Monday, 28 September 2009

Two Breweries Hill Race

26th September 2009


My 8th year in a row at the Two Breweries, and as seems the norm with this race, all early morning fog cleared to leave a beautiful sunny autumn afternoon.

The Two Breweries is an exceptional race in that it traverses a great chunk of land from Traquair to Broughton, and feels more like a journey than a normal hill race.

The race started steadily enough along the mile of road where I almost resisted to being the first runner to the farm track. Once we had turned uphill I stepped off the track to allow all the faster runners past and then jogged/walked up to the awkward fence crossing. I was in 2 minds at this point whether to nip leftwards round the corner or batter straight up Grieston Hill into the heather. I stopped and asked Manny and David what they were planning on doing and the consensus seemed to batter straight up on the old traditional route.

We could see that race leaders Andy Symonds and Scott Fraser had also ploughed straight up the hill, but all the next runners behind Scott and Andy had nipped left around the corner. Anyhow, Manny, David and I flogged up through the heather, which I'm not sure was the best option since the track along the top was heavily overgrown.

Once on the main track to Birkscairn, Manny took off and David also went past. I more or less caught Matt Sullivan by the top of Birkscairn and then followed a couple of Moorfoot guys to get a good line down to Glensax, catching Manny at the river crossing.

I plodded up Hundleshope with Manny, and thinking we might catch Al Hart who was just ahead. After Hundleshope I followed Manny towards Stob Law taking a much lower line than normal. I thought this must be a clever trick of Manny's but instead turned out just to be a lower line meaning we had to re-ascend to get to the re-entrant that picks up the Stob Law track.

At the bottom of the big descent to Glenrath I tried in vain to chase down Manny towards the water station, but he was already gone. Instead, after the road crossing I focussed on closing down Mark Mon-Williams of Ilkley Harriers, and caught him just before the Whitelaw firebreak, then after that point I didn't saw another runner within range for the rest of the race.

Dave Calder kindly supplied me with a replacement bottle at Stobo containing GO Electrolytes that were supposed to stave off cramp, and this seemed to work as there were no twinges of cramp on the climb up Trahenna, but of course as soon I lifting my trailing leg over the famous fence on the descent - bang, my right hamstring when into comedy spasm without any warning.

It made me laugh that all the High 5 and GO powders and potions had made no difference whatsoever.

I saw Steven Fallon and Malcolm Patterson lurking on the hill for the final descent, and hitting the main road realised I wasn't going to make sub 3:10, which meant I could just potter into the finish in a fairly average time of 3:15:40.

Manny finished a full 10 minutes ahead of me, so must have taken about 9 minutes out of me in the second half. David finished just behind me having experimented with the gully option for climbing out of Glensax, and finding it wasn't the best option.

Steffen put in a solid run for 3:51, and Ellie finished a few minutes later with Stewart Barrie in 3:58 which was an astonishing run given that she'd donated blood less than 48 hours previously and looked totally washed out at the start.

The race was won by Scott Fraser in 2:47:30 running his first long Scottish hill race.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Dalehead Fell Race

20th September 2009


Three Shires wouldn't be complete without Dalehead the following day. Luckily the weather was much brighter today.

Ricky Lightfoot made up for getting lost in the mist yesterday by recording a convincing win over Borrowdale local Simon Booth. British ladies fell running champion Philippa Jackson put in a storming run to finish 6th overall.

I finished back in 10th place in 56:43, a good bit slower than I've run this race before, but quite enjoyed the run anyhow. After halfway up the climb I didn't catch or lose any places, so it felt a bit like a solo training run.

Three Shires Fell Race

19th September 2009
18km, 1500 metres ascent


This was my 5th shot at the Three Shires Fell Race, and I still get fairly confused about the fine details route, especially when it's super misty like it was today.

The race is 18km with 1440 metres ascent (11 miles, 4700ft climb) - a bit different to the advertised 12 miles, 4000ft. So technically the race shouldn't be classified as a Long race, since it's well under 12 miles.

Luckily the field for parking had dried up enough so we didn't need to use Hodge Close Quarry like last year, although it is a nice walk through from the quarry.

The race starts with speedy downhill tarmac to a perfectly functional footbridge which had been declared "dilapidated and unsafe", so it was early wet feet for everyone with a wade through the river.

After a mile of so I was settled into about 10th place with a bunch of Borrowdale vests in front, just blinding following when we all suddenly realised we had missed the obvious left hand fork of the main track that heads towards Wetherlam. There was much amusement from the massed field behind as we had to thrash back up to the correct track.

A few moments later at 3km when we crossed the fell intake wall the field began breaking up again. Some runners cut up early, whilst other carried along the track. Apparently cutting early is the best option.

The 550m flog up Wetherlam is the biggest climb of the race, and I found myself in familiar company with Tim Edwards (Clayton) just ahead and Gary Thorpe (Ambleside) and Mike Johnson (Bowland) just behind. The final section of the hill was cold and misty and I turned at the summit just in time to see Dan Duxbury vanishing into the mist. I had no sense of the right line, so waited for Gary Thorpe to pass and then followed.

