Tuesday, 22 May 2012


It was a flying visit to London last week with two aims: London 2012 Olympic training, and catching up with a few friends (always a pleasure). The training went well, learning lots about the role of the medical teams at the Olympics. I can't say much more than that really - social media restrictions are in place. But in case you didn't know, both myself and Tim will be at the Olympics and working within the medical team. It's very exciting. There's a lot of hype about it being the biggest event the UK will see for many years, and to be honest, it's well justified. 

We drove past the Olympic Park, perhaps where we'll be working...not the best of pictures taken from a moving car, but good to see that buildings have taken shapes since I was last down that way just over a year ago.

Olympic Stadium and the 115m high ArcelorMittal Orbit observation tower (hope I get chance to go up it!)

I had some time to wander around Greenwich on Sunday (Tim was on a CPD course) so I had a mooch around the park.

View from Greenwich Observatory - now with a partly build grandstand for the Equestrian events
There's evidence of what might be jumps for the horses scattered around the park, including a couple right at the edge of the boating lake. Seeing those, and the spectators stand makes me a little envious of those who'll be watching during the games. I lived around Greenwich park for nigh on 11 years, seeing various events take place there (best of all were the Red Bull Air Races). So, in some ways I'll miss not being around to watch horses gallop around my old back garden. Not to worry though, I'll definitely be having an adventure elsewhere at the games.
Nelson's ship in a bottle by Yinka Shonibare
Nelson's ship in a bottle was installed in Trafalgar Square on the 4th plinth for a while...I didn't see it down there, but am pleased it's found a home in nautical Greenwich.

The Cutty Sark
I was living in Greenwich in 2007 when the fire took place at the Cutty Sark. It was sad to see such an iconic Greenwich landmark reduced to a pile of smouldering embers almost 5 years to the day (the fire took place on 20 May). To my delight the restoration and it's reopening to the public is now complete, in fact it only opened last month (25 April).  I would have spent a little time wandering round the new exhibition but at £12 for adult entry I gave it a miss. I went on the ship several years ago, and I'm not fussed enough to part with my cash.

Photo of the poster showing the glorious bow of the Cutty Sark

View of the Shard from Greenwich pier
The Shard didn't exist when I moved to London. Nor did the iconic Gherkin (30 St Mary's Axe) - the construction of which I've just learnt started in 2001, a year after I moved to London. The skyline of London was one thing I saw change over my time living there so to see the progress of the Shard since I left was quite something.  Still, it will never compete with the sight of James Thorn and Bleaklow from my bedroom window. Now there's a sight to keep me truly captivated for quite some time yet.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Rhinog Run #2

Friday 4th May and our second long run in the Rhinog mountains of Wales. Today we circumnavigated around Moelfre.

woodland running
Heading towards Llyn Bodlyn

The saddle to the east of Moelfre

Rhinog Fawr and Rhinog Fach

Looking north towards the mine slopes on the western side of Foel Wen

Running alone the mine slopes

Me doing a buzzard impression - there is one up ahead, honest
Moelfre - the distant summit

Here's the Garmin link to this run which was a total of 15.03km and 512m ascent in 2hrs 25mins. 

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Dark & White Mini Mountain Marathon #3

The final race in the Dark & White Spring Handicap Mini MM took place in the White Peak, starting from Alstonefield, just west of Dovedale. I'd poured over the OS map prior to the start looking for clues as to what area might be covered - this being a new area for the D&W team we had no hint of what could be in store. Given that it was advertised as Dovedale/Southern White Peak it seemed logical that Dovedale would be the focus. Studying the map I was fairly sure Thorpe Cloud would feature, it being pretty much the only summit with a footpath to the very top. I was certain there'd be a 25 or 30 pointer up there. Here's the map:

As you can see, no checkpoint at the top of Thorpe Cloud, but a sneaky 25 pointer down Lin Dale to push you to the southern limit of the course.

