Author Archives: Alex Pilkington

An Account of the 2018 Highland Trail 550 – Alex Pilkington

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Pre-Start at the Real Food Café – Tyndrum

In the beginning…

The Highland Trial 550 race has been on my radar for some time, previous years I have been committed to a team on the Three Peaks Yacht Race, a different sort of endurance adventure race, I had done this four times and was ready for a change, I am always keen to try new things and I soon get bored of doing the same event. I emailed the creator of the HT550 – Alan Goldsmith last November and he asked me to send in a resume of my rides, in it went and that was it, he said I was in! – it was six months to go to the event… I was already apprehensive of the undertaking, not having mtb’ed so far before in one go; also my concern for the reliance on technology was my biggest worry. All my previous ‘expedition style’ races were Adventure Races (ARs) with traditional paper maps, where proper ‘navigation’ and good route choice is the key. I had not really entered the world of GPS apart from using my iphone maps – call me a Luddite!

I was lacking my ‘race head’ this year, having taken a step back from the AR and MTBO circuit, but I had enjoyed a year that was made up of long, hard touring style adventures; so having to ‘bury’ myself in ‘race mode’ was another minor worry, also I wanted to enjoy the journey and quite often it is not always appreciated when your head is down and racing. As such I was keen to do some reccies at a ‘touring’ pace and to soak it all up beforehand. The reccies were all ‘opportunist’ based on the weather, fortunately this year my work has been quiet, so getting a ‘long weekend’ was not a problem and my family is very understanding to my needs! What was a problem was the long winter that the UK has had this year, this meant carefully checking on which sections to reccie.

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The HT550 Route

In February I did most of the northern loop in dry and super cold conditions, the highlight was crossing Fisherfield – I did not see a person from entry to exit, the solitude was almost overwhelming, I stayed in Shenaval Bothy and even had to break the ice in bare feet to cross the river, it was no place or time to have a problem! That was about 170 miles of the actual HT route reccied. Next reccie was a month later, more snow cover this time meant a more limited reccie of the middle section, the highlight was the frozen tundra of Loch na Stac. That was about another 80 miles of the actual route reccied. Final reccie came at the end of a week of family holiday on Mull in April, feeling slightly warmer now, but still in winter kit I joined a bike-pack buddy and we did the first section from Tyndrum to Melgarve Bothy, so that was another 70 miles done. With these three reccies I had started to feel that I had just ‘touched the sides’ of the whole HT thing. I had enjoyed every minute of each reccie and was blessed by lovely weather each time.

In the months running up to May I started to hone my kit and get new stuff and properly test it, so again more excuses for bike-pack bivvies in my local area of the Lakes and Dales, each week I’d try to spend a night out under the stars, so much so it now feels like my life norm – something that I plan to carry on for the rest of the year! Half of the fun of these ‘expeditions’ goes into the preparation and in the absence of multi-day bike-packing experience, good preparation was the best thing I thought. A little bit about ‘the’ bike… for the last couple of years I have been given a Trek Stache to test ride around on. The 29+ tyres seemed a gimmick to me at first, however as my rides on the bike progressed, as did my love for it – it was a comfy, capable, reliable and fast old stead – I loved riding it and it soon became my Mtb of choice – I recommend that you try one!. It did have some niggles though; the 1×11 gearing was limited – meaning easy to spin out, it was also quite a chunk heavier than my previous endurance Mtbs (Chiru Pulse), the Stache was around 13kg. Over the winter months I got the funding permission to build my own new 29+ bike. It soon started to take shape, most of it from China – Frame, Rims, the group-set was the super-sexy Sram X0 Eagle – engineering excellence! I loved sourcing and building it all up, even spoking up the wheels. In January the ‘Fatster’ was born a superlight 29er+ weighing in at 9.8Kg – even with the volumous Chupacabra 3” tyres!

Pre Race Countdown…

The year rattled past quickly and soon the month of May arrived, it was now countdown time to the race… I learnt that Rich Rothwell would not be racing as he had the Colorado Trail race to attend and also the Phil Addyman had decided not to race after having had 3 HT550 races in him already, this was a bit of shame as I was keen to meet those guys and enjoy the journey and race with them. Having read their HT blogs from last year I felt like I already knew them, I also enjoyed reading Neil and Chris’s accounts; they were all so well written and gave a good insight into all aspects of the race. So I hope that my account can do similar!

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Pre-race Social – enjoying a HT550 beer down by the river

I travelled up to Tyndrum with Stuart Cowperthwaite another race veteran and it was a good opportunity to pick his brains on the little things that were still bugging me. I had never used a ‘Spot’ tracker before and had hired one from ‘No Worries’, so after a bit of guidance on how to make it work I was okay with this bit of kit. I considered buying one, but for the amount of use the hire option from ‘No Worries’ was ideal and I would recommend them. Tyndrum was nicer than I had remembered, with a lovely camp site and a small selection of places to eat, but mainly the ‘Real Food Café’, arriving on Friday afternoon we prepared the bikes, because of the dry and warm forecast some kit was ditched – out went the lightweight duvet jacket and other such stuff (I have done my kit list at the bottom of this account). We then had a lovely evening group ride down the valley to a river; some special HT550 beers were provided by Stu Taylor of Kirby Lonsdale brewery – another local to me rider / bike-packer. It was a great prologue to the race and the beer would be my last for a few days. The weather was warm and dry, as was the forecast for the week ahead and as had been the previous few weeks weather, the trails would be dry and fast, however the heat could be a problem as could finding ‘good water’.

Day 1 – Tyndrum to Garve. 157miles. 16,000ft. 17.00hrs riding.

Race-day dawned, I had had a mediocre sleep, the bunkroom had been quite noisy all night. I stuffed down a mammoth 6 Weetabix, Stuart out-gunned me having a whopping 8 Weetabix. We were good to go and rolled around to the café for a strong coffee, with riders all congregating and chatting about the journey ahead, it was warm and shorts and top would be the norm. I was fascinated by all the different bike set-ups and rigs – stuff attached to the bike in all sorts of odd places! At the start line by the cemetery Alan called five riders forward to start – I was one of them. I had met Alan the night before for the first time. I liked him, he was a bit of a comedian and it seemed he liked to ‘big up’ the competition in the race and apparently I was told I was one of the race favourites. I was not overly welcoming of that, but I did know I could ride a Mtb bike quite well for a long time and was good with dealing with ‘shit’ and all the pressures of multiday races. I have a strong view that a long race is won on efficiency in the second half rather than speed in the first half. I was keen to set off at my own pace and ‘cruise’ – racing would come later on day 3 and day 4 perhaps.