Again it was cold, misty and rainy coming off Swirl How, and here Mike Johnson passed, so I used him to direct and pace me down to the Three Shires road crossing. We picked up Tim Edwards en route who must have taken a detour.

After the road crossing I took a gel and some drink and tried to take stock and run strong with the idea of dropping Gary Thorpe and catching Mike and Tim, however this never happened. Instead I was caught by a Chorley runner, Dominic Raby who dragged me up the hill, almost getting back to Mike by the summit of Pike o'Blisco.

The initial descent off Blisco is always pretty confusing but Mike's orange vest provided a good beacon to follow. I was trying to keep in contention with Dominic but he was getting away. Bit by bit I could sense Gary closing me down, and when he took a sneaky high level route across some hummocks he finally popped out in front just before the stile leading into the descent to Blea Tarn. The descent was desperately slippery and I fell 2 or 3 times on greasy rock in bracken.

After the second road crossing I tried hard to catch Gary on the way up Lingmoor, knowing he would know a good route off, but couldn't quite get up to him. Instead I reached the summit of Lingmoor with last year's winner Ricky Lightfoot powering on through, he must have taken a major detour, and I was impressed he hadn't just dropped out. I didn't follow Ricky's route but tried dropping rightwards to pick up the big contouring track. This perhaps wasn't the best move but it's the route I've taken in the past.

I didn't see anyone on the descent from this point, but couldn't have been that far behind Mike Johnson timewise. I finished 22nd in 2:11:49, about 17 seconds slower than last year, but in far more challenging conditions with mist and greasy rock.

The race was won by Chris Steele in 1:57:42, followed by Jim Davies, Nick Fish and Mark Roberts. The first 4 runners were all from Borrowdale and all within 11 seconds of each other.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Mugdock Turbo X

12th September 2009

Results | Photos

A challenging 10-mile route around Mugdock Country Park.

The startline contained quite a few top class fell runners so I decided to take it steady for the first mile or so, and not get too swept up in the cavalry charge. After half a mile I passed Natalie White and then was joined by Paul Thompson for next couple of miles. After that I pressed on and held position until near the end where I passed Brian McEwan and Dougal Ross at around miles 8 and 9, paced around by a runner in red T-shirt who finished 9th. I finished 10th, about 5 seconds behind this runner - but he strangely doesn't appear in the results. There are a few other anomolies in the results apart from the 9th placed runner not appearing. Duncan McGougan's Turbo X time clearly makes no sense as being 2 minutes faster than British fell running champion Rob Hope, and Dougal Ross's times don't make any sense either.

Having looked at Duncan's splits, it appears clear that he missed the 600m loop between 12.6km and 13.2km, since that would exactly explain how he suddenly gained 3:25 in time, and the cut across to miss that loop was only 30 metres. And I'm guessing Dougal took the same cheeky shortcut since he was over 2 minutes behind me going into the 2.6km Turbo X section, but popped out ahead of me, despite running more slowly!

That said it was a great race and very well marked, along a constantly changing and varied course through woods, trails and bog.

The race was won by Nick Swinburn (who was the fastest through the Turbo X section), followed by Scott Fraser, Ricky Lightfoot, Rob Hope and Murray Strain. In the women's race, Natalie White was a clear winner followed by Emma Birnie and Jacqui Thomson.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Chamonix to Zermatt in 6 days

Actually the title is slightly misleading, since we didn't start hiking from Chamonix but stayed on the shuttle bus to Le Tour to miss out the first 10km that follows the valley. However the route still adds up to a hefty 175km with 12,000m ascent split over 6 days!

Day 1 - Le Tour to Arpette (Aug 30th)
19km, 1890 metres of ascent
David, Steffen and I had flown in from Edinburgh and Ellie jumped on a flight from Bristol. We were pushed for time so needed to hit the ground running straight from Geneva airport. The minibus made several drop offs at Les Houches, Chamonix and Argentière so we didn't break trail until 1:20pm in the full heat of the midday sun. The route intially flogs up a 600m climb to the Col de Balme, following the Tour du Mont Blanc. Once over the col we took a tricky rocky high-level short cut via Les Grands before dropping down to Chalet du Glacier, where they sold expensive drinks and claimed to have no drinking water.

From this busy Sunday afternoon ice cream stop we were faced with a gruelling 1100m climb up to the Fenetre d'Arpette. This took far longer than expected and it was 6:30pm when we reached the col, having previously estimated the entire stage would take 4 hours!

The far side of the col was steep, loose and rocky with fine grit over the rocks making for a skittery descent. Lower down the angle eased and eventually a more pastural scene arrived and Steffen and I jogged down the last section arriving at the Arpette Refuge 3 minutes before 8pm, just in time to catch last orders for dinner.

It was a relief to complete the first stage before nightfall, and we were all tired from a 4am start to catch the flights that morning.