My running partner from the second in the series was with me again, and once we'd dibbed at the start, and had been handed our maps, we had a good natter about what route to take. It wasn't easy making that decision. With very few ways to cross the River Dove in the bottom of Dovedale, and few checkpoints down in the bottom (indicating a low score) it really did look like we might have to run all the way from north to south around both east and west sides of Dovedale. Wow, that was going to be a mammoth ask. We decided on the first few CPs, and then to keep going and at the one hour mark see where we'd got to - then plan the remainder of the time accordingly.

First descent down into Dovedale from CP6
We chose to miss out CP19 after CP17 as there were plenty of options nearer the end to pick up the same value points. As we approached the stepping stones under Thorpe Cloud I spotted the sneaky 25 pointer down Lin Dale and we made the brave decision to push on to grab it....we could after all skip a lower point one nearer the end and be up on points. Even if it made us a minute or two late we'd still be up.

Returning down to the stepping stones it was near perfect timing for the one-way crossing...I slipped past a couple of tourist muttering a 'thanks' for letting us pass - saving us seconds - which proved vital later on.

Down the compact path and up ahead I see John S from Glossopdale. He'd left a few minutes before us and we seemed to have caught him up. Useful - we could use him to pull us along. He's faster than us so his speed would help prevent us slipping into the fatigue pit too deeply. Our next target, CP 21 was up on the south side of Bunster Hill. Mentally I'd got the rest of the route going down hill, but that wasn't to be! I gulped down an energy gel, hoping for some umph to be provided with miraculous powers. I think it worked to some degree.

Thumbing the map....somewhere on the eastern edge above Dovedale heading south

After a short section round a very narrow and limestone rocky path we hit CP18 and the tarmac. I was very glad it was dry today otherwise that section (and a few others) would have been really treacherous in the wet. Limestone + water = no grip. But not today thankfully.
CP21 looking back south to Thorpe Cloud

Now we have about 4-4.5km to the finish (mostly tarmac). I think there was about 25 or so minutes left. At my best pace, on a 5km run (without navigation to worry about), I can do about 28 minutes. It was tight. My partner was struggling a bit and I was starting to take the lead a bit more than usual. A sure sign she was struggling. I told her we just had to go slightly faster than walking pace and we'd be fine. I kept it to myself that it was much tighter than that. Hoping I could push on the uphills and stretch out my stride on the downhill bits a little more than usual.

What was complicating the matter for me was that from Thorpe Cloud I'd been fighting off cramp in my calves. I had the energy gel on the climb up Bunster Hill. I'd drunk what must have been nearly 1.5ltrs, and I'd eaten enough. I couldn't understand why I was getting signs of cramp. Each foot step was a careful measure of how much I could push. There was an occasional walk when my partner took the lead, me fighting the cramp yet knowing I needed to keep going.

View north towards Alstonefield... that was a long stretch of tarmac
John S is still keeps coming into view ahead. He keeps pulling away a little but not leaving us behind too much. We've already passed the small off-shoot for CP 15 and dismissed it - not possible with our remaining time. At Stanshope we decide to take the track and path directly north, with the steep descent/ascent up to Alstonefield. We can grab another 10 points at CP4, and even if a few minutes late we'll still be up. We had considered going round the road via Hopedale to avoid the descent and climb but this seemed the better option and it worked. Just.

yep, it was a forced smile with less than 20mins to go!
With only about 500m to go there's 3 minutes left on the clock. '3 fields to go' I tell my partner at the top of the very final and cruel twisting ascent. Two ladies ahead are caught and passed by us - it was an incentive to push myself, get past them and then keep them behind. Another tactic that worked and got us to the final dibber with just 54 seconds to spare.

