Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Something Different - A Cycle From Grantham to Hazel Grove

Bike and I on another day
In hindsight it was perhaps inevitable that after moving 90 miles East from South Manchester to Grantham  it wouldn't take long before I started to think about running or cycling back "home".
Running 90 miles doesn't really appeal unless it is part of a big event, but cycling seemed a realistic and enjoyable challenge. So cycling from Grantham to Stockport was an ambition that I have had for the past six years but one that I have never got round to fulfilling. Then, last week, an ideal opportunity arose. Tracy and I had been invited to a family party in Macclesfield, there was no running planned that weekend, it was close to the summer solstice meaning I could get up extra early and take advantage of quiet roads and Tracy would be following in the car some time later. If I got too tired I could simply find the nearest café or pub and retire gracefully until the carriage and driver came to pick me up. The challenge was then set.....
The alarm sounded at 4:15am and by 5am I was outside the house, resetting the on board computer before pushing off along Dudley Road and through the desolate streets of Grantham. As I climbed out of Grantham by the Muddle go Nowhere public house I looked back to see a bright sun rising over Grantham setting a summer scene that would last for the rest of the day. The plan was to cycle along the A52 towards Nottingham. A cautious cyclist would usually avoid the A52 because of the quantity and the speed of the vehicles but I had left purposefully early to avoid the traffic. I suspect that I was only passed by about ten vehicles between Grantham and Bingham.
By Bingham I had a major decision to make, it was still early, approximately 6.15am, perhaps I could risk carrying on directly through Nottingham City centre and North to Hucknall or alternatively I could take a route through Bingham and over Gunthorpe Bridge avoiding the urban sprawl. I had predicted two major obstacles to this challenge, the first was navigation and the second saddle soreness. If I took the Gunthorpe Bridge route I would have to keep stopping to navigate via Google maps on my smart phone, If I went through the city I knew most of the route through to Hucknall. I pondered the decision for sometime as I travelled down an A52 that was so straight in parts it resembled a long airfield runway. In the end I decide to take Gunthrope Bridge, if nothing else it would be an adventure finding my way, it turned out to be a very good decision.
A Well Earned Breakfast
By Gunthrope Bridge I was about 20 miles into the cycle and feeling good. I was happy with the accomplishment of gathering a back pack, getting my bike ready and actually getting out of bed at a stupid hour. There is a certain excitement to being part of an ultra early morning things, I don't see that part of the morning very often, things were looking good. I cycled about four miles up the A6097 past Lowdham before stopping to consult the map. I picked an initial route through Woodborough to Calverton and on to Papplewick. It quickly became apparent that the decision to avoid the city centre was a good one. The villages to the North East of Nottingham are picturesque and quaint. The quiet country lanes made for excellent cycling amongst the wildlife that was just stirring in the post dawn sun. I had carried two bottles of high five electrolyte, I slugged occasionally as I cycled towards the M1 bridge crossing just before the village of Selston where I had planned to reward myself with a rest.
I sat on the bridge over the M1 and ate granola bars and chocolate raisins. It was about 7:30am, the sun was now shining brightly I had cycled about 30 miles and I was having fun. I assessed the next part of the route. I had planned to hit the Peak District at Cromford. I knew the excellent Torrs café at Cromford would make an excellent next resting point and I could look forward to a cup of tea and, if I could stomach it, a bacon sandwich. The route that looked best from Selston took me through Pye Bridge to Somercoates on to Pentrich and Park head through to Crich before the final leg to the breakfast stop at Cromford. 

