragon's Back is an endurance run of unparallelled difficulty. Many consider it to be the toughest endurance race ever organised.The race involves running over the spine of the Welsh Dragon from Conway Castle in the North to Carreg Cennen Castle in the South, with the minor obstacle of 45,000ft of the harshest Welsh Mountain territory in between. The legend of the Dragon's Back is best understood by watching the footage from the 1992 event. The Independent has also previewed the race. Fellow Bullock Smithyers might be interested to know that many of next weeks Dragon's Back entrants have run previous Bullock Smithy's, including the most revered female Dragon's Backer who won the event in 1992 with her partner Martin Stone. Scan your finger down the 1999 Bullock Smithy results, It wont be long before you find her.
In 1999 I approached the summit of Chinley Churn then scrambled down to the check point which lies underneath the rocks. As usual I was out of breath after the long ascent from Furness Vale. Just as I checked in I was met by a female runner that appeared to have run the long route from Whalley Bridge. "Oh hello, that's a crafty route you took?" she said easily as she pointed to the map in her hand. I tried to catch my breath to explain that I'd run the event many times before and that the route from Furness Vale was generally favoured but the tanned, long legged female literally sprang off down the hillside towards the drinks stop at Peep 'o' Day.
That chance meeting had a big impact on me, I have never forgotten it. The female that I had encountered looked supremely fit, absolutely glowing, she had long tanned legs and was tall and thin but looked very powerful. The woman was as visually fit as I had ever seen anybody before or since. I remember trying to keep up with the woman as she bounded off with long strides down the hill. I floundered hopelessly in her wake. I was so impressed (or so embarrassed) that when I got to the roadside drinks stop I had to talk about it. "Did you see that, did you see that woman, where is she?" I asked. It was too late. I had no idea who she was but she had left for Edale Cross. I didn't see her again - not even at the finish.
I was later to learn that I had been privileged to meet Helene Diamantides (now Helen Whitaker) one of the best endurance athletes of all time and the woman who doesn't recognise gaps between male and female performance. Diamantides had driven from Scotland to take part in the Bullock Smithy in 1999, she finished 2nd in 9 hours 22 minutes then got straight back in her car and drove back home to Scotland. It is widely believed that if she knew the route as well as Bullock Smithy legend Tony Okell (previous winner of the Tour of Tameside among other notable achievements) who came home first, she would have won. Helene finished ahead of another endurance great, Mark Hartell which further underlines the significance of her run, and all whilst navigating with a map. There's a brilliant piece of footage (here at 7:47 in) where Diamantides and Stone run to a checkpoint in the 1992 Dragon's Back event. Stone appeals to find a stream or stay at the checkpoint long enough to have a drink but Diamantides is having none of it, directing that instead her partner must "take water with him" you can almost feel the desperation as if Stone re-recognises the colossal partner that he has become involved with, as he mutters "oh God". Helen Whittaker doesn't run quite as much these days but the lure of the Dragon has tempted her back. She will line up with the cream of international mountain runners in Conway again next Sunday morning. I am just as excited to see how the Dragon's back unfolds as to see how my own fitness carries me round the Bullock Smithy. To be able to witness the bravery and heroics of these people who can push themselves further than I dare dream is just as interesting for me as taking part in my own less demanding events.       
This years Bullock Smithy is again incorporated within the UK ultra distance championships. Hopefully that will attract more participants and make up for any loss of entrants who have bigger fish to fry. I understand that some of the Macclesfield Harriers regulars have a date with the dragon including another revered athlete who came second in 92. That  should leave Stockport Harriers to continue their recent dominance of the event. I am also aware of many particiants who will toil for the best part of 24 hours to hike around the course. Whether you are running or walking, looking for a time or just wanting to 'get round' it should be a good event on a great weekend for British endurance running.     
Roll on next weekend!


Sunday, 12 August 2012

Long Tour of Bradwell 2012

The Long Tour of Bradwell involved a distance of 33 miles, 6,300' of ascent, navigational mayhem, a fight with a tree and a trip to Chesterfield Hospital. Thankfully I finished.


The weather forecast had predicted a hot one. It was difficult to get out bed at 5.45am but thankfully Tracy agreed to drive so I could get a couple more hours shut eye during the journey. Bradwell  lies in the heart of the glorious Peak District. We arrived from Grantham by 8am for a 9am start and the weather was overcast but warm. lots of familiar faces were present milling about taping ankles, packing bumbags or days sacs and generally keeping busy awaiting the start. Fifteen minutes before 9am we were escorted from the pavilion to the centre of the village to gather, ahead of the start. The horn honked promptly at 9am and off we went to suffer. 