As expected it was a pretty fast start and I settled nicely into a group of 4-5 riders. Stu Cowperthwaite edged away and was soon out of sight – I’m sure that was not the ‘game-plan’ he described to me on the way up…. A fast pace I thought, no one put up chase. Glen Lyon soon came and soon went, then a big climb over to Loch Rannoch. I found a nice Exposure Diablo light on the trail, I assumed it to be Stu’s – he might be needing that I thought! Soon across the ‘bog of doom’ under the majestic Ben Alder, the bog was in fact okay and could almost have been ridden, but I choose to push – save the quads and a helpful opportunity for a leg stretch. For some reason along here I got really bad cramps down the inner quads, really painful and worrying at this stage – just 50 miles in, perhaps the heat had caused it, but I had been having plenty of electrolyte.

Soon on the Ben Alder single track which is mostly all ridable, but the going was tough under the unusual and intense heat, Lee Cragie rattled past me up here. A quick word about Lee… I had not met her before, but I certainly knew of her, it was nice to have a girl with us at the sharp end; she was a pedigree rider and was here to ride hard. She had done the race in 2016, but due to GPS failure had missed out a short section of route and the ride time was DQ’ed, a tough nut to have to swallow! A couple of other riders came past on this single track Huw Oliver another strong contender and previous race veteran; and then the incredible single-speed legend Javier Simon, who I was told was a ‘postie’ from Spain – so I thought the ‘Post mans’ path down Loch Maree must be his favourite section! Ben Alder was hot going, it was my first time in the heat this year, so I was not yet conditioned to it – I was keen not to push it into the ‘red zone’. Not long after and with the fast decent we soon arrived at Laggan Wolftrax, a cold coke and ice cream was much needed, I caught up with Stu here and gave him back his Diablo in return for said coke and ice cream – it was lush! Stu and I then rode together over the massive Corrieyairack Pass into Fort Augustus – 95 miles ridden it was 18:30 and time to re-stock at the garage (also on offer was Pizza or Chip Shop). Not keen to pig-out too much I settled with food from the shop. It was 10 degrees colder in Fort Augustus, with a strong north-easterly blowing and I was keen to eat-up and get going again to warm-up.

Stu was looking cold, I urged him to get going and I set-off. That was the last I saw of him in the race, sadly he scratched as he discovered an issue with his front wheel axle rattling. Two riders were ahead – Javi and Huw.

I was ready for the evening-into-night section, there would be two big climbs and about 40 miles of trail and 20 miles of road ahead, my plan for the night was to get to the ‘lean-to’ shed that Phil had used last year near to Garve village. The darkening evening was cooler, which was good as it meant the pace could be ‘upped’ a little and not risk over-heating. The hike-a-bike (HaB) around Loch na Stac was spooky in the evening mist but it was good to test the bike a bit on the rough lake shore path, the soft tyres allowed it to roll-through the rough going terrain and it was good fun. I came across Huw by the spooky old house, so we rode together and it was nice to chat and get to know each other a little, I left him at the road where he was ’layering-up for the night section. The 10 miles or so of road where a welcome respitr as you can just press the pedals and relax a little, also the ‘tri-bar’ set-up on my bike allows a rest of the hands – it works well for me, despite the laughs it gets! I rode past the ‘Hydro’ bothy without even noticing it in the thick hill fog, but no intention to stay there, I wanted to be off the mountain and through Contin, ready for the next day. The lean-to soon appeared and it was full of roof insulation packs, these where perfect and I fashioned a nice bed, ate some food, sorted some stuff and went to sleep. I went to sleep very quickly – it was 02:20. I wanted 3hrs of sleep, this is usually a good minimum and from the research and practice from in our previous ARs, 3hrs is sufficient for the to reset the mind and rest the body.

Day 2 Garve to Suilven. 136mile. 16,000ft. 19hrs riding.

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Early Morning Day 2 – Inchbae Forest

I awoke naturally at 05.10, a rider had just sped past, I think it was Javi. I had some more nosh – like a quick porridge (aka Breakfast Bomb), packed my stuff up and was off quickly by 05.25. I felt refreshed with the short sleep and it was good to be back rolling along. The next sections where nice fast trails and would take us back into the wilds, I saw a deer and was aware of the back-ground melody of the Cuckoo, also the sweet smell of the Silver Birches was noticed, it seemed that my senses where hyper-real. 40 miles to Oykel Bridge. I was not sure if the hotel there was amenable to racers and decided not to stop, besides I was good for food and drink. I caught Javi just after Oykel he was ‘spinning away’, a brief chat and I pressed-on. It was quite a bit of fast road over to Loch Shin and so to the start of the top Bealach Horn section, Huw soon appeared in the distance and 30min later we were riding together and chatting again.

These social interludes were a pleasant interruption to the solitary riding. The weather was clear skies and warming up, I had sun creamed-up already, but was keen to have a short break and power-nap before the big Bealach Horn climb. I found a nice flat shady spot, ate some food, watched Huw disappear up the long slope, got my feet out and closed my eyes – 10 minutes should do me.
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Day 2 – Dusty trails en-route to Bealach Horn

Javi cluttered past on the rocky track 15min later and triggered me to get going, so I 5 min I was rolling and it was about 13:00. Normally a ‘power-nap’ is a great way of getting a ‘waning’ pace back up again, not on this occasion though, I felt really ‘flat’, no leg power and a general willingness to get off and push. So that it was. The climb went on and on, Javi soon disappeared, but no one behind yet, the heat was intense and the sweat was causing additional chaffing – my backside was a bit sore and a slapped on some Sudocrem which eased things greatly. It’s a tough trail up to the back of the Bealach Horn, mainly all HaB and it must have taken 2hrs to do the 5 miles, ahead I saw Huw’s distinctive blue top, I was surprised to see him. I stopped for few moments before him, the scenery at this point was mind-blowing – a rocky amphitheatre with lochans at different levels – it was Eagle country for sure. Eventually I caught Huw and he said he was rough, I assumed he’d over-cooked it on the climb and told him to get his face in the next stream. He started moving again, so I also carried on assuming he’d pull-through.

I later found out he had a gotten a stomach upset, presumably contaminated water, from somewhere lower down…? Having had a bad stomach in previous races from consuming dodgy water, I was treating my water with an iodine dripper to sterilise it. It makes the water taste unpleasant, but it does do the job. Huw was assisted off the Bealach by a fellow racer / friend (Scott Lyndsay) and then decided to scratch from the race, which was a real shame.

The long descent off the Beallach Horn was dry, dusty rock-spitting fun – something more like in the south of France and not Scotland. Soon at the start of the next climb, I asked at a house for some water and got a bottle filled, the young guy there was interested in our journey and I told him he could watch it all on Trackleaders, I was super-thirsty and it was nice to have a big swig of drink. The next climb almost broke me, the heat was over-bearing and I eventually summited after a hard 45min push. On the summit I felt nauseous and seeing me wobble around a bit some campers came to me, sitting me down in the shade of a shieling, I soon started to feel better and we chatted, I appreciated their assistance, they were doing the Cape Wrath Trail. After a 10min rest I was okay to get going again, Kylesku Bridge and hotel was about 10 miles away. Some real food and a cold coke were on the mind.