As I crossed the border from Nottinghamshire into Derbyshire it was striking how the landscape changed. The quaint leafy villages of suburban Nottingham gave way to a tired former industrial landscape where factories appeared in remote locations flanked by overgrown tress and shrubs. Some of the villages in the Amber Valley looked similarly run down and in contrast to the cheery "good mornings" that I had enjoyed from passing folk in the early cycle I was now met with more weathered expressions of suspicion as I cycled a bit more speedily through! The other noticeable difference was the hilliness of the Derbyshire terrain compared to the flatlands of Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire through which I had already passed. I put doubt to the back of my mind, reminding myself that the hills would get much worse on the High peak! I slugged some more drink and powered on.
I kind of happened upon Crich and paused for a photograph by the statue in the village. I didn't linger for I knew  Cromford wasn't far away and I looked forward to tea and bacon at the Tors café. I arrived at Cromford at approximately 9am. I was now exactly 50 miles into the cycle and although I was starting to tire, I felt good enough to eat an egg with my bacon barm, washed down by a cup of coffee (I meant to order tea, perhaps a further indication that tiredness was creeping in?).
The Tors Café is a fine establishment, described as:
A fine tradition of splendidly basic transport cafe populated almost entirely by blokes in dark blue corporate poloshirts and safety gear. Truck drivers, delivery men, workers from Severn Trent. They don't trouble the menu with any fancy stuff, just basic cobs and fry-ups (for more information see here)
The Tors at Cromford

The café also has a loyal following of cyclists and last Sunday I was one of them. For £2.90 I enjoyed a bacon and egg barm with a mug of coffee, fantastic and just what I needed to help me gird up my loins for the serious ten mile ascent to Newhaven which I knew was about to follow. There would be no more need for the smart phone now, I knew the route all the way back to Hazel Grove. I had prepared for the ten mile slog up to Newhaven and from there I knew that I would be on top of the High Peak with an excellent undulating cycle with magnificent peak district views. I slugged more drink and cycled onwards plugged additionally with caffeine, bacon, egg and electrolyte, just what I needed for the climb.
The climb to Newhaven wasn't as steep as I remembered but it did go on a bit. Ten miles later and after 300 meters of ascent I arrived at Newhaven feeling so tired I had to have another brief stop. I was now 60 miles in and my legs were feeling the strain, time to focus on the positives again. The next major accomplishment would be reaching Buxton. I pondered the High Peak trail as a flatter alternative to an undulating A515 but a disused railway track didn't make sense on racing tires. I slugged some more drink and set off towards Buxton. The A515 was a bit busy and for the first time I felt a bit vulnerable to the four wheeled bullets that's whizzed by.  There was more need to feel vulnerable as the "Outlaws" were gathered at a roadside petrol station and they looked quite menacing in the black leather jackets, long beards and "fat" motorbikes.
I was glad to reach Buxton where the realisation that I had a good chance of making the distance began to sink in. There were now about 15 miles of cycling left, I could do this! there was another decision to make, should I go straight down the busy A6 or take on another climb up the A5004 towards Goyt Valley? I chose the climb. In honesty I was feeling pretty good. I had some unusual pains around my groin and ankles and as predicted my saddle area was mighty sore despite the two pairs of padded shorts and further pair of half length leggings. Despite the minor ailments, I was in pretty good shape. I deviated slightly at Buxton to visit the natural spring. I filled up my water bottles, took another slug and cycled on.
Towards Goyt Valley
The climb up to the Goyt Valley road ruined me but I was rewarded by great views towards the reservoir below. It was good to be back in familiar surroundings, a curlew flew overhead to remind me that I wasn't far from home. I had another impromptu rest at the top of the climb and was joined by various other resting cyclists. It seems cycling  is booming. On the fast descent towards Whalley Bridge I passed cyclist after cyclist each a stranger yet all of us nodding knowingly to each other in appreciation of the great sunny day which we had seized. I arrived at Whalley Bridge after a storming fast descent hampered only by occasional cautious squeezes of the brakes as I reminded myself that It would be better to get to Hazel Grove in one piece.
After Whalley Bridge I joined the A6 and cycled towards New Mills on to Disley before the final fast descent to Hazel Grove. When I left Grantham I had intended to cycle to Macclefield but I had made such good progress I would have been too early for the family function which would have meant ended the cycling at a place of no significance. At Cromford when I realised I was likely to make the distance I decided to carry on to Hazel Grove and finish at Torkington Park where I spent many happy hours in younger days.
The Council House
6 hours and 30 minutes after leaving Grantham I arrived at Torky Park after 87 miles of brilliant cycling, what a great adventure. I cycled to the council house and did a lap of honour round the roundabout at the front. I free wheeled down to the Rose Gardens, ate what I had left and washed it down with some slugs from the drink bottles. Tracy arrived in the car shortly afterwards. The bike was transferred to the boot and we were off to do family duties and reflect in a successful ride.     
For those that might be interested my route is described more fully below:
Grantham - A52 to Bingham - Gunthorpe Bride near East Bridgford - A6097 to Moor Lane - Moor Lane west to Calverton - Burnstump Hill - Papplewick - Linby - A611 to Salmon Lane - West to Selston crossing M1 - Pye Bridge - Somercoates - Swanwick - Pentrich - Crich - Holloway - Cromford - A5012 Grangemill and on to Newhaven - A515 to Buxton - A5004 towards Sandy Lane and on to Whalley Bridge - A6 to Disley and on to Hazel Grove
NB) The cycle could be continued along the A6 for approximately 4 miles to Stockport where there are regular direct trains back to Grantham.