The route climbs out Bradwell and across a moor to the top of Cave Dale. I have ascended Cave Dale many times, the Bullock Smithy, the Peaker's Stroll and the High Peak 40 are but three events that I can think of that all use the route. It was refreshing, for a change to run down through the valley which is flanked by steep, limestone out crags all the way to Castleton. I had been given two separate pieces of advice from learned long tourers, start slowly and start slowly. I started gingerly and by Castleton I had woken up, the sun was threatening the overhanging clouds and I felt good about the day ahead. I predicted that the run might take between 4 and 5 hours. that was the first mistake.  

Cave Dale
After Castleton the route climbs to Hollins Cross before a straight descent to Edale. By the summit of Hollins Cross I could see  across the valley. Kinder Scout was covered in mist. I had purchased a plotted route map for £3 but I noticed the checkpoint was in a difficult position off the path at the summit of the plateau. I was a little anxious about finding the control but there were plenty of runners to follow in front of me and I had printed off some route tips which were given to me from a previous participant. We descended off Hollins Cross and ran on through Edale village pausing at a checkpoint for water and biscuits. The route took us past the Nag's Head (the start or finish of the Pennine Way) and out to climb the magnificent Kinder Scout. I was reduced to a walk up the steep winding path towards Ringing Roger. My route tip suggested a path after a small cairn. I found the cairn and the path was confirmed by another runner heading off into the mist in front of me. At the summit there was enough visibility to see the control at Druid's Stone but it involved a scramble across heather gause to get there.   After the Checkpoint at Druid's Stone a scramble back across the heather before a steep descent out of the mist and back into the Edale valley.

It was warm by now and apparent that this route involved a lot of climb including rough terrain. My initial enthusiasm and contempt was put into check as we climbed back up to the Great Ridge ahead of a run across the top to Loosehill and a descent towards Hope. The checkpoint near Hope was at Killhill Bridge at the same position as the checkpoint for the Peaker's Stroll which I had visited some weeks earlier. From the bridge the route crosses the lower parts of WinHill, then on towards Ladybower before a switch back to Bamford.

I had cast an eye over the route before leaving the start and was quite sure that we had to climb to the summit of Winhill. I knew we had to depart in a differnt direction to the Peaker's Stroll route but i was certain that we were required to get to the summit. The field of runners had by now started to thin out. I had walked out of Killhill Bridge eating a complimentary cliff bar and washing down an electrolyte drink to combat the sweat loss which I was experiencing in the warm conditions. I had to resort to the route description and map to find my way. About two miles after leaving the checkpoint I saw a sign post for Win hill. I decided to pocket the route description, save myself some time and just take a straight line following the signposts to the summmit. Thankfully as I ran merrily up the road Peter Barr of Retford AC was coming back to me. Peter suggested we had gone wrong. I protested the sign post but it was then explained to me that we weren't supposed to summit Win hill but instead run around it. I wasn't sure. I got out my map and pointed confidently to the organiser's instruction which read, in red bold type "you must visit the summit". I was very embarrassed when peter pointed out that I was pointing at the Loosehill the summit that we had just visited. Peter saved me a summit of Win hill and if you read on you will notice it was not the only time he saved me during my 'Longer Tour of Bradwell'.  I ran on to Bamford and watched Peter disappear out of sight ahead of me. 
Nick Ham - Grand Slam

After Bamford there is another difficult climb up a track apparently known locally as 'the escalator' which leads all the way up to Stanage Edge. I got lost on here too. I carried on the road, into a farm yard and out the other side. I was suspicious when I entered a field. It didn't feel right so I retreated and saw a host of other runners slogging up the escalator adjacent to the road which I had followed. I should have beared right. The errors meant I was slipping down the field, I had lost rhythm and pace and had to gee myself on a bit. The escalator was however sure to knock a bit more out of me.

My race tips had included a warning that the checkpoint control was before the summit. I was informed that previous participants in other years had missed it. Thanks to my instructions I found the control just off the path and fairly hidden from the main route. This event uses electronic dibbers to accurately record your time. I dibbed my electronic dibber which I had affixed to my wrist into the plastic hole housing, It beeped and I ran on. Just before the summit I saw Peter Barr running back again. I hadn't seem him since he ran away from me after my 'Win Hill moment'. I knew I hadn't gone wrong this time, he'd missed the checkpoint. He had ran perhaps half a mile further on to the summit and had to retrace his steps. "Soul destroying", I thought. 