Phew. It's over. A hug and congratulations all round. After grabbing clothes to change into we head inside....muddy shoes off and BANG. The cramp struck. My left calf just froze in spasm, if that's possible. Some very kind gentleman grabbed my foot and stretched it out for me. I knew exactly what to do, but the pain was so intense I didn't dare move anything....well anything except my mouth from which exploded a few expletives. Apologies once more to anyone within earshot. I don't know why bad language sprouts at times like that but it was certainly the man stretching my leg which did the best for me. I later thanked him, once I'd recovered. A true gent.

It was good to meet @peawet08 whom I have conversed with on twitter (good recognition skills!), and sorry to have missed SBRT today - thanks for the mention on your blog Run Forest Run, good account of the race as always - and cracking photos.

Even though my partner said she'd struggled quite a bit on the final hour of the race she once more proved her value in pushing me to the absolute limit of my physical ability. I would not have pushed myself anywhere near as much without her there. The race was great. It was tiring, to a greater degree than I knew possible. I had run nearly 22km - almost 4km more than my furthest ever distance.

One page 1 of the results....but still 2 hrs to go.
We were back without any penalties and once recovered could enjoy a cup of tea and very welcomed ginger nuts. Thanks again for organising a great race to the guys at S&W. I know it was a new area for you; it proved very challenging at times but on the whole good paths, and mostly kept away from the tourists that are drawn to Thorpe Cloud and Dovedale. We were definitely lucky with the weather - had it been wet I know we would not have covered such a distance or scored so well. I now wait with eager anticipation to find out the overall series results....will I have won a prize? Even if the answer is no, I had a great time running these three races.

Checkpoints were visited in the following order: 2 - 6 - 7 - 10 - 9 - 13 - 8 - 11 - 14 - 17 - 20 - 22 - 21 - 18 - 4

Total distance: 21.81km
Total ascent: 636m
Garmin track here

Event results are posted here. I placed 55th/131, and it seems I won my category by 15 seconds over the next lass...just shows that pushing a little somewhere pays off!

Link to the first in the series held in Macclesfield Forest, and the second in the Hope Valley.
A few photos of animals from our recent visit to the Rhinogs in Wales.

A sheep....saw lots of these
There were loads of wild goats as well, they're just too swift and flighty to catch on the compact camera which we had with us on our runs.

Female Pied Flycatcher

and her mate, the male Pied Flycatcher
There were loads of birds in the garden of the cottage we stayed in, including a very friendly Pied Wagtail - no photos though, we just enjoyed its company.

Not sure what this little creature is, it's about an inch long - if you know what it is please add a comment

Yes, that's me doing a buzzard impression....and if you look carefully, in the distance there is a real one (just left and below centre of the photo).
We saw several buzzards, including one close up, about 5m away - perching on rocks but it took flight and was gone before we had time to reach the camera.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Sand dunes

I'm including specific training into my schedule to develop various hill running skills. Not that I profess to be any sort of high level master fell runner, but I do feel I've reached a level where I'm able to run and think about technique now I've a year of fell running experience under my feet.

Morfa Bychan beach, just by Porthmadog golf club - our venue for the session

One thing I am not brilliant at is downhill running - I have an overactive internal voice that just doesn't want to risk falling over. The voices inside constantly battle between 'just-let-go-brain-off-brakes-off' and 'whoooah-your-gonna-fall-over-and-hurt-yourself-slow-down'. Inevitably the latter wins the battle, I slow and end up going at pretty much walking pace on downhill sections.

I'm not one to simply accept that I will always be rubbish at running downhill. Therefore, something needs to change for improvement to be gained. To develop skills and get me more confident at going downhill we headed to the sand dunes at Porthmadog whilst on holiday in the Rhinogs last week. Here's me on the highest jump...leaping off the grassy tufts at around 6 feet high.

At the start of the training session I looked over the edge saying I'd never do it....then  changed that attitude to 'let's start smaller and build up then take another look'. It worked, obviously from the pictures above. I jumped this one three or four times, growing in confidence each time.