Sunday, 9 June 2013

Notts 10 2013

The Notts 10 mile race runs round two and a bit laps of Holme Pierrepont National Water
Sports Centre in Nottingham.
GRC - A Fine Race in the Summer Evening Sunshine.
The route is more or less two circumferences of a specially constructed water feature which looks like a massive rectangular lake. The reservoir of water stretches for 2000m and is used by national rowing teams and other water sports people. When we arrived at 6pm on a Friday evening the sun was shining brightly on the lake which was being used by swimmers who looked like they were triathlon training. We watched their heads bob up and down as the swam in single file wearing wet suits, it looked exhausting, their bodies looked small yet busy as their arms rotated and their legs kicked set against a mass of water that stretched out as far as the eye could see. I had my own exhausting activity to contend with so I went to warm up with other club members. There was a good turn out of Grantham runners who had also converged near race start. An advantage of this race is that you could enter on the day. A Friday evening race is unusual but the 400 or so runners that lined up at the start was a testimony to the popularity of the event, what better way to let off steam after a tough week at work? 
The Water Feature
The gun fired at 7pm I had managed to place myself towards the front of the field to ensure a swift start. I had run this race once before possibly five years ago. I remembered my previous Notts 10 being a bit of a grim one, flat but tough in a strong wind. There is an additional mental challenge to running round a water feature where you can see the rest of the route at the other side. If it wasn't for the trees that lined the access road you could probably see all of the route all of the way round. The mental challenge comes from looking across the lake and thinking "oh dear, I have to run right round there and then back here and then do it twice and a bit more!
Dave Kaye - GRC
As I emerged back to the path adjacent to the lake after leaving the access road for the first time I could see the front runner and lead car on the opposite side. The first man was motoring and had already established a good lead from second place. I ran on through a gaggle of geese that hissed occasionally and seemed sorry to have their ambiance interrupted so abruptly . After crossing the short part of the rectangle I was back down the other long side of the lake back towards where we had started but on the opposite side. The lake is flanked by loud speakers which no doubt provides a good commentary on rowing days for spectators that line the banks of the lake. The PA system doubled nicely for running race commentary. The whole complex lends itself to a decent running race, the long straight sections mean less marshals are needed and some parts of the course are passed by runners three times meaning only one water station is needed. As I passed  closer to the buildings near the start on the opposite side I took interest in the race commentary. It was odd to listen to commentary of a race in which I was running. It seemed, according to the commentator that the first lady was just in front of me, something to aim for on the second lap. I had another target, club mate Dave Kaye was about 30 seconds in front, I'd do well to catch him but it was something else to aim for in the second perimeter.
I was able to keep up a decent pace on the second lap. A gentle breeze took the edge of the heat from the evening sun leaving perfect summer running conditions. There was energy to be released which had been built up after a week sitting at a desk at work. Friday's race was one of those good ones where everything clicked and in contrast to  my previous Notts 10 I was enjoying myself. This was one of those early summer evenings that are longed for during bleak mid winter nights. 
Race Start
By mile 8 I could still see Dave Kaye but he was still a similar distance in front it seemed unlikely that I would catch him. There were now perhaps three others between me and  Dave. I felt good and I thought that would try and hammer out the last two miles and see who I could pull in. I passed at least two in the final couple of miles and had a good sprint down the last few hundred metres. Each runner received a t-shirt with a terrible joke written on it, something like, "If you're reading this sign and its vertical you have had too much to drink"? After a rest I ambled over to the rowing spectators seating area and sat with other club members. We watched other runners return and we discussed the terrible t-shirt joke.  I didn't manage to pull in Dave Kaye who was first GRC home. I ran 1:05 ish. After checking my results archive I  notice that I ran the Stockport 10 back in the day in 1:05:24 so this years Notts 10 might just be a pb. I await the official results. Ben Mason used his good form to PB by over a minute and so we went to celebrate in some of Grantham's finest drinking dens.