Traversing the Loch and who should come past, but Lee, it was nice to see another racer, but she wasn’t for slowing to my pace and was soon disappearing into the distance. We caught up again at the hotel and had a nice ‘fast-tracked’ meal together, some soup, bread and salad, could not stomach much more. The staff at the hotel where ace. 30 min in there and it was time to hit the ’roller-coaster’’ road to Drumbeg and so on to Loch Inver. I stopped at Drumbeg Store and got more coke, some fudge packs and a couple of yoghurts. Again another example of race solidarity, Steve from the store was happy doing night shift and welcomed me by name as he was following the race on the tracker. The food was good and I was starting to feel a little ‘more me’, I had been off form all the afternoon. My sleep plan was to get past Loch Inver and bivvy on the trail side somewhere by Suilven at the end of the rideable track and before the Assynt HaB. I had hoped to be nearer to end of the HaB or even Oykel Bridge, but I was grateful for just feeling better.

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Day 2 – Loch Inver Sunset

The moon which was almost a full one, hung in the sky above the mountain, a warm easterly wind was blowing, it was almost midnight and still 17 degrees. I could not believe that this was Scotland! I soon found a good spot on a glacial slab, the usually routine started – food down me – bike check and prep – bed prep – teeth – treat any sores / abrasions and clean myself with a baby wipe. I even rinsed my socks as well and hung them on the bike. I led down watched some stars and was soon fast asleep in no time. I did not set an alarm as I would wake at first light around 4ish.

Day 3 (which merged into Day 4).  Suilven to Tyndrum. 257miles. 24,000ft. 45hrs riding.

A awoke with a midge nibbling my face, it was 4.05, no time to soak up the nature, there was a job to be done and the midge was present. I was packed up and rolling at 04:25, I had plugged in some tunes and it felt really good to be moving, the best bit was that my socks had dried out! The Assynt trod is a good quality HaB, some sections are okay to ride, but not much. I even had a spring in my step and enjoyed running with my bike, the sun had not yet appeared but the skies were clear. Am I really in Scotland? Arriving at the end of Cam Loch was a photo opportunity, not much of a ‘selfie’ fan it had to be the bike with the mirrored loch and Suilven behind. Soon I was on to the long road section from Ledmore Junction to Oykel Bridge and I had a big fat breakfast on my mind…

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Early Morning Day 3 – End of the Assynt HaB

I was feeling really good today, the bike was flying and I was thinking that this would be ‘race day’ perhaps…?

I arrived at the hotel at 08:30 and was surprised to see Lee, she was finishing her breakfast, we chatted a bit before she packed and I also had a ‘job’ to do while a loo was nearby – it was good to get sorted and cleaned up a bit before my hotel breakfast – us hobo-like racers were in the bar with no other guests nearby so it was okay! The owner lady was following the race and keen to provide a fill. The breakfast and coffee was eagerly consumed – my body was hungry for calories in any form! The lady informed me that the rivers were so low the fishermen were unhappy as the fishing was poor – I privately laughed at them, they were there in the mountains surely they could do something else…? Outside was parked my bike and then a line of ‘Range Rovers’ with their rods attached. Some people have more money than sense – I was glad to be a hobo bike-packer! I was soon rolling again up the long Strath Mulzie, the song of the Cuckoo and the Sweet smell of the trees was back – it was another gobsmackingly nice day! It was going to be hot, hot, hot. I sun creamed up before I left.

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Day 3 – Oykel Bridge Hotel – A Good Breakfast!

I did not want to put an effort in to catch Lee, I had another much bigger plan hatching… The Oykel to Ullapool crossing went well and I was riding strong, eating lots and enjoying the moment, highlights of this section being the technical single track and Broom descent to Ullapool. While going along here thoughts of an old friend – Mike, who past-away this time last year came in to my mind, I felt quite emotional, but I could feel his good vibes encouraging me along. I was so lucky to be doing this great adventure!

My body was beginning to feel that it had gone through a ‘Change Curve’

Day 1 – Shock

Day 2 – Rejection

Day 3 – Acceptance

Day 4 – Normalisation

Once in town I decided that Tesco’s would suffice, I had a fair bit of stuff to get, that I had been thinking about on the way in, I used a handy little draw-cord bag to carry it all in – so into the basket went fresh fruit, milkshakes, juice, ice creams (Solaroes), chicken slices, packs of sandwiches, baby bels, meat sticks, crisps, fudge, sweets. I ate the ice creams and gave one to a chap (can’t recall his name) who had just done the HT550 the previous week from Ullapool where he lived, he filled me in on the race, it was good to know what was happening. Lee 15 min up front, Javi 120min up front, Fraser 90min behind. The food was good and I must of looked a bit wild eating it all so quickly while sat in the shade next to the parking drop-off. The Coffin Road loomed!

Before the start of the infamous ‘hill’ I decided to park the bike at the river bridge and go for a cooling dip in the water – air cooling was no longer enough, we needed water cooling! It felt beautiful and I was looking forward to the big hill. Sure enough it was despatched quickly and I was then down at the bottom of An Tealach – time for another swim before the next climb. I enjoyed the fruit that I had got; it was good to eat something healthy and real! The Fisherfield section is next and possibly my favourite of the ride, it is about 33 miles between entry and exit, on a good ride it is about 8hrs to cross it, it was 14:40.

The music was playing some nice tunes, I especially enjoyed Avicii and the words to the songs were very clever, it’s sad such a talent has now gone… I rode most of the hill, while the water was cooling me. Soon arriving at the ‘crossing’, which was pedalled easily through, I met a friend – Jim who I knew as race marshal from the ‘Open Adventure’ races, it was nice to see another face and one that was familiar, I was happy to chat for 5 min, he was on a wild camp with some friends. Jim had had a bad fall on a Welsh fell Race 5-6 weeks ago and required many stiches to the head, so it was nice to see him back in action. I was not envious of their camp, in fact quite the opposite; I was still loving my ride and LIVING THE DREAM!

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Day 3 – In the middle of Fisherfield and fancy bumping into Jim and Hilary…

Near Carnmore Lodge I stopped for my Chicken Dinner, which I knew would be a winner! I also dried and talc’d my feet which made them feel much more comfortable. Despite the holiday weekend and the lovely weather the place was still empty in the early evening sun. The single track to Letterewe was good going and almost all rideable. It was nice to get to Loch Maree and the start of the Postie’s Path. I put on some compression socks to protect my legs from the brush and also from ‘pedal bites’. I really enjoyed this section and my biking skill on the narrow off-cambered trail was super precise and sharp – better than I have known before. Next up on my mind, I was wanting to get a coke at the next hotel, it would be close call for last orders, but was not going to bust-it to get there.