Great running follows the high ridge all the way to Upper Burbage Car park. My momentum had come back. I felt like I was running through the sky, the sun was now shining brightly it was humid and there were fantastic views stretching out across the hope valley. "This was brilliant running" I thought, as I ran strongly across the ridge towards Burbage car park. I ran this section with a Paul Booth of Pennine Fell Runners. Paul was undertaking his final long run before the Ultra Trail Tour du Mont Blanc in a few weeks time. 
Crossing Stanage Edge

There are three route choices to Burbage Bridge I chose the middle route but missed a turn off at the bottom and had to ask for the help of a couple of passing dog walkers who relocated me on the map. I was pretty spent by this point and it was either ask for help or waste time helping myself, the former seemed preferable. I ran down the road, not far wrong but enough for another bevy of runners to gazump me one of which included Peter Barr! I was actually grateful to find another pack of runners, Paul from Pennine had run on stronger than I and the next section to Upper Padley was difficult to navigate. Eventually after trusting a previous year's participant we found the 14th checkpoint.

After we had all dibbed in there ensued a debate about the correct way to go. The group of perhaps six of us was split 50/50 about whether to go right or drop through the wooded valley. In a fit of pique I must have remembered my master map reading skills and decided to form my own opinion. I looked at the map and was confident we just had to head down until we would eventually find the railway. A member of the opposing group had a GPS but it was only a GPS on his watch so I judged it wasn't worth relying on, another mistake. The group split, two runners followed my and the others headed off in a different direction following the GPS strapped to the others man's wrist. Shortly after our descent I bumped into two teenage lads I asked them the way to the railway and they duly pointed in the direction that the GPS man had run. It was too late for us, they had gone and we were now further down the wood. I took some verbal instructions from the boy about how to find the railway and we ran on trying to remember them. Eventually we came out by Grindleford Railway Station. I knew the route to Hathersage from here. I had run a reverse of it on another event some years earlier. We ran on to the drinks checkpoint near Hathersage before the final climb up to Abney and on to the finish. I was pretty knackered by now and feeling the effects of the sun. I drank lots of water and ate two jam sandwiches although I didn't really feel like it.

Head Banging.
Head scratch
I left the penultimate check point which was the final drinks stop with Peter Barr (my saviour from earlier), Micheal Plummer and a couple of other folks. I hadn't met Micheal Plummer before but I found out that the Long Tour of Bradwell is his latest event in his quest to complete the grand slam of UK ultra distance running. He is attempting to complete all the races in the UK ultra distance championships. He told me that it was Nick Ham's (another grand slammer) fault that he had taken on the challenge. After hearing Nick muse about the joys of a previous year's grand slam he went home, drank a bottle of red wine and then confessed to his partner that the quality of their time together might suffer because he had decided to devote the best part of a year to training for, recceing and taking part in ultra distance running events. I hope he achieves his goal.

We ran up towards Abney through the final arduous climb of the day. At some point before the last self dib checkpoint we entered a wood with a descent. I was shuffling along quiet happily in front of the others at a fair pace when suddenly, wallop, I was flat out. I had run into an overhanging tree branch. I rose to the concern of the others who had caught up. I had not seen the branch at all. I put my hand to my head to rub the pain away but it was bleeding heavily. The others seemed worringly concerned and I was told that it was a nasty gash that needed treatment. I panicked a bit not knowing how bad the wound was. It was bleeding like billyo but I was aware that head wounds often do. Peter stepped in and saved me again! He insisted that I had the wound dressed and he dispatched from his bag two plasters which he affixed and secured with tape by wrapping the tape around my head Terry Butcher style (for those that remember). I found out post race that Peter works in pharmacy. I could not have asked to be in better company. I am very grateful for Peter's help, he sacrificed time to help me thank you very much. I also appreciated Michael's reassurance that he wouldn't leave me until the finish - great, thanks a million.

I stumbled on through the wood still concerned not knowing the severity of the wound. I kept looking at my buff which I was using to apply pressure but the buff was black and wet from sweat so I couldn't see if the wound was still bleeding. The incline in the wood went on forever but eventually I came out at the road. There was a spectator at the top, Peter had run on and Michael was some way back. The spectator questioned if I was ok after seeing me clutching the buff to my head. I asked him how bad it looked. "It doesn't look good but you should finish" was the reply. I ran on, it would have been desperate if I had to retire  at this stage, with only two miles left to run. Just before the turn up the final track I was able to do a self assessment in a car wing mirror. The wound wasn't bleeding and at last I felt a bit more confident that my head wasn't going to split it two!