Since the 100 attempt my foot has continued a good recovery. I've managed to keep up a bit of training and I raced the race described above. The day after the Notts Ten I was surprised to receive a letter in the post from Plymouth Hospital. Apparently the senior radiologist has reviewed my x-ray and thinks that I may have a "very subtle fracture at the base of one of my foot bones". The letter confirms that it will heal itself and no treatment is necessary. There is still a dull deep discomfort at the part that swelled but ten miles at race pace didn't make it any worse, I just hope it will sustain the longer Peak District events that I have planned through the summer.     


Tuesday, 4 June 2013

LDWA Camel Teign 100

My second attempt at the 100 mile distance ended with another “did not finish”.

Afore we went
This year the journey ended high on Dartmoor at about 67 miles after a beautiful sunny day running in ideal conditions.  I had carried a discomfort in my foot for perhaps the 30 previous miles but it was only superficial through those stages .  I thought the discomfort was nothing more than the tongue of my shoe digging into my foot which had caused a trifling soreness on the top of my right foot, such problems are to be expected. By Tavistock the discomfort had got much worse and I was struggling to flex my foot. I changed my shoes and socks at Tavistock, the checkpoint penultimate to my retirement and I was confident that the softer shoe would remedy the niggle that had been felt each time my foot left the ground. On the way to Princetown our pace slowed and the pain got worse. By the time I reached the checkpoint I knew I couldn’t carry on. Ultra running is about fighting through pain and finding ways to deal with problems that arise but I simply couldn’t see a way out. I was hardly able to flex the foot and flexing the foot is a requirement of running, especially when the running involves another 30 miles. The damage assessment at Princetown confirmed that things were not looking good. The foot had swollen in two particular localised areas, the first towards the bottom of my leg where the leg meets the foot, a bit like a sprained ankle, and the second a further more severe swelling half an inch further on, at the top right hand side. 

The leg before I retired seen during the day. We ran up the path towards cam through the bridge in the distance.
The decision to retire is never easy but the announcement of the decision to those around you is the hardest part of all. This year I had enjoyed an unarranged grouping with six other people. It just happened that as it went dark I was running at similar pace and we all kind of congregated at or between checkpoints. We then ran on together into the night. Most of the night section was high and remote and part of it went through a sprawling forest with maze like paths in various directions. It seems that for most LDWA 100 milers the more remote the route the better the experience. At 2am at 400m above sea level on Dartmoor with no artificial light to be seen in any direction I was more than glad of company both for morale and assistance with navigation.  The five of us had progressed well, Mark Garratt had navigated with stellar precision and Geoff Holbert had confirmed the navigation a few paces away. We supported each other over the long drag to Princetown and I felt quite embarrassed and ashamed to have to confess to the others that I was pulling out. I hadn't complained about the foot problem during the previous sections so the announcement came as a surprise. I was later to learn that Mark thought I was joking!