I got there at 22:55 and went in the landlord was clearing up saying that last orders was 5min ago, after pestering him and the offer of just leaving two quid for him, he just gave me a can. I was happy, but I did not want to upset him; however I did think he should make the most of the trade while he can – I would have done. I was surprised to see that Javi was still at the hotel – odd..? I found out he was having problems with his rear axle, he’d been there a while, maybe 2hrs. He said he was scratching from the race, but then a short while after he changed his mind and started down the route again. He passed me while I was getting my lights and night time kit sorted – I was getting eaten alive it was a horrible midge experience. Javi has a lovely riding style, it seems like a constant cadence he pedals, I have immense respect for him. We headed into the night and into Torridon…

My planned night stop was the Tea House Bothy, it sounds romantic, but it is at best a 6’ x 8’ shed sleeping 3 at squeeze, so by my reckoning it would be Lee, Javi and me, however it may already have guests…?

The night was warm, clear and it was a FULL MOON. Never waste a full moon I thought!

Arriving at the Tea House stood three bikes and Javi who had just ‘pipped’ me there. ‘Awesome’ I thought – a good excuse not to stop, lets push on through, no way was I spooning a hairy Spaniard (as cuddly as he was) in a hot shed, nor was I going to get eaten alive by bivvying outside! I told Javi I was going to ride on a bit, and set off up the Achnashellach single track.

I put on some Armin van Burren and turned the music up, there was a party in my head and the mountains where my dancefloor! Off I flew into the night and it was the best nights riding I’ve ever experienced.

Not sure if it was me but everything was flying past, I had a lot of lighting power – an Exposure Toro and Petzl NAO, the slabby decent was great fun, as was the road section and steep climb out of Glen Attadale – which I even managed to ride. The legs were just not for tiring! Riding down Strath Carron I was aware of smelling wood smoke, I kept expecting to pass a little camp fire. Something caught my eye above me on the left and on the skyline the mountain was a blaze – this was bizarre sight and I thought it can’t be happening – it all added to the moment, which will never ever be repeated I’m sure.

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Night 3 – The Burning Mountains of Attadale Estate

The track down to Glen Ling is okay, but the bit along the river is rough, I was having problems with my right thumb, changing ‘up’ gear was hard, my thumb was stopping working, legacy of a previous injury, it was messing up my shifting and my riding was ragg’ed. I had a small ‘off’ over the bars here, but was okay and gave myself a talking too – to take more care! I lost one of my phone power packs here I think, but I had a backup one, I did not want my phone to die, I was using it for everything – in particular my music! Dornie Castle was reached at sunrise and was looking surreal. The little back road out of the village up the hill side was cycled, it did not feel too bad, despite its 180m sea level climb – but I was now wanting to get to Camban Bothy for a rest!

However, it was a hard climb up the back of Kintail range and the weather had changed to a cold easterly wind and a strange mountain mist was present. With the waterfalls up there it felt un-welcoming and cold, in this unchartered territory I was now tiring and the wind was pushing me back on the steep climb, in a gust of wind my headphones ripped out and stopped working, which was most annoying, but it was good to give my ears a rest! At 07:30 I arrived at the bothy, I went in, one room full and people all asleep and snoring, I went into the other – empty, so shoes and socks off and a porridge breakfast made.

I had ridden hard for 27hrs, I was going to have an hour shut eye, no sleeping bag, I would wake up shivering and set off quickly to get warm again – I didn’t want to get comfy. I guessed I was an hour ahead of the other two after my rest.

Glen Affiric, although very picturesque, was hard for me, I kept getting the ‘sleepies’ and needed to ride quicker, I also needed proper food and Fort Augustus was 35 miles away. I was now paying the price for the fun in the night…

I have been ‘here’ before and knew how to deal with it; it is best to keep thinking good things and not letting the mind wander or feel negative.

Tomich Forest was beautiful in the warm morning sunlight, another place that I had not before visited and I pledged to return and enjoy the trees sometime. I ate the last of my sweets and half of the last bar. I had some biltong, but was not enjoying that. On the second big hill I took a wrong turn and pedalled a mile up hill, sensing I was wrong I checked my phone – DAMN my ‘dot’ was off the line, back down I whizzed. The error maybe cost 20min, but I think that it was a good thing as it woke me up and got me racing again, an hour later, around 14:30 I was back at the filling station in FA. More sandwiches, ice creams, gold bars, pies and fruit. My feet where killing me after the bumpy descent and needed to be aired – I headed up the locks and de-gunged myself there, I had fancied a rest, but now that I was in 4G land I checked the tracker, it looked like Lee was about 80min behind, which sounds like quite a lot, but can soon disappear at this fatigued stage of the race.

The Great Glen route was a pleasure to ride, we had a north easterly wind helping things, and it was nice to get down on the tri-bars and spin a bit. Fort William was about 32 miles away, may be 2.30hr if all goes well…? We followed the vast canal on shady paths, there was some sections of single track, to break up the easy bits – I was happy with ‘easy’, but had to follow the route line. The route line was my life and I was in my race ‘bubble’. I stopped at Coop just before Fort William, it was just after 17:00, more ice creams, coke, sandwiches, chicken and Friji. I afforded myself a 10min rest and de-socked again. This was a ‘scuriest’ moment of the race, at the back of the Coop in the shade, I sat – a pile of dried vomit one side and a small drunk man the other. He pestered me for money to buy a tin of Tenants beer. I check the tracker again and it looks like Lee is 20 mile back and Javi 25 mile back, you have to be a little wary of the trackers as the updates aren’t always at 5 min intervals.

For once in this the race the end now felt in sight, but that was still 40 miles and 6-7hrs of hard riding away.

I was happy with things and set-off through the suburbs of the town. Turning off up the ‘Glen’ a roving reporter ambushed me for a chat, it was quite nice she wanted to get some of my insights to the race – it wasn’t easy for me and I think I strung together some garbled nonsense… It was very welcoming to get out of the vast metropolis and be back on the forested trail, the climb was steady away and my legs where still happy pedalling – I can’t believe how well this day had gone! – which was now a merge of day 3 and day 4 into one!

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Day 4 – WHW The back of the Devils Staircase …enroute to the finish!

The West Highland Way is a popular trail but at 18:00 it was now empty and fun to travel along. The fat tyres soaked up the bumpy terrain – the bike had been faultless. A lovely long valley lay before me and a steady climb before the steep drop into Kinlochleven, it was another stunning evening. Soon the descent arrived, another fast rock-spitter. On the descent I missed a turn and had to back track up again to re-join the WHW – my second navigation mistake, but not too bad – some walkers had been stood blocking the way marker!