Dibbing in at the finish
I ran to the finish which involved a steep descent to Bradwell village. Whilst supping tea on the grass outside the pavilion my attention was drawn to two other runners with bloody heads. After discussion with one of them it seems the very same tree had also taken him out. I thanked Peter and Micheal for their help and left for a well deserved pint in the village pub. I had finished 35th in 7 hours 10 minutes 11 seconds. I am sure I can take a chunk off that time now that I have seen the course and more importantly, I know the location of the angry trees. Ian Symington formerly of Macclesfield Harriers was first home after a great run and ahead of his attempt at the Dragon's Back later in the year....good luck!

Tracy then took me to A&E but we had to travel to Chesterfield because Buxton was likely to be closed and perhaps not able to deal with stitches. The wound is actually superficial but I thought stitches might help it heal properly and avoid infection. Sadly I passed out whilst the nurse was cleaning the wound out, what a drama! It wasn't necessarily painful but it felt like the nurse was running a knife through the middle of the cut. I've never passed out before but i was able to tell the nurse the way I was going before I hit the deck. The embarrassment of the recovery room then followed. Thanks to Tracy for bringing some food in from the car. In twenty or so minutes I was back feeling normalish and we were discharged. I wished I had let it heal itself. The day ended at a chip shop in Chesterfield where I replenished with pie chips and peas before heading back to the camp site behind the Three Stags Head at Wardlow Mires. My bed was a welcome sight but not before a pint of black lurcher of course.   


Sunday, 5 August 2012

Jagermeister 10K 2012

I was offered a lift to the Jagermeister 10k which presented an opportunity too good to miss. In truth, I'd had my fill of 10k races having run around the distance too many times just six days earlier. My team captain from the previous week's Thunder Run was the driver and together we made up the only two Grantham runners to compete the tenth anniversary of the Jagermeister race. I have no idea how a German digestif came to sponsor a low key race in Nottingham but it worked very well indeed. Stuart seemed to have more enthusiasm as we drove across to Nottingham at about 5pm on the Friday evening. I viewed the race as something of a continuation of the previous weeks nightmare endurance event.

The Jagermesiter 10K takes place within the campus of Nottingham University, somewhere behind Queens Medical Centre on the fringe of the City. The campus was pleasantly green with quiet service roads passing through the undulating campus. Adjacent to the modern student buildings is the magnificent white Portland Building which houses the students union. As we ran round a 'warm up' lap of the race course I remarked how the grandeur of the building was somewhat different to the student union that I sometimes frequented some years earlier, in city centre Liverpool.

Stuart and I warmed up by running round a lap of the two and half lap course. It became apparent that the undulations would be the major challenge. Stuart's enthusiasm had continued, as he sprinted up the first hill he recommended that I "power into the hill" during the race. I privately contemplated that I might just try and "survive" the hill during the race. The route around the service roads would eventually head out around a lake which further added to the picturesque campus setting.

The race began at 7pm. I had been lucky to get an entry. I took a chance on entry on the night and was able to pick up the second to last place even though we arrived to register over an hour before the race started. The gun fired and perhaps 200 runners set off up the first undulation. I saw Stuart head of at a pace faster than I could manage. I thought that I would try and keep him in sight but when I hit the top of the first hill he was out of sight at the other side. I didn't see him again until we shook hands at the finish! I ran on feeling a little heavy but soon finding race pace as I ran past the costa coffee shop on the campus (they get everywhere don't they?) The first lap passed uneventfully but I was glad to get out on the second lap with about 6k to run. At the start of the second lap it was good to be encouraged by Mark and Helen also of Grantham AC, who were at road side having decided to come and spectate after a day shopping in the city centre. Part of the race route ran through the courtyard of the Portland building. We had anticipated merry students enjoying a Friday evening drink but I assume the summer vacation has started because other than a wind whipping round the courtyard there was nothing else there.
A deflated finish photo coutesy of Helen Brown, Grantham AC

By the second and a half lap I was into a better pace and feeling fairly strong I began to move through the field. My biggest difficulty running 10k which I guess is fairly common is maintaining the intensity of pace and the intensity of breathing that the distance demands, too far to sprint but not long enough to find a coasting pace. The last two k ran from the lake, up a path on to a service road and the incline continued to the finish. I was glad to get back after the challenge of the final incline. I ran under the inflatable finish gantry which had deflated and was being propped up by volunteers. I met Stuart as I walked through the funnel. Stuart had nailed the course in a fast time of 39 minutes and ?? seconds (awaiting results) a big achievement given the exertions of the previous week. I was about three minutes behind.

This was a good  value race. For a fee of £12 runners received a technical t-shirt with the text "keep running and party on" emblazoned across the front. In addition racers received a running bottle, cranberry juice, sweets and of course a shot of Jagermeister! Not perhaps the most usual post race drink but I can confirm my shot slipped down a treat...