Mark Garratt second home in 23:33 casts a spell on a bottle of drink for extra energy.
Just after 2am I reluctantly watched the others leave the primary school which was being used as a makeshift checkpoint. The others stole back out into the night and across the dark moor in the shadow of an imposing Dartmoor Prison which was eerily illuminated by a big moon. I was left behind with Tracy who had supported the run throughout the day and who in addition to the checkpoint staff had made attempts to get me to carry on. The foot swelling got worse with rest and when I tried to stand, it couldn't bear weight. We drank some of the ale which was provided by the ever friendly and helpful checkpoint staff and then we left, me feeling sad that my second 100 attempt had ended in another DNF. We drove to Plymouth Hospital to get the foot checked and I looked out of the car window thinking of the others somewhere deep in the moor. At the hospital there was a handful of other patrons including a prisoner from Dartmoor handcuffed to a guard. The x-ray proved inconclusive but the doctor suspected a stress fracture of the metatarsal. I was advised to rest (that was a given) and have the foot x-rayed again on return to Grantham because apparently stress fractures take time to reveal themselves. When we left the hospital the sun had come up and we were very tired.

Julian Brown 24:59 & I
Despite my personal woes I had another great adventure and met some remarkable people. The six of our night crew were originally Colin Travis, Mark Garratt, Julian Brown, Geoff Holburt, Phil Gwilliam and I. Geoff Capps had dropped of the pace slightly before nightfall. I'd met Geoff earlier in the day, his GPS was failing and he asked me to confirm the route. We ran a few legs together and I was grateful for his company. It turned out Geoff was from Salford and we shared a kind of Mancunian connection with me hailing from Stockport. Geoff's GPS recovered and so I ran on a bit after Callington which was when I caught up with the six members of the night crew. After Luckett at 48.4 miles we ran through Blanchdown Wood. The wood was more like a forest, It was dark and it was uphill and it seemed there were paths in every direction. I was grateful to have company and I feared for Geoff somewhere behind running by himself with an occasionally failing GPS. The results show that Geoff made it to the finish - fantastic if only to get through that wood in one piece.
More stories or stoicism abounded at Tavistock. We were now 57.3 miles in and darkness was now well set in. I sat in the checkpoint eating porridge with whisky. I had been offered whisky as an alternative to honey or syrup and I gave a joking nod in appreciation of the joke ..... It wasn't a joke. These events are a bit eccentric and a bowl of freshly brewed porridge duly arrived complete with a wee dram of Scotch to warm my cockles. The six of us had seated wearily and erratically at different tables. We must have looked like a disjointed shambles all sat remotely making use of the space, the checkpoint volunteers attended to our needs. As I changed my shoes to relieve the tension in my foot, I noticed voices of concern for Geoff who was sitting behind me. I looked to see Geoff shaking uncontrollably, his limbs moving with a rhythm similar to the chatter of his teeth. A volunteer stood by him looking a bit concerned. I had seen enough, I also felt concerned and decided to return to my porridge. As my head swung wearily back I caught sight of Colin. Colin was sitting with his head in his hands and when someone asked him if he was ok he raised his head to display a pale sickly complexion. Colin wasn't good either. This was a low point of the day we were 57 miles in after running through a beautiful sunny Cornwall in ideal conditions, but the efforts were taking their toll and it wasn't nice to witness. I still felt strong but watching others suffer makes you worry if you might be next to face grief. I was surprised about the suffering because we were only just over half way and I knew these folk were well experienced at longer distances, perhaps the heat of the sun was taking its toll? Geoff was enthusiastically dismissive, "I'll be fine when we get going". Colin displayed less optimism, in fact he displayed none at all preferring to keep his head in is hands to avoid throwing up or passing out. 