Kinlochleven looked interesting and very industrial with the big black pipes and the big buildings – no time to sight see though! Very quickly it was back climbing again and surprisingly rideable, apart from the steep start, this section leads up high and on to the ‘Devils Staircase’. The going was slower especially with tired legs, I was keen to progress over the mountain and get to easier terrain before darkness. I managed the decent without lights it was around 22:30 and it was pretty rough going, I aired on the side of caution and pushed down some bits – no time for a stupid prang. I did not realise the King House Hotel was shut and being refurbished as I had banked on getting a coke there. Not so. I was super thirsty and Rannoch Moor was inhospitable – even with a big bright moon, with the dry weather there was no healthy looking water around, I passed some campers having a fire and sing along – it looked so nice to crash and joint their party, they afforded me a bit of water and said there was tap back down at King House – I had no intention of going BACK!

I was getting lazy and not being bothered to look at the map I did not realise how long that cobbled road went on for, at least after a short climb from the Glen Coe Ski Station it seemed to be a slight downhill for a long while. I had to wrap up as it had got cold on parts of the moor; so on went the hat, waterproof and thick gloves. I eventually found a good mountain river and filled my bottle; this was just before the last HaB section which was a ‘new’ addition to the HT over previous years. I prayed that the decent was rideable, fortunately it was and I was in Bridge of Orchy soon after, at about 01:00. I was starting to ‘shut down’, I had pushed myself to the limit and I remembered the pictures in Phil’s blog of him wrapping up in a space sheet and taking on the look of an alien at this point in the race – at least it was warmer tonight – I could have just slept anywhere I recon. I rang Kerry saying I was about 30 min away – it was about 5 ½ miles and actually took 52 min – the last push up through the railway cutting was a ball-buster. It felt good to be finishing and return to ‘normal’ life. A lot of emotion passed through my mind as I rolled into the village. The route was magical, the weather was perfect (if a little hot) and I had raced the best that I had ever done. I was elated – I’m pretty certain all this will not happen again. Scotland was so, so good to me, I simply loved it!

At the finish Kerry was there and the boys and a couple of photographers, it was a minimalist and sweet finish. Kerry was expecting me to look worse I think, we hugged, she said I smelt, which I was surprised about given all the swims that I had! After a couple of pictures later and we rolled back down to the camping. I was craving food and beer, so had a quick feed and crashed into a deep snoring sleep…

The morning after it was sunny (yet again) and I met Stu and his family and we walked up to the café and then met Lee and Javi who had arrived not long since. Breakfast was SO good.

Times for top 5 finishers (Trackleaders times):-

Alex Pilkington – 3:16:52

Lee Craigie – 3:20:59

Javier Simon – 3:22:00

Nelson Trees – 4:04:00

Pete McNeil – 4:06:31

This year’s race had claimed a higher rate of attrition than previous rides, probably due to the heat and also drinking untreated water.

Post race

Almost a week after finishing and I’m still feeling a little tired, my sleep pattern is not the normal circadian rhythm yet. My hands and backside are okay and my thumb is starting to work again, my feet now have leather skin on them and where it is cracked it is a little painful, but they are healing. I went into the race at 76.5kg and came out at 73.5kg. My ideal race weight is 75.0kg and I’m loving the eating! The extra weight is no bad thing in these long races, especially if it is colder conditions, as it makes you far more robust than a skinny speedster. The bike just needed a quick dust-off; nothing was too trashed apart from the saddle that had cracked in half – the third saddle I have broken on long rides – do other folk have problems with saddles breaking in half or is it my skinny hard arse that does it?, the other thing was my soft soled, lightweight North Wave cycle shoes – these where practically new on at the start and the front of the right shoe is now separating!

My next big ride is the Trans Pyrenees as an Independent Time Trial (ITT) in August. The question is will I be back again for the HT550…? Maybe – I loved this one, but I may go and try something bigger… I know I won’t get a ride quite like this one again – everything seemed to align so perfectly! I would like to say a massive thanks to Alan Goldsmith – he is a legend and should be so proud to be the creator of this iconic race – I got him a bottle of Whisky as a token of my gratitude. My family have been unbelievably supportive and I felt them willing me along during the race, as have all my ‘dot-watching’ supporters, wider family and friends – I hope I put on a good show! Also to all the fellow competitors, you’re all nuts and some of you have the most intimidating beards ever – but you are a new circle of wilderness loving folk that I now have the pleasure of knowing, so please keep up the exploring and adventures!

HT550 – Alex Pilkington

Kit List:

‘Fatster’ 29er+ Bike Lavender-oil (antiseptic and bug repellent)
Alpkit Food Caddy Foot-powder
Topeak 10l Seat Post Bag Sudocrem
Alpkit 8l Bar Bag Caffine Pills
Topeak Top Tube Bag Multi-Vits
Drawstring bag (packed away) Mountain Hardware (MHW) Water-proof Top
750ml bottles x2 Montane Featherlight bottoms
Spokes x2 North Wave light weight Shoes
Tubes x2 Mavic Windproof
Chain Links & Spare Rear Hanger MHW Base-Layer
Puncture Kit MHW Arm Warmers
Zip-ties Short Sleeve Top
Gorrilla Tape Assos Bib-Shorts
Multitool Compression Socks
Pump Leyzne High Vol Gore Fingerless gloves
Bungs & Plastic for tyre repairs MHW Warmer gloves
Chain Oil MHW Hat
Suunto Ambit+bar-mount (route logging) Buff
Iphone (navigation, camera, music) Giro Helmet
Spot-tracker + batteries Rudy Photo Chromatic Glasses
Charger-pack (x2) + leads Alpkit Bivvy-bag
Petzl Nao Head torch MHW Hydrophobic Down Sleeping-back
Exposure Toro light Inertia Sleep Mat
A4 Back-up Maps Midge-net
Earphones Biltong x4
Sun-cream For Goodness Shakes powders x4
Bum-cream Bacon Strips x2
Toothpaste + brush Flapjack x4
Wipes & Tissue Chocolate / Granola / Paleo Bars x8
Comprehensive 1st Aid Sweets
Iodine (water treatment and for wound treatment) Nuun Electrolytes
Breakfast Bomb x3 (porridge/protein stuff)

…quite a lot of stuff – but a lot less than I would have taken if the forecast was not so good!

