Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Bryce Canyon 50k Ultra Race

A holiday arranged around an ultra race....who does that? We do!!

A request for information on the FRA forum led to virtually impulse entries for us into this race (with Tim opting for the 50mile distance and me 50km). Held on 18 June in Utah, USA, the race promised to be a hot one, and at elevation - both aspects I've never encountered in running previously. I was therefore swaying massively from being excited to run in such a beautiful area, to being anxious I would end up walking the whole distance because of the heat/altitude combination.

We planned our entire holiday around the race, arriving a week beforehand to relax and get to the area with time to recce part of our routes. It also meant we could make a final shoe choice once we knew what the terrain was going to be like under foot. The week after the race was for exploring Utah's vast canyons and national parks and relaxing.

Bryce Canyon 50km Ultra race from Lynne Taylor (Global Therapies) on Vimeo.

On the Ultra Adventures website this race is billed as follows... "This scenic, mountain course runs along the western edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau, offering spectacular views above and below the hoodoos. The race is run at high elevation, with most of the miles on this rugged course between 8,000 – 9,000 ft."

It did not disappoint. In fact, totally the mind-blowing opposite. The area is beautiful beyond belief - from forest tracks to the weird and wonderful rock formations of the hoodoos - spires of sedimentary rock protruding in all shapes and sizes.

training for the race
As this race was booked back in November 2015 it gave me plenty of time to fit in some serious blocks of training over those 6 months. I had completed the Long Tour of Bradwell in August, and this race was very similar in terms of distance and elevation gain so I knew I could finish, in theory. I knew I needed to carry more water to avoid dehydrating so any run I did involved carrying weight to get used to the increase.

Things didn't go so smoothly though! A few injuries and niggles (which started in November) actually meant that I didn't get any consistent run training done at all. I managed to keep up with strength training, and come the week before the race I felt as prepared as my body would let me. I had an 11 hour cut off to finish the race and claim a finishers prize, I had calculated the slowest I could go was a minimum pace of 5km per hour- 10hours in total, and an hour spare. Optimistic perhaps - a really hard call having never run at altitude or in the 30degree+ heat we were facing.

prior to race
We arrived in the Bryce Canyon area a few days before the race and scoped out the finish area and final few kilometers. It's always useful to know how the route goes in the final few km if you can't recce the whole route, and I'm so glad we did. We also recced the first 4km of the route, so mentally I had a clear idea of at least 10% of my route. We had several short runs in the week prior to the race, good to know how I coped with the altitude and to try and acclimatise to the heat. I'm super pleased we got that all done, though in the back of my mind I did worry that I'd perhaps done too much as my weeks mileage was already more than I'd run in any week over the previous 4 months - and I still had the 50km race to do!

race day morning
The morning of the race was an early start for us. Tim needed to be at the shuttle pick up point for 4.30am. We crept out of the campsite at 3.50am as quietly as we could, and with him packed off on his bus I got a little more sleep in the car before I was setting off in my own shuttle at 7.15am. The usual pre-race nerves were making themselves known; I was glad when the shuttle left as I had no other chance to faff with gear!

setting off
Arriving at Tropic Reservoir, the start point for our 50km race, the 150+ runners gathered for the briefing. Short and sweet and with no fuss (and no kit requirements or rules on where numbers should be placed) we were given the 'Go!!!' and we were off. I'd had the chance to chat to Sam Harrison (FRA forumite who originally asked for info on Bryce) at the start line and knew that would be the last I saw of him til the finish. He should have been in the 50mile race, but a mix up with USA time zones meant he'd missed his bus!

race briefing about to start, Tropic reservoir in the background

to Blue Fly Aid Station (approx 14km)
Runners all moved as one chain of people up through the nearby campground before hitting a path that's known as 'single track' over there. The UK equivalent for fell runners is a 'trod' - a small path, generally with no place to safely overtake. We weaved through trees, gently climbing but the altitude making itself felt in the lungs. I was so pleased that fellow runners were already walking the ascents, even the most gradual ones, at this early stage. We soon got onto the steep sided red rock track surrounded by the first of many hoodoo outcrops.

First of many forest tracks

not far to Blue fly Aid station - clearly marked

After the first 4km we got to a long uphill stretch of dusty, rocky forest track. I knew I should be able to run up the gradient but the altitude was making it hard. I adopted the run/walk strategy and kept forcing myself to run 25-50 paces as another runner did the same. The day was already heating up and water consumption was a continual sipping process. I was also relishing the dappled shade of the forest we were climbing through.