We started to gather to leave the warmth of the checkpoint. The volunteers had again done a sterling job of feeding us, even providing a woollen blanket for Geoff in an attempt to revive him. Julian, Phil, Mark, Geoff and I stood up, Colin stayed down, he was in a bad way and we had to leave without him. I was certain Colin would retire, I was wrong. His complexion looked like a person that was about to pass out he complained of nausea, there was simply no way he could continue. The results show he did continue finishing the 100 miles in 26 hours and 34 minutes. I have no idea how he managed to do that, how he pulled himself round to run another 50 miles I will never know.
We plodded on, absent of Colin, towards Princetown, a long section of almost 10 miles that would bring us to the 66.8 miles point. I ran just behind Geoff and Mark who were navigating and I made repeat attempts to keep up with our location on the map in case I couldn't keep up with the others. Julian ran adjacent and Phil just behind. I felt pretty good apart from my foot and felt positive, I was running with folk that I knew were very good distance runners with a wealth of experience over 100 mile events and the conditions were ideal, the bright moon shined and illuminated the surrounding hill shadows in the distance.  The leg to Princetown did however seem to take ages and wasn't helped by the remote moorland section with a twisty disused railway path that snaked around the hills. I remember a particularly funny moment when high up on Dartmoor in the black of the night as we plodded towards Princetown. We hadn't spoken for some time, we were well into the final third of a ten mile section, our heads were down and we were marching on. Suddenly the silence was broken, I heard Geoff say to Julian "are you an airline pilot?" and Julian relplied "no, why did you think that?", "oh I thought I heard you talking about planes before". After that the conversation ended abruptly, nothing more was said. I chuckled to myself, tiredness manifests itself in unusual ways!  

Multi Tasking
The eventual lights of the village of Princetown which sits high up on the moor were shielded by tall conifers which did nothing for morale. By now my foot was hurting badly and my positivity was being challenged. I longed for the checkpoint, if it wasn't for the conifers I could have at least seen the checkpoint joy approaching. I staggered in and made the difficult decision to quit, I couldn't flex my foot, the shoe change hadn't helped. The others ran on and all finished with brilliant strong runs Mark running home second in the field. Mark later e-mailed to tell me the story that I should have been part of:
It got really cold after Princetown with a sharp frost  and unbelievable rocky. Me Geoff and Phil kept together to ashburton Julian caught us up at the self clip. I struggled into Asburton had a nasty blisters and legs shot. I stopped in checkpoint so Anna could attend to blisters whilst the others carried on taped them  up new socks and trainers and decided to  carried on I got outside and couldn't run legs gone walked at bit and got frustrated and deceided to run thorough the pain .I have no idea what happend next but after two miles couldn't feel a thing think my legs just went knumb. Caught this guy up on the 1.30 pm start ran with him a bit and carried on caught Geoff Phil and Julian back up so I stopped with them but my pains come back . The 1.30 starter caught us up so me and Geoff ran off with him . I stopped with him to liverton. I felt good carried on in front of the 1.30 guy  whilst he stopped in checkpoint and I just got stronger and stronger past the guy with sticks at 93 just after Chudleigh Knighton and kept going . I did 23 hours 33 minutes which at the moment I cannot believe  or sunk in . I was  first back 11.30 starters . Guy on 1.30 start just over 22 hours, guy  with sticks 24 something ,Phil and Julian 25 somthing  with Geoff just behind  (Thanks to Mark Garratt for permission to reproduce)
From the account above It seems that everyone had moments of despair, which perhaps come with the territory over such a distance. The aim is to carry on, "relentless forward progress". Perhaps my swollen foot was nothing more than "my moment", my Colin moment of nausea, my Geoff moment of shivering, my Mark moment of numb legs. The difference is those folk had the mental strength to battle through and therein lies the beautiful skill of the ultra distance runner - a tough, detached mind.

Dartmoor Prison seen during the day
The LDWA 100 is a fantastic event supported by a host of kind cheerful volunteers. The LDWA's various regional groups run the different checkpoints and give up their time over the bank holiday weekend to help to make the event a success. thank you to each of them and thanks to my all those whose company I shared during those 67 miles of the best of Cornwall and Devon country. I am disappointed not to have made it but not badly so. I have a challenge to keep me nimble. I must finish an LDWA 100 mile event. Next years event is in the Welsh Valleys, the website is already up and running here.

Results from 2013 here.