Day 2 - Arpette to Cabane du Mont Fort (Aug 31st)
29km, 1810 metres of ascent
The day started with an easy downhill hike through forest to Champex. There was still evidence of the refugee camp for the UTMB trailers. At this point we parted company with the Tour du Mont Blanc and instead turned north for a long gradual descent to Sembrancher that sits in a wide flat bottomed valley. A few easy miles of hiking brought us to Le Chable at the base of the formidable hill to Cabane du Mont Fort. We raided the local supermarche and stocked up for the 1600m climb. We got slightly lost and missed the turn for Villette but eventually found the old church at Les Verneys and plodded up and up through the forest with fantastic views of the Grand Combin to the south. Once again the hut seemed much further than we were expected, but we eventually hauled our weary bodies up the last few metres to the fine Cabane du Mont Blanc with extensive panoramic views of the whole Mont Blanc massif.

Day 3 - Cabane du Mont Fort to Arolla (Sep 1st)
31km, 1780 metres of ascent
Day 3 provided the wildest sections of glaciated landscape with numerous cols around 2900m. The morning consisted of flogging up steep boulders perched on ice to reach the Col de la Chaux, followed by Col de Louvie and Col de Prafleuri which then had a very steep descent at first, to drop down into a broad bowl of glacial debris. At the Cabane de Prafleuri we took shelter from the frazzling midday sun to grab some lunch, before continuing onwards and upwards to the Col des Roux. Once at this col we could see our next destination - the huge turquoise Lac des Dix reservoir. Speed marching got us to the far end of the lake before too long, but we then had another long complex flog up to the Col de Riematten at 2919m with the weather starting to look a bit dodgy with dark clouds looming.

It was a relief when we crested the col and began the long descent to Arolla. As usual this descent went on longer than anticipated, but we eventually made it into the village centre and checked into the Hotel du Pigne just before it started raining.

Day 4 - Arolla to Zinal (Sep 2nd)
32km, 2330 metres of ascent
Day 4 was when the group split. Steffen jumped on a bus to Les Haudères, whilst David, Ellie and I hiked the guidebook route which took us on a massive detour up to the Lac Bleu, which seemed a bit of a waste of time and effort. So when we eventually reached Les Haudères Steffen was long gone, and in fact we never caught him all day.

The climb above Les Haudères is scenic at first through grassy meadows with ancient wooden herders huts. We plodded up the 1400m ascent to reach the Col du Tsate and a gradual descent to pick up the asphalt road alongside the Lac de Moiry and stomped along the road to the restaurant at the dam for some lunch, and to escape the early afternoon rainstorm.

Once we realised by text that Steffen was well on way to Zinal we left the Moiry dam and headed over the Col de Soirebois 2847m in rather driech cool misty conditions. The descent the other side was down ski pistes in amongst the tows, before a final steep tricky section through forest and greasy tree roots to arrive at Zinal about 6.15pm with Steffen looking cold and bored. The village was looking largely deserted and shut up, but found the Hotel Le Besso was open, so checked in.

Day 5 - Zinal to St Niklaus (Sep 3rd)
34km, 2290 metres of ascent
A relaxed early breakfast at Le Besso set us up nicely for the climb out of Zinal. We eventually realised we were following the markers in reverse for the world famous Sierre-Zinal race following a narrow contouring path high above the valley floor. The trail gradually climbs and wends east to cross the Forcletta Pass at 2874m. It was too cold to wait for Steffen on the col so we headed down and he caught us before we reached Gruben for the scheduled lunch stop.

Once again we found ourselves in a completely deserted village with just a single point of salvation, the Hotel Schwarzhorn which served ice creams to get us going on the afternoon's 1100m climb up to the strangely named Augstbordpass. The descent on the other side required utmost concentration through exhausting sections of boulder field before finally turning a corner and presenting a fantastic 1300m descent of zig-zags to St Niklaus. We began at fairly conservative pace but after Jungen the gloves came off and Ellie let rip with myself and David at full pelt trying to match the pace, and vaguely wondering when someone would back off, or plummet off the track.

I think we thoroughly impressed (or baffled) a couple of English hikers as we flew past. We met them later in the village square in St Niklaus as we were hunting accommodation. They suggested the Edelweiss, so after a brief look at the Monte Rosa which looked like something out of a Nicolas Roeg horror film, Ellie and I followed suit.

Day 6 - St Niklaus to Zermatt (Sep 4th)
30km, 1900 metres of ascent
The final day of the trip began with Ellie giving Steffen her rucksack to take to Zermatt on the train, since Steffen was opting for an easy day. No such luxuries for David, Ellie and I. Instead we launched straight into a 1500m climb up past Gasenried to reach the rather gnarly and contrived Europaweg that has been hacked around the hillside following a contour at 2600m, passing through huge rock slides and with one very wobbly suspension bridge across a rotten gully. Once we'd passed the Europa Hut we called it a day and barrelled down the hillside on wooded zig-zags to arrive at Randa, right back at the bottom of the valley. From here it was easy hiking to Tasch for ice creams, and then the final 6km or so up to Zermatt where we found Steffen dossing at the Youth Hostel. The evening was rounded off with a few beers at the cosy Elsie Bar where Ellie finally got to try out the Rab duvet jacket.