Blue Fly aid station

Virtually immediately after leaving Blue Fly aid station the terrain change dramatically. No longer on forest tracks, we found ourselves weaving across 6inch wide sandy single track with vertiginous drops below. Not my ideal terrain, and a lot of self-talk was done on this bit to stay focused and confident. The sand turned to an almost ash-like consistency after a while, still plummeting us down the canyon. Hopping over tree roots and dodging a few slower runners I then found myself on a grass slope and with a sharp left turn back on a wider path and climbing once more.

Of all the video's and photos I'd seen of this race there had been little shown of forest tracks with most coverage given to the classic Bryce Canyon red rock single track. So far, very little of such terrain had materialised and I wondered if we would get the amazing views of hoodoos and weird and wonderful rock formations. Nothing to do but put one foot in front of the other. Sip some water, try and eat.

more forest tracks

single track through the grass and sage brush

I knew the first aid station at Blue Fly was at around the 14km mark and was the only cut-off for this race, at 3hours. I made it in around 1hr50m - really pleasing. I knew I needed to cover as much distance as fast as possible before the heat of the day really kicked in, so with the first 14km done, a few mouthfuls of watermelon I was off again after just a few minutes - hardly stopping really. My water strategy of sipping from the nuun and water alternatively meant I had only drunk about 500ml at this point, leaving me over a litre to get to the next check point in another 9km. Plenty. The views of the hoodoos and red rocks were now starting to appear in the distance, promising us of the spectacular scenery we'd hoped.

to Proctor Canyon Aid Station (at approx 23km)
As I was calculating the distance to the next check point at Proctor, I was reckoning on being around 2km away from it I suddenly heard a familiar voice behind was Tim!!! Yey! We'd tried to calculate whether we'd bump into each other prior to the race, but knew it was likely we'd not. What a lovely surprise and boost. I asked how he was doing - the vague plan was if he was somewhere mid-pack or at least not up for a podium finish (we though was very unlikely) we would run to the finish together. We were after all on holiday! He replied in a shocked voice "3rd!!!" so I urged him on, shouted to keep drinking and wished him luck to the end.

Tim passes and is heading off to Thunder Mountain aid station

Somewhere on the route (memory of where exact things are has been burned out of my brain by the heat!) there was a shallow stream crossing. It was fairly wide, and I expect in the spring the water thunders down the river bed. On race day there was a decent amount of cooling water to paddle in, yet many runners jumped over it. I took great delight in washing my dusty legs and arms, splashing water over my face and neck, and soaking my buff. I could have done with a river like that every few kilometres!

distant views of hoodoo cliffs

the promised red lands...and land of many ups and downs!

to Thunder Mountain Aid Station (at approx 36km)

the route was marked by tape in trees

red single-track path I'm about to run down
The route made hundreds of twists and turns, ups and downs, and mentally I was prepared for this. Virtually no straight lines or clear views of the path ahead were found anywhere on the route so with each turn it was a surprise and mystery what was coming. Having the distance between check points noted with my phone (what I used for photos) was vital to keeping me on track with progress, and importantly how much water I could drink as the kilometres passed.

Somewhere along this stretch, maybe at around 18km, my route connected with the 50mile (and 100mile) race routes. It was a jumble of paths, but the organisers had done a good job at making it clear which way to go. Nonetheless, me and another women did a very thorough check together to ensure we were in fact going the correct way.

The terrain changed again, and we were running through denser forest and some open grass areas - including sage brush that gave off a lovely smell of sage. Throughout the race, the noise of the clicking cicadas was drowning out everything else. Apart from a few butterflies and the occasional bird I didn't see any other wildlife - must have been hiding somewhere cool, very sensible. The hoodoos were still a way off but it appeared we were weaving our way through them, as looking back we had evidently dropped down what appeared to be cliffs!

When I reached Thunder Mountain aid station filled up my water bottles and had a major faff with one bottle as the tube came out unexpectedly), grabbed some watermelon and was off.

the last 16km
The route now climbed once more. Onwards, upwards, up up up into a heated cauldron of tree scattered hillsides devoid of virtually any shade. I'd covered around 35km and felt good, knew I would finish, but nothing had mentally prepared me for those final 15km. They just seemed to go on, and on, and on, and on. first off came the red hot cauldron of Red Canyon. Aptly named for being a furnace of heat, no shade, constant uphill on red rock gravel paths, the odd tree offering a smidgen of shade. At each one I paused, hands on knees knowing I needed to keep going.

the start of Red Canyon
The longer I was out, the worse the sunburn on my neck was going to be. I had applied lots of lotion at the start, and at the second aid station, but with sweat and wrapping my damp buff around my shoulders I was coming off and the burn was becoming intolerable. Nothing to do about it but carry on.

yep, we ran up and down and up and down all this...
I took numerous breaks to take photos, chat to other runners who were all encouraging in grand measure. The racers were now a conglomerate of 50k, 50mile and 100 mile runners - each with one focus of reaching the same finish line. Each one of us suffering on the scale of hot through to burning up. At some point I passed a supporter heading in the opposite direction. I knew I had barely enough water to reach the end so cheekily asked for a swig from one of the many bottle he was carrying. He obliged and I thanked him gratefully.

one of many weird rock hoodoos we passed
A constant battle of gradual climbs, then descents, round a hairpin, and back up. The red rock mini-canyons seemed to go on like I was heading into Mordor! Most people were applying the same strategy as me....push to make myself run the downhills, into the corner, then walk the uphill sections - pausing briefing to reduce the intensity of the sun a little in any shade we could find. I had been hoping for a strong breeze as we'd experienced most afternoons in the previous week, but this day proved to be relatively calm. How annoying! Again, nothing to do but put left foot in front of right, right in front of left. Repeat.

Distant mountains and cliffs...the finish is somewhere between here and there!

Calculating the distance to the finish was pretty much all that consumed my mind - with the massive exception of the amazing views we were granted. Yes the route took us up through the furnace of Red Canyon, but what an amazingly gobsmackingly beautiful and weird place. It certainly equals, if not betters the beauty of Bryce Canyon amphitheatre, and in many ways (on a day you're not racing 50km) would be preferable because of the lack of tourist crowds.

At each turn in the path I wondered how many more there could be. Checking my watch I had passed the 40km mark, approached and passed the 45km mark after what seemed an age (was I going to Mordor?!)...and then reckoned if the organisers had miscalculated it couldn't (surely couldn't) be more than a few kilometres. I therefore assumed I had around 7km to do. So I applied one of my home local routes to James Thorn....after 2km I was past Mossy Lea farm....still no sign of the trailhead....a few more km and I was down to my final 500ml of water. Another km and another few corners...surely that dead tree ahead is the one we'd seen a few days ago just a mile from the end? Nope. There were many, many dead trees. Many many corners.

I wanted to have my last two shot blocks for energy (I'd stopped feeling hungry about 6hrs ago!) but would need to slurp water with them. Tough choice. It really was just the heat slowing me down. I didn't feel lacking in energy otherwise so preserved the water supply.

the final 1.5km
Finally, and I did nearly cry, I see the trail head. That dead tree was in fact very distinctive. Just 300m further on and the car park and some sort of hallucinatory-confusion struck me. There was no-one around, yet there was a table with a massive water barrel, and a few other things upon it. Surely I'm seeing a mirage. Is this the finish and I'm hours behind everyone? Maybe they've all gone home. Then another couple of runners seem to appear from no-where and start to fill their bottles.

O.M.G. I think. Had we miscalculated the finish line and it was really going to be all the way down at the main road about 5km away? Surely not. I slurped a glass of water and wet my buff, threw it round my neck and resigned myself to perhaps a longer finish straight than I wanted. It should just be a mile from this point.

the final mile

The track undulated for about half a mile, then gradually descended. I passed two guys on the 100mile race - they applauded my good effort but stayed at their steady pace. I had been checking my watch constantly, and now within one kilometer of the finish I knew, if I could just keep running (very slowly) I could make a sub 8:30. How astonishing to think that in this heat (35degrees+) and at altitude I would only be about 20mins slower than the Long tour of Bradwell. Astonished, I kept left-right, left-right going at a pace slightly faster than walking. I think I was knocking out around a 6-6:30min/km and had the determination that I was going to run over the finish line.

the finish
Round the last corner, and a confusion of where to go. People were clapping, shouting, whooping, cheering and then a few people pointed towards an arch....under it I go and there's Tim running up to me with a massive smile on his face. He checks the marshals have my number recorded as I put hands on knees and all I can do is mutter I'm hot, so hot, so bloody hot. Tim ushers me into a tent where there's chilled water and drinks.

the aftermath
The first glass of water goes over my head. The second down my back. I sip from the third then throw it down my front. Tim places a soft bottle filled with iced water on my neck and says a coke will help....he speaks from experience. I think I stay seated for a good 10mins, then get up to walk around for a few minutes before sitting down next to Tim and Sam Harrison who completed the 50k in an astonishing 6:30. I'm two hours behind him, but elated with my finish time of 8:29:20. I was so proud and beamingly happy to hear Tim had finished the 50miler in third place. What a day!

Celebrating with a coke and my finishers prizes

Good tan....probably not, dusty trails = tide mark

Tim in blue shorts searching for returned drop bags
I finished in a time of 8hours, 29mins and 20secs.
Strava has me recorded at 8hours, 29mins and 2secs. I'll let them have those 12secs!
Total distance: 51.9km
Total ascent: 1723m*
Moving time via strava was 7hrs 58mins and 3secs - so just over 30mins at aid stations and pausing in shade...I'm happy with that.
Average pace: 9:48/km. (I was aiming for around 12min/km, and up to the half way point I think I was still averaging under 9min/km). Really really happy with this.

Link to official results here
61st place overall out of 154 runners
22nd lady out of 74
6th in my age category out of 21

Link to Ultra Adventures website for race information
Link to TestedToDestruction - Tim's race account of the 50miler

*Regarding the ascent - I had thought we were climbing about 1900m so for the final 5km I'd been dreading the 'final beast of a hill' they might make us climb. Not that the ascents were easy, but was mighty glad that final 200m didn't appear anywhere!

Monday, 25 April 2016

A weekend of contrasts

I have had probably one of the most memorable weekends of my life. Let me explain.
Tim got asked to help out with a friends long distance running challenge, and I thought I'd go along and be on hand if any help was needed with logistics. The run goes up and over 42 Lake District peaks with about 67 miles of running, and around 8000m of ascent. This, in the running world, is known as the 'Bob Graham Round' - or BG for short. There's a special BG club you become a member of if you get round this challenge in less than 24hrs. It's a tough challenge. We know a few friends who've completed it and have total respect for each and every person who sets off wanting to complete it, let alone get a sub-24. I have a vague plan to walk the route over 3 days. It's that much of a challenge!
So, our friend (Jasmin Paris), was going to attempt a 'fast round'. She's a fast runner, often winning long and tough races so we know we were in for a special event this weekend. There'll be a full write up of this soon, but, cutting a long story short...the women's record had been set at 18hrs06. That's fast. Jasmin, who ran the round this weekend absolutely obliterated this time, finishing strongly in 15hrs24 (5th fastest ever time recorded by anyone, and only 90mins off the overall record time). Tim had the honour of being one of her support runners on the final section and I witnessed the start, road crossing at Honister and the finish back in Keswick.
Jasmin descending the 42nd and final hill (Robinson) on her way back towards Keswick
To say I'm in awe and completely inspired would just about touch on how I feel to have been there. Congratulations Jasmin, an inspiration and a fell running legend.
In absolute contrast, someone who may never know this, is also my inspiration. My nan. She's now 94 years old and has been bedridden for quite a few years. She's totally reliant on others for all of her self care. I do my best to be healthy, stay active and fit so that I am able to care for myself and experience life to the full. To be unable to walk and only seeing the same four walls each day would not be a good place to be. So whilst my nan has never been very active, she inspires me to be her opposite. Last night my mother called, nan was rushed into hospital. She's essentially at the end of her life, just clinging on. There's no way to know how long she has left, and when I visit it's unlikely she'll know who I am. I wish there was something to do for her, other than live my life to the full.
My nan, Vera.
I write this as it's a stark reminder of the contrast between living life to the full and life passing you by, just existing. We all make choices which lead us to where we are now, and influence our future. People take up activities in their 60's and well beyond - there really is no excuse. You are never too old to change. We do not need to slow down and become less active just because years are passing. Our bodies adapt to what we do - be inactive and you'll stiffen up and experience discomfort. Stay active and you'll live a healthier, fuller and happier life.
What's your inspiration?
What could you change now, that will benefit you in the future?
View from Latrigg, above Keswick

Monday, 29 February 2016

Northumberland Coastal Trail Series Half Marathon

As part of my long term training plan for 2016 I wanted to get a half marathon fixed in the diary and found that the CTS Northumberland Half Marathon fitted well in my time frame. The main reason for choosing this race was to visit a new part of the country and have a mini-adventure. Tim has run in the area before, but it was completely unknown to me. My first impressions were how flat the coastal part of Northumberland is - not quite what I'd imagined after recently seeing photos of the Cheviots. We didn't have time to go inland at all so that part was sadly missed, but once we got going in the race it was absolutely worth the 4hr drive for the stunning coastline.

Bamburgh Castle - we were allowed to wander round after registering

I was a little apprehensive of running this distance, mostly because I suffered a muscle strain in my hip at the end of November and have only done 3 long-ish runs in the past month. I didn't run for almost 4 weeks in December which is unheard of for me and then was just starting to build up distance and fitness again in January when the dreaded cold/sore throat lurgy struck. With all that behind me and fitness starting to come back I had to rejig my initial hopes of a sub 2hr time. I settled for a comfortable finish, hoping to be somewhere around 2:20.

The CTS Northumberland races are all linear - they do a 10k, half marathon, marathon and ultra all on the same day - and all runners are taken by bus to their respective start points south of Bamburgh Castle. It would be a welcome sight on the northward route to see the castle once more.

View southwards from Bamburgh Castle, we'd be running up that coastline soon

The first 5km were run at a fairly quick pace, and my hip was not hurting at all so I just got on with one foot in front of the other. Tim was running with me, obviously a much slower pace than he's used to so all photos are credited to him for running ahead or hanging back and then catching me up.

As with all my races, I do seem to struggle with the first quarter or so, and it must have taken me a good 30 minutes for my body to accept that it was going to be continuing to run on for another while. I settled into taking my mind off my various moans by observing the beautiful scenery. The route takes you over a mixed terrain from muddy grassy paths, over a golf course, along a few road sections through villages and three decently long stretches of beach. Yes, you will get sand in your shoes, and yes, you will get wet feet as you try to take the straightest line across the beach - and cross over some fresh water flows.

Not too far into the route we passed by Dunstanburgh Castle

Beach running - why does it always feel like you are going uphill!!

I was surprised that we couldn't really see Bamburgh Castle very much as we made our way northwards. Only a few glimpses which you could have easily missed. Then on the final few kilometres of beach where you'd expect it to be standing tall and proud above the dunes it is frustratingly hidden from sight by the dunes themselves.

Later in the route we were steadily overtaking some of the 10k, marathon and ultra runners

Finally Bamburgh Castle is in view - last mile or so to go

After the relative flat route (which incidentally feels like it is all gradually going upwards) there's a punishing final climb to do up through the sand dunes and into the grounds of Bamburgh Castle. The final 700m kicks you upwards for a measly 33m which seems so much grander.

We'd run the final few kilometers alongside another lady, and I was pleased that we both got the same time as we dibbed on the finish line.

At £40 each these are expensive events which is likely to sway whether I'll do another one. That said, they are very well signposted so no navigation is necessary, there were two check points on the half marathon both stocked with some food (bananas and other things) and water, and we got a t-shirt and medal. I don't do races for any of that stuff really, it is all about taking part for me and for this one it meant we visited a new area and had a wonderful evening on the coast the night beforehand.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Snowy La Plagne

A mid-winter mini-break found us flying from Manchester to Geneva, then a road transfer the 3hours to La Plagne for a few days of relaxation in the snow. The weather was mostly sunny, fairly warm and dry with no new snow but sufficient for everyone to go skiing and me to go walking or running. There was plenty of time to enjoy doing not a lot, read a fiction novel (something I rarely settle into) and have a good time socialising. Enjoy the photos....

Tim's first time on skis for quite a while
La Plagne Centre
Forest trail up the mountain
View across the valley
View of Mont Blanc in the distance

Mont Blanc way off in the distance
Beautiful and peaceful trail
World Telemark ski competition just metres from our apartment
La Plagne Centre
Solitude up on the cross-country trail....I was running it though!
Nice to bump into Tim on the mountain
Dogs eagerly barking...and high up on the mountain I spied some mountaineers
Delightfully empty cross-country trail to run on
Inov8 Orocs an absolute necessity on the icy trails and snow
Sunset on our last night

Friday, 15 January 2016

Support Crew: The Spine MRT Challenge

Tim approaching Horton-in-Ribblesdale
having come over Pen y Ghent (in background)
and with 'just' 26km to go
I'm sure many of you are aware that my other half, Tim, has just run the The Spine Mountain Rescue Team Challenge to raise awareness for Glossop Mountain Rescue Team. The challenge is 108 miles along the Pennine Way from Edale to Hawes, starting at 7am on Saturday 9th January 2016. Donations are still being accepted so if after reading this you're compelled to put a few quid in the pot - thank you. Everyone's generosity is most appreciated by the team who are all 100% volunteers and receive no payment or help funding their 24/7/365 work.

So if Tim was running the challenge, what was my role? Well, I was the support crew. Me and our van loaded with pretty much all the kit Tim owns and enough food to supply many runners, followed and met up with Tim at (I think) 11 road crossings. I won't bore you with the finer details of where and when, Tim has a much better account of the whole thing from his perspective over on TestedToDestruction.

I did however learn a lot over the weekend. The main one being not to underestimate how hard sleep deprivation affects you, and for how long. I was grabbing the odd 10/15mins of shut eye where I could, but never managed to get a significant chunk of sleep. It took me until about yesterday (Thursday) following the race to just about feel normal.

The only time I got a decent chunk of sleep was when I got stuck in Malham at 5.30am because of the snow... frustrating as I really wanted to get to the next meeting point and sleep there before Tim started up Fountains Fell. But, the snow preventing me from driving was also a relief - I could lay my head on a pillow and zip up the sleeping bag. Sleep did not however come easy as I was feeling guilt being inside in relative warmth while Tim was battling the harsh elements outside, worrying if he was safe, and also keeping one eye on the tracker to ensure he was moving and therefore should be safe. I set multiple alarms so I wouldn't still be snuggled up at midday, and was driving out of Malham at first light.

that porridge tasted amazing in the van at Malham,
waiting for the gritters salt to defrost the roads
The key to being support for a runner is firstly to look after yourself. You are no good if you are hungry, wet or cold. The whole lack of sleep thing took me by surprise, and looking back I should have done a little less socialising with other supporters or mountain rescue chaps at the road crossings and made myself close my eyes. You live and learn though! However, having a few friendly faces to spend some time with while waiting at road crossings was brilliant - Jacquie and Jason at the Isle of Sky road took my mind off what was to come over the next 30-odd hours wonderfully. And the Glossop Mountain Rescue Team members at Cowling were entertaining as always as we waiting in the torrential rain and darkness by the roadside.

When your runner approaches a meet point you need to be ready to provide whatever they need....and you need to predict what those things may be. Some of the uncertainty of this is removed by chatting through the racing and nutrition strategy before, and checking the weather carefully to ensure additional layers or changes of clothes are close to hand.

One of the major challenges I faced was drying kit out, especially Tim's gloves. There was one point where I was literally sitting in the van in a t-shirt, sweating from the heaters being on full blast with newspaper stuffed gloves sitting on top of the dashboard heaters. The back of the van was like a laundry with things pegged up and draped over anything and everything. Thankfully Tim owns plenty of spare kit - base layers and buffs especially. The glove situation was more critical with (I think) only 3 main pairs to be worn or dried out. No-one could have predicted the incredible amounts of water that fell out of the sky. Every time I got out of the van I got drenched. I went through 2 sets of waterproofs and developed a system of drying them off with a towel as I jumped in the van, then finding somewhere to hang the towel!

food, drink and (out of sight) clothes ready to grab
Vehicle choice - I keep saying now I'll never support again without a camper van. And one with a toilet. With the volume of rain falling I reckon I spent several hours inside the van just holding on...waiting for a slight break in the downpour to nip out and go to the loo. Most of the road crossings are isolated and far from an indoor toilet and even with stops at places on the driving sections, you can't predict when you need to go!

Our van is great if the weather isn't horrendous. Getting from the drivers seat to the back has to be done outside - there's no way to climb over the seats. I did wonder at times if the car would have been a better choice. But to have a camper with easy access, one you can brew up in without fear of gassing yourself because you can't open the door or windows otherwise you'll drench the inside with floods of rain time!

Road out of Malham at 8am Sunday morning
Whatever vehicle you do choose, if the event is in winter or if winter weather is a possibility then winter tyres are an absolute must. We have them on our van and I seriously reckon they saved me on the flooded roads (there's still plenty of floods around the Gargrave area) and especially on the road from Malham Tarn back down past the cove to the village in the 2" of snow I had to scarily contend with. If winter weather is likely, know how to drive in it. I had to engine break all the way down that road, cornering on the steep twisty road too every ounce of concentration to take the best lines (motorbike training coming in very handy there). It might sound like I was reckless going up the road in the first place but it was only raining lightly as I left Tim on the edge of the village and the last forecast I'd seen only a few hours prior hadn't shown snow coming. Within 20mins there was 2" on the floor and as Tim's blog explains, that was soon over a foot deep.

Driving routes - I knew quite a lot of the roads and routes I'd be driving but not all. I spent a bit of time at one early meeting point to write out clear driving directions for the dark overnight sections. This was incredibly useful as my brain fogged with the lack of sleep and driving stints were powered with shots of espresso. I also used the satmap thing on my phone; this proved so vital on the dark tiny lanes after I left Cowling, all the way up to Malham. Signal was a bit dodgy at times but I didn't make any nav errors thankfully. It was almost comforting to have a 'voice' speak to me, directing me to 'turn left in 300m'....for the left turn road to appear which would otherwise have easily been missed in the now familiar torrential downpours.

Hailstones like massive marbles on the
Horton-in-Ribblesdale to Hawes section
Tracker - this race is one of many that uses the Open Tracking gps trackers. What an amazing bit of kit. Tim basically carries a small device on his rucksack which sends a signal and all us armchair followers see his 'dot' move along the map. It isn't without fault - lack of signal and slow loading on my mobile phone was frustrating - but it really meant I knew (most of the time) when he was closing in on meet points. Vital to get the kettle on, me togged up in waterproofs and on the dark sections I could set the powerful torch on strobe mode so he'd know exactly where I was as he approached. If you're planning to do any long challenge then get a tracker - vital for support crew in my opinion. Open Tracking hire them out at minimal cost.

Back up plans - we'd discussed the what-ifs around whether I could reach various points and how Tim may need to be self-sufficient should I not be parked where we'd planned. Absolutely essential to go over various scenarios. Imagine if he'd have to pull out because of a puncture on the van that meant his food/clothes weren't delivered to him on time. Tim carried enough food and gear to do the whole thing without me were it necessary. No-one however could predict the volume of rain that meant the glove changes would literally save him and ensure he completed the race.

So what would I do differently? 

  • Campervan with toilet and winter tyres. Anything overnight requires a campervan. 
  • Sleep more.
  • Probably eat better myself. I wasn't hungry and had enough to eat, but a hot meal on Saturday evening would have been much better than constant snacking.
  • Book a room at the end of the challenge and stay over? The drive home was slow because I was so tired. It was however a relief to be looking after Tim in our own home. I'm not sure the journey home the following day would have been any better for him.
  • Have more *insert favorite food of the runners choice* (in Tim's case, tangfastics). We had loads, and loads of other foods Tim thought he would eat. But on long journeys such as he did you get to have one bit of food that worked...we had plenty of cold pizza which he was stomaching well but I was concerned the tangfastics would run out. All unpredictable as you never know what the runner is going to favour, so maybe knowing where you can buy certain things, or indeed where the nearest shops are on route and when they're open would be a good bit of info to have to hand.
  • Perhaps have two people support...then the whole lack of sleep thing can be removed and you can work in shifts. You'd also have company - some of the places I stopped were very isolated and while I didn't feel threatened, it would have helped the hours pass more pleasantly with someone to chat to.

Would I be support crew again?
1st prize in the Spine MRT Challenger category,
4th overall in the race, and he completed the
108 miles virtually non-stop in 32hrs 10mins
I'm awesomely proud of my bloke. 
Absolutely. In fact I'm already signed up for some of the mountain rescue chaps that are registering for this one next year! There is something extremely rewarding about ensuring a competitors needs are tended to. I've supported Tim and friends on a few long challenges previously, and also for some of my personal training clients. Being there for them with food, water, clothes etc gives me a buzz. I know what it feels like on a long run to see a friendly face and have a bit of nourishment thrown your way. It's priceless, and it makes me smile.

Don't forget you can still donate to Glossop Mountain Rescue Team - here's a link to their JustGiving page.