The build up to it had been a series of tiny jumps, runs into tiny jumps, and gradually building up the height of each drop. Sometimes continuing to run down to the flat sand below to work on foot placement....or the acceptance that you're going to slide and slip whilst vaguely holding control and doing what I want to be able to do....just let go! Exactly what I need to feel more confident on with the mud and bogs we get up on Kinder and Bleaklow.

After a while we switched focus to doing some forefoot, or mid foot striking down the beach...easy to keep an eye on your footprints and see how you're doing with this technique on a beach. This was my first go at leaning forwards and not heal striking. I think I did OK, it definitely felt an easier position to be running in, and felt like I was moving faster, and with less effort. Conscious that new skills and technique need to be introduced slowly we kept the distance short.  We didn't get any pictures of this bit, but here's a couple of me running round some rocks...

I thoroughly enjoyed training on the beach, it's a tough terrain to work on and I'm sure I'll be finding sand in my shoes for months to come.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Rhinog Run #1

Tuesday 1st May and our first morning in the Welsh Rhinogs. The plan is to run from our cottage above Llanbedr up to the top of Rhinog Fach at 712m and circle back via some yet to be determined route. Dawning bright and dry the weather looked promising, if a little windy. With suitable clothes for cold and rain (which was forecast), plus food and fluid packed for about 20km, we set off and headed mostly uphill for the first three kilometres. The route passes though fields and some old mines under Foel Wen (414m), habitated by sheep and wild mountain goats, the latter too fast to capture on camera!

Running along the track through the old mines, many buildings still evident
After the mines we headed down to Nantcol and then up the valley towards the col at the top of Bwlch Drws Ardudwy (pretty sure that's what it's called!). The plan then was to head up Rhinog Fach, but our approach was timing just right (or wrongly!) for the high winds sweeping in from the north east and inevitable rain the cold front was bringing. In fact, the summit of the mountain was being enveloped in cloud as we gained height.

With my lack of experience on rough terrain and absolutely no way we'd get a view from the top we changed plans. We munched a bit of food behind the shelter of a wall then retreated back down Nantcol after a brief look over the northern edge of the col. It was definitely the right decision, the wind really was howling from the northern side (we could see heather high above us being buffeted by the wind) which had not been totally evident as we approached in the relatively sheltered southern side.

Returning the same path meant another trip across one particularly marshy section - calf deep cold water and strangely teeming with tadpoles. Images of returning with fell shoes full of the little critters kept me amused, and maybe a little grossed-out!!  We returned to our cottage skirting under Foel Ddu at 477m - over 250m above the valley floor and gained in less than 2km - that's some climb. So much so that I dug into my sack for an energy gel - the first I've ever needed to use! Our reward for our efforts though was nearly 3km undulating soft grassy paths and downhill tracks back to a log fire and delicious dinner.

Rhinog Fach to the right....our intended target still visible before it got engulfed in cloud on our ascent

The whole run I was trying to keep my foot strikes light, using (or attempting to use) a bit of forefoot (or at least midfoot) strike with some forward lean to make my running more efficient. That's the idea anyway. I think it worked, after a total distance of 15.75km with 662m of ascent I knew I'd been out for a decent run, but wasn't absolutely trashed (maybe the energy gel helped!).

I do though keep getting frustrated that I can't run further, faster or better....but when I get those thoughts out of my head I had a great run. Being able to share the emptiness of the Rhinogs with Tim and not see more than two other people for the whole duration was wonderful. The running is much rockier and in some ways more severe than the likes of Bleaklow where I'm used to running. Running in a new area pushed me out of my comfort zone - if I can even vaguely claim to have of those one running in the wilderness of Bleaklow and Kinder. Welsh paths and trods are much different to the likes of the springy peat of Derbyshire....but it's good to try different things and push yourself. You learn each time you're out, about yourself, your technique, your gear and your mental attitude. There's still heaps for me to work on.

ps. not many photos on this run...it was raining a fair bit after our descent down to Nantcol and a soggy camera wasn't part of the plan!