Some Stuff About Me ......

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I live in Harrogate, North Yorkshire with my wonderful wife and soul-mate Helen. I have two incredible sons - Evan and Matthew - who are occasionally show up at home, usually when they're hungry or need money. The three of them are the best thing that ever happened to me and I love them all. I spent over 24 years in the Royal Navy, but since I packed it all in and got a proper job my life has gone from strength to strength and I've never looked back. I am a die-hard soul music fan and this remains a serious passion, but in recent years my life has been dedicated to running on the fells and trails of Northern England, it's what I was made for. Please read about my adventures and experiences ...

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

From Grassington to Chamonix

It's been rather a relaxing weekend by recent standards and a good thing too - I endured last week in a kind of sonambulistic haze (look it up) and only started coming to life around Friday lunchtime. This was entirely due to my participation in the previous weekend's Fellsman. This is a 61-mile slog across most of the high ground in Yorkshire and designed to make grown men cry. Full marks to the designers then, but to merely call this event a Fell Race or an Ultra is not really telling the story.
So yes, the weekend: Friday night I took Helen to a rather posh Chinese restaurant in town (Harrogate). The surroundings are not exactly oriental, in fact they're nothing like it if I'm honest, the establishment is housed in part of the old Royal Baths building, presumably that's why it's so bloody expensive. The fabric of the building was extensively restored at some cost a few years back and since the chogie restaurant took up residence, people have spoken with bated breath about the fine grub on offer. Totally overrated if you ask me, way too expensive for what you got and I won't be going back. Here, have a look: http://www.royalbathschineserestaurant.com/
 
Anyhow. The rest of the weekend was consumed by loads of sadly-neglected DIY tasks that have built up into a fairly formidable list and an easy run Saturday (which wasn't easy), a nice bike ride on Sunday and a very good pool session on Monday evening. I think I'm just about bouncing back from the Fellsman now, I don't suppose it's any surprise that I've been knackered - just thinking about it makes me tired.  The race itself started at 0900 on Saturday 27th and you have until around 1600 the following day (ie. about 33 hours) to complete it, though most will be aiming for under 24 hours at the very least. Just over 400 of us started the race, I was told that the average attrition rate is about 1 in 4 and that proved to very accurate as there were 95 withdrawals.  It was cold to start with, bitterly so on top of Ingleborough and I did fear the worst for a while, however the day warmed up and by the time we were running the ridge between Gragareth and Great Coum the sun was shining and all traces of snow and ice had disappeared. Before I forget, I must mention the incident I saw when descending Ingleborough via the Swine Tail: It was very icy/slippy and while everyone was being careful, the whole situation was exacerbated by a group of walkers coming UP the path. Some silly tw*t decided he couldn't wait and tried to cut a corner, the result - predictably - was that he lost his footing on the icy ground and flew down the slope, colliding with one of the walkers who was slowly picking his way upwards, He smashed into the (quite elderly) gentleman with both feet, all I can say is that it was a miracle that nobody was badly hurt. It's this sort of stuff that gets fell runners a bad name .... the least he could have done was apologise, but he didn't even do that! Sigh.
Anyhow, apart from Helen falling into a deep bog on the aforementioned ridge leading to Great Comb, it went pretty well, we reached Dent for the first big checkpoint (there are 24 in total) and I was surprised to see so many ashen-faced runners waiting for transport to ship them back to the start. I suppose there will have been a multitude of reasons for the various withdrawals, but from what I hear a lot of them were from runners with no background in fell running or mountaineering and I guess they just underestimated the severity of the terrain. We pushed on, making good time up the Craven Way to Blea Moor and onwards to Stonehouse before climbing Arten Gill and Great Knoutberry. This is where it starts getting serious, it's late afternoon and everyone wants to push on as far as they can before being grouped. This is a safety measure, basically you are required to spend the dark hours as group of 4 people minimum and there are different time deadlines for this. Bobs, my mate Mark and myself were aiming to finish somewhere around the 18-hour marks and I was pretty sure we were going to get grouped at the Fleet Moss checkpoint and so it turned out. This was a bit of a worry, as navigationally the part of the Fellsman from Fleet Moss through to the Middle Tongue checkpoint and onwards to Hell Gap is possibly the most difficult part of the course and we didn't want to be grouped with anyone who was at odds with our proposed route. As it turns out, we needn't have worried and we were grouped with a decent bloke (Pete from Retford) who was quite happy to let us take the lead.
It was now getting dark and the temperature fell accordingly, I can think of few places in England that are lonelier that Fleet Moss at nightfall .... however, we pushed on and found Middle Tongue easily, we were still moving well and started to overtake other runners as headed off towards Hell Gap. A good push onwards to Cray and we were suddenly within 10 miles of the finish - just the small matter of a lot of rough ground and, worryingly, Buckden Pike and Great Whernside to get over. Buckden Pike came and went with no problem, it felt like familiar territory, so all the recce work paid off. It was pitch dark and I knew I was enjoying myself, we pulled into the Park Rash checkpoint and after fuelling up, set off on the last major climb of the Fellsman. A few weeks previously I had climbed Great Whernside in deep snow, but today there wasn't a trace. As we climbed, it got steadily colder and I could feel the ground beneath my feet crunching as the ice began to form. It was a cloudless night and the moon burned a magnificent orange to illuminate our way, I felt truly privileged to be able to do this. I know I've waxed lyrical about mountains at night before, but there is something truly special about running in the hills at night. I don't know what it is, whether it's the freedom or simply the insanity of it all, whatever, I was in my happy place and will always remember how brilliant it was. All too soon we were down at the Capplestone Gate checkpoint and there wasn't much more to go. Down the muddy trail to Yarnbury and the final, quad-crushing descent down into Grassington before a sharp right turn to Threshfield and the finish. My final figures were 61.5 miles, 11,550ft of climb in 18hrs 31, though this doesn't take into account any time rebate for grouping at Fleet Moss. I can't say I'm unhappy with that, though I am convinced we could have easily taken 30 minutes off the overall time. Perhaps next year eh?
Next on the list is the Day in the Lakes triathlon, followed by the Lakeland 50. Never a dull moment round here
I was considering what's coming up when I realised with a start that with the Fellsman over I must be close to 2014 UTMB (Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc) qualifying criteria. A quick check reveals that I actually have 8 points right now from 3 qualifying events (Bob Graham Round, Tour de Helvellyn, Fellsman) and if I successfully complete the Lakeland 50 will have 10 overall. You need 7 to enter the UTMB ballot.
Dare I?

Postscript:  I dared!