 

‘The Life-Cycle of Adventure’…

Monday’s often the worst day of the week for most of us – isn’t it? …however I think it is in some ways the best day of the week… As one weekends adventure goes to rest, so the next one must be spawned! Hatching plans (when you have the spare moment) helps you get through this hardest of days. Monday’s are tough, you are nearly always tired, you are at work, you don’t want to be there and you need to recover that body and start preparation for the next weekend’s adventure…

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Torridon – Home to the UK’s best trails

A few people have suggested that I do a write-up on some of my recent adventures, journey’s and little challenges that I have been doing over the last year, so whilst I sit here nursing a broken rib (which is stopping me from getting out!), its a good time to reflect and do a little blog about the general moment with some pictures to bring it to life…

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Make time and discover those trails…

I have taken some pride this year in doing virtually no racing, which may seem odd to my fellow racers. So apart from the Three Peaks Yacht Race that I got press-ganged into and just a couple of Open 5s, that’s it really, no major races. Previously in my sporting life, well in-fact almost all my life in the last two decades (family stuff aside) has revolved somewhat around the racing, in all its various forms and guises. As the years have gone on and you get older, your perspectives, motivation and abilities change and you must adapt with these, mainly just to stay sane, healthy and injury free. But even as you mature and the hunger for the ‘killer thrill’ may reduce, the appetite for exploring, adventuring and challenges is often still there.

So how does one satisfy ones appetite for challenge, adventure and exploration without the races…?

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A brief rest on the Trans Verdon Non-Stop VTT from last year

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Trans Verdon – Grand Alpine Vistas and a huge feeling of Emptiness – On a long and wild ride with minimal kit the risks are high and self-preservation is the key – We used to say in our Adventure Races – ‘Easy on the Hard and Hard on the Easy’

Well then… I have had a few ‘biggish’ things on the ‘back-burner’ for quite a long while now; these are just personal challenges to me (for example: Southern Upland Way Non-Stop Bike-Pack, Lakes and Dales Grand Tour Bike-Pack, Winter Solo and Unsupported Bob Graham Round, Trans Verdon Non-Stop VTT (Velo Tout Terrain), Route-de-Grand Alpes Ride, Trans-Iceland Bike-Pack and a few others tucked away…). In between these and in my ‘normal routine life’, I also fill in the gaps with some more spontaneous ‘micro-adventures’ often around the drum-beat of the working week, to take out the monotony and to cut out my long commute home. So say, just for one night I would stay in the woods or fells of the Forest of Bowland, which is nearby to my work and is a beautiful unspoilt place to discover and explore and be at one with nature.

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Solo Winter BGR – Sunrise Is ‘The Moment’ you so long for after a tough, dark night

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BGR second attempt – far too much ice and not the right kit!

Also my love of the all-night adventure is still super strong, a throw-back from those big expedition Adventure Races. Being out at night time brings out a whole different perspective on things. Your body’s feral senses adapt to these, whether it is on a long distance non-stop ride or just a wee bivvy out, either way if the night sky is clear, it is a stunning experience and will cost you nothing and provide long lasting memories. The full moon is a particular draw for me, and I never miss a full moon night if the sky is clear – No apologies, it’s like an addiction.

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The mountain and the bike in the Northern Pennines  – just making trails!

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Hidden bothy – home sweet home after miles of riding!

 

So in the last couple of years my bike(s) – both road and mountain have been the mainstay of most of my recent adventures, it allows you to undertake great distances with relative ease and with the bike you often make those interesting discoveries of little new places sometimes just to make a mental log of and revisit later with more time to properly explore. There is so much to see out there and it is often just doing that special journey, creating a bit of time to do it in between all the other stuff in life…

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Cold sunrise on Cross Fell on another winter trip – almost every visit to this place is a proper mini-epic for me – so thankful of its existence and the people who look after it (MBA)

Running has been less prevalent, but earlier in the year I enjoyed a couple of Bob Graham attempts, whilst my primary ambition was to do a winter un-supported solo round (only ever been done once before I believe – maybe more on that later…), my secondary ambition was to have a good night time adventure in the mountains.

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Making Shadows – Hadrians Wall crossing, winter just gone

I now find that the recovery time from a run takes so long, I still enjoy running very much, but it is hard on the body and to me the body is like a machine with a finite life – I compare it to the aircraft I work with, aircraft are all given a ‘Fatigue Life’, so if it is used hard, its working life is reduced… So I am conscious of still wanting to do stuff in my more senior years, without the need for too much in the way of repairs and maintenance…So I have adapted my sports as best I can, so I still run and I still race – but perhaps not the tough little ‘balls-out, smash-fest’ ones (aka BOFRA style!).

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Mid canyon lunch stop in a Verdon tributary

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Catching the breeze in the Verdon on a raft of pallets and an old shower curtain for a sail .

Being abroad also adds to the spice of adventure in a really big way, as things are often done differently and the climate is usually different, this brings in more interest, more excitement, more anticipation and more thrill. So make sure that on any foreign visit you try to pack the running shoes as a minimum and plan in a little something – get a local map.

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Maps…

For the Pilkington family this year, Morocco provided the backdrop for adventure runs and family treks. Morocco is surprisingly close to the UK, but is so different to anything else nearby. Being a map addict is useful and can help in making the adventure more successful, I like the challenge of poor mapping (like in Morocco), getting ‘misplaced’ is often much easier (I don’t like saying lost!), but it sometimes brings about other surprises and discoveries. In general and in my opinion local people are often keen to help you find your way, so never be afraid to ask. In certain places a local guide may also be useful, but for me and my family I like to be that guide. That said, a local guide can provide those ‘cultural’ connections that don’t come out when you are on your own and they usually know the terrain and conditions intimately.

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Trekking over a high pass in the Atlas – Tacheddirt, Morroco

If you ever get to Morocco, try and plan a visit to Imlil in the High Atlas Mountains, it is a very basic, little mountain village and the main gateway and start point for the Jbel Toubkal trek – Jbel Toubkal is the highest point in Morocco and in North Africa at 4116m. It usually takes two days and is a pilgrimage for many, with most staying in the crowded mountain hut at 3100m, which is where the mountain becomes a ‘proper’ mountain! I made an attempt on Toubkal this year on our holiday, somewhat spontaneously, with very limited time (heading out at 5.30am and aiming to get back for a late lunch with the family at 2pm – it was a challenge, but I had seen that it had been done in 6.45hr) and I was going with very minimal kit (i.e. no ice gear), so I thought 8hrs (ish) would be do-able. However I decided to abort proceedings just after the refuge hut – as a vast and quite steep snow slope was looming ahead of me. The mountain had seen quite a lot of late winter snowfall and it was not really a place for trail shoes alone! It was not really a disappointment for me – I had primed myself to expect this, and it was a stunning run to the refuge and I did at least get to glimpse the summit high up there …Something for another time perhaps!

Never be too disappointed if your plans don’t always achieve their goal. Just be pleased to have done what you have done and move on and learn for another time. I always have a ‘Plan B’ for things. Adapting and making a sensible and safe call is key, particularly where risk is involved. Experience in the discipline helps, as inexperience can often lead to over-expectation and sometimes an un-safe outcome…

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Dragging the Bro out on a ‘work-night midweeker’ bivvy in Bowland

We are lucky and very privileged to be able to do this sort of thing. I sometime think that ‘Less is More’, and I mean that in the materialistic sense. Having good kit certainly helps, I always believe in good kit, cheap kit can also be fine, but you need to know what you rely on most and make sure it is up to the job. All adventures start in the garage, preparing and maintaining kit is critical. E.g. if there is a fault on your bike from the last ride, fix it as soon as possible and don’t leave it lingering, otherwise you’ll forget about it and it will be there again when you need to grab that ride in a rush – keep everything serviceable – fixing things is good fun and a good way of learning how it all works and how to prevent ‘mechanicals’!

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Hansel and Gretel Cottage (MBA bothy) in the Scottish Borders – an MBA ‘work party’ weekend in January

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Lads ‘n’ Dads trip to a 5 star bothy near Langholm.

Putting something back in… I get a heck of a lot of pleasure from coaching the junior runners in the Settle Harriers. Running forms the backbone of most sports and is probably the easiest, cheapest and best way to stay fit. Developing the young athletes and seeing them improve is very satisfying, making running ‘fun’ is also important.

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Attending a bothy ‘work-party’ with the boys in January this year

And then there’s the organising of stuff, having done probably a hundred navigation based races over the years , you begin to know what to look for when you come to create your own. I have done several for the British Mountain Bike Organisation (BMBO) and for Open Adventure. The BMBO are always on the lookout for people with the local knowledge and ‘way-for-all’ with planning an event. It is deeply satisfying going out and recceing the routes and then drafting the map and looking at the route options and other pit-falls and gotchas.

Finding the balance and involving the family. There never seems to be enough time to do everything you want to do, also I can tell you exploring and adventure is very addictive – the more you do, the more you want. So you have to be creative, bring the family into wherever possible, re-visit your best child-hood adventures – be it raft building, or making a tree den, or finding hidden animal trails through the forest. Always be inventive with time and remember you do need to some time to relax!

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Just a bit of warmth from the burner – ultimate luxury :)

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This is a favourite spot of mine…

If you need help, or want inspiration or suggestions please just give me a shout . Have fun out there and I hope that reading this has helped ‘sow the seeds’ for something…

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Cool Bivvy spot less than a mile from home – proving that you do not need to go miles to get somewhere fun

The adventure stats so far this year look like this…

10 nights on the bivvy, usually under stars

8 nights under canvas

18 nights in the comfort of the bothy

5 nights just pushed-on-through – non-stop adventure!

Numerous nights in the van

Some on these my own, some with friends, some with family, some with both friends and family, some with complete strangers – spread the adventure – always find time for it – Get on with yours!!!

 

A tale for Mike…

While Mike had his illness, we managed to do a few ‘harriers’ outings with him. I thought I would recount a couple of Mike’s last adventures.

The first of these was on a chilly Saturday last November. Mike was picked up in the morning and clumsily bundled into the van like a fumbled get-away! Annie made this look quite easy when she demo’d the manoeuvre, but it was the best that John Murfin, Gary Allsopp and I could do to get him seated ‘in position’. Destination Barbon. Mike had his Mk1 chair with its ridiculously small wheels and no electric motor… We had a little route planned, one that the harriers include on the usual ‘Barbon Run Circuit’ taking in the lovely woodland path up from the church, by the river and up to the footbridge at the bottom of the infamous Fell Race route. We had no plans to do this with him…

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We parked in the village hall, a handy car park for the Church Mouse Café, where we stop for refreshments afterwards. It was a cold crisp day and we got Mike properly wrapped up, so much so he took on the appearance of ‘Michelin Man’. We took shifts on ‘push’, and we were soon going up the infamous driveway way to Barbon house, were the race cars and motorbikes reach 100mph on the hill climb days, we were doing about 2mph flat out. Soon we reach the bridle-path and within a 100m of off-road scuttling we realised we were going beyond the intended usage of the chair. Each time we came up against a pebble or small protrusion, we would come to an abrupt stop and Mike would be flung forward and saved by his belt. We soon found a ‘wheelie’ position provided best progress. Halfway along the path where the river bridge is, we stopped for a wee dram, to stoke us up for the final hard push. John and I were proper slackers, as it seemed only fair and right that Gary does 50% of the work while us two do 25% each, we worked this out because Gary had just come off a long haul jet and had been eating lots of rich food for at least the last 30hours and therefore he needed the exercise.

We made good progress and were soon out of the woods and on the Fell with lovely views in all directions and all the Autumn colours on show. Nearing the river crossing we were pleased to see a new bridge in place, to replace the one that got washed away in the floods of December 2015. Great stuff, we wouldn’t have to ‘ford’ the river with Mike. On closer inspection we realised the chair was a little too wide to fit across, however we worked out that if we rocked him right back we could travel across it and reach the comfort of the smooth tarmac on the other side. Once over, fast progress was made to the top of the village. Going down from Barbondale into the village is very steep though and we again had to keep a good hold of the chair, so that it did not accelerate off un-braked into the village.

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Soon at the café we all piled in and found a little table after a bit of crashing and banging we had Mike installed, we looked like a bunch of ‘L’ drivers trying to get him in place. The people there were really accommodating and we had some great food. It made for a memorable outing! We had a few more little outings with Mike, one around Cowan Bridge to the Highwayman Inn in March, then another in May, which I will tell you about…

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Mike had just come out of a ‘bad patch’ and was keen to get out and have an explore, we were using the new electric ‘buggy’ now. I had learnt from the last time I went out with him (which was with Kerry) that the buggy is quite quick and requires a good pace to keep up with it, so this time I thought I would take the bike. The buggy has had some wheel issues with its old tyres and punctures, however these had all been replaced and it was looking in good shape for a ride out. This time it was just myself along with Mike, Annie suggested we stick to a route of around 6-7 miles maximum. I had something in mind to head towards Cold Cotes. We were soon bombing along the road towards Ingleton, having a good natter, Mike suggested we aim for Gary’s house, hoping that someone would be in. We crossed the busy A65 and were heading up the nice little lane to Gary’s place, all good with battery levels all in check and I had clocked 4 miles so far. Vehicles were in the drive at Gary’s so things looked good for our brew stop, as it happened all the family was in and we got the usual friendly Allsopp welcome and dragged inside. I always like going to Gary’s place as there is always an abundance of cake, how Gary stay’s in such great shape with such temptation near by is beyond me!

We enjoyed a nice cup of tea and catch-up, plus we had recruited another rider to join the outing, Gary got his kit on, selected one of his many bikes and joined us. So we set off up the hill to the ‘top road’ then it would be a simple matter of cruising down into Ingleton back over the A65 and along the back roads to Bentham, via Andrew Hinde’s – rude not to call in for another cup of tea! We had being checking the battery levels and they seemed to be happily in the ‘green’, by now we’d covered some miles, Mike assured us it would go on for at least 10… Soon after crossing the main road, Mike started to lose speed 9mph turned 3mph, after 100m he was stopped. We let the buggy rest for a bit and tried it again, it surged off, then 200m later fizzled out to another halt. By now we were only a quarter mile from Andrew’s, we hoped that he was in, or at least someone was in… We took turns in pushing and this was hard work I tell you! The chair must weigh 60kg plus the weight of Mike, but eventually we had him parked up on Andrew’s drive. No car there, but luckily a knock on the door and Jenny popped out, we explained what had happened, and while we were talking to Jenny, Andrew arrived – fresh from a Fell Race and a super market shop which I really can’t imagine Andrew doing! More cups of tea and a phone call to the ‘Annie Rescue’, we had a good chat with the Hinde’s, with Andrew and Mike recounting some old race’s and stories regaled in the usual ‘Hinde’ wit.  Twenty minutes later Annie zoomed up the drive and we had Mike re-loaded into vehicle and on his way back to Bentham a couple of miles away. So we did not quite manage the sneaky 10 miler that Mike had secretly planned in his head, but we had a great adventure. This was sadly Mike’s last big outing, but it’s one that he’ll remember and we’ll all remember.

R.I.P. Mike you were an ace fella!

2017 Three Peaks Yacht Race – Team Wight Rose

At the start of this year I had planned in my head not to do this Yacht Race for a forth time…

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That was then this is now, and I have decided to write a few words about it as it is my only big race this year and I had a bit of time on the yacht… not often you can do a blog mid Adventure Race!

I have had three great races with the team, getting some good results including winning overall and also cleaning up most of the mountain stages. The skipper Geoff West called me in March and announced that he was fancying another race, this one would make it his fourteenth, he has won seven – he likes doing it and he’s retired – so has plenty of time! I said I would have a think and ask around the ‘odd-ball’ end of the running community who like to do this stuff. Not surprising the Czech Machine – Pavel Paloncy was keen to race it again, so that was half the run team formed. Most others I asked where committed to the other smaller Scottish Islands Yacht Race. So it looked like I was going to have to do it…

That was March, ages away until June. But I was conscious of my lack of running over the last year or so, but the lack of running has given way to tonnes of biking, so I was still fit, but not properly ‘run-fit’. The months ticked by and my running achievement’s were really quite minimal and those few that I did, made for some really sore legs and long recoveries, hence the shift to riding more, as recovery is much, much less. So it reached a point where I thought I would just ‘wing it’ and manage as is [stupid me!] Normally for this race I suffer through Leg 1 – up/down Snowdon, then super-perform on Leg 2 – Scafell and then scrape through Leg 3 – Ben Nevis. Not the best approach really. Also I did not want to let my partner down either – Pavel is optimised for endurance, so he’s not what you’d call super quick, but he just keeps going and no distance or ascent seems to phase him. He is now known as the Czech Machine and many organisers like to invite him to their races to test him and test their race.

The other worry for me on this race is sea-sickness, previously I have suffered then adapted, this year I thought I would be clever and try to get hold of some anti-sickness pills, so I had a chat with  Dr Morris a fellow racer and adventurer and he provided the ‘gear’. June drew closer and my life seemed to explode into a million things to do and some additional problems thrown in for good measure, also the passing of Mike Wynne was a bit of a struggle for me and all my ‘coping mechanisms’ where being stretched to the full. Then the biggest difficulty came – Mike’s funeral was on the Wednesday after the race, I knew in my head that it was I bad idea to race as the chances of finishing Tuesday and in time to get back to Yorkshire would not be guaranteed. I did not want to miss the funeral and Annie had asked me to help bare the coffin. So I asked around the running ‘odd-balls’ again to see if anyone fancied a go – no luck – all busy. I did not want to let the team down either, with sailors coming from Holland and runners from Czech and the boat from the Isle of Wight – it was all kind of a big operation. I had many chat’s with people including Annie and decided that me racing was the best option, I felt happier with this and explained the situation to Geoff, he was concerned but understanding, we agreed to review things as the race progressed, at the time we talked he was starting the seven day journey to deliver the boat to the race start at Barmouth and it had been super windy – wind is what we were wanting – and with good winds we could be finished by Tuesday pm.

As I checked the forecast (as you do!) in the week before the race it appeared a shift of weather patterns was forming, the constant rush of ‘lows’ where giving way to a nice ‘high’, with it – warmer days, little wind, basically lovely beach weather or bike riding weather, but totally crap for a sailing race where I had imposed myself a finish deadline! We drove down to Barmouth, picking Pavel up on the way at the airport, its a nice drive down and we arrived there at Friday tea time. I knew exactly where the sailors would be  – in the bar of the sailing club – they said that they had been hard at all day and were having a rest… It was nice to have Kerry and Henry along at the start as it is a nice festival atmosphere on the race day. I was not expecting the boat to be prep’ed or tidy. I showed Kerry and Henry our race yacht – it was no luxury and in the usual state of mess (only joking!), but that’s how the skipper likes it – he knows where stuff is, but we don’t!

We got through all our pre-race chores, the biggest one being doing a food and supplies shop – quite a lot of food for 5 people for 4-5 days. As midday approached we said our good byes to the family and got on board ready to set off to the start line a mile off shore, start would be at 14:00 – a neap high tide. The wind was blowing, the sun shining, it was a nice place to be. The flare marked the start and we got off to a flying start – 14 boats where sailing and we were at the front and edging away. Leg 1 to Caernarfon is about 70 miles and you round the tip of the Lleyn Peninsula, it is a pretty sail and always an interesting one with crazy tides and currents around the Bardsey Sound (see pic) then the narrow channel into Caernarfon. My stomach was holding up and we were doing 8-9kts, so all was good. A change of direction as we rounded the Peninsula and headed north meant sail change time – time for the spinnaker, sometimes known as a kite, it is a massive sail and simple fills with the breeze and the boat zooms along, we were making 10-11ktsnow  and our time on the first leg would be super quick.

19477822_10212908983896884_1494759491_n Rounding Bardsey Sound

The downside to a quick sail is that the run into Caernarfon would be on low tide, marker buoys mark a channel through the deepest bit. That’s the theory, then ‘bang’ we hit sands and came to grinding halt just 30m off the buoy! Sandbars move. By race boat standards we were in a biggish boat with a 2.3m keel, deeper than most of the other yachts which around 2m or less. Pavel and I were down below getting stuff ready for our mountain run, the sailors scuttled, banged around and shouted above, the wind was pushing the boat onto the bank each time a wave came there was a huge bang as the boat got jolted, sail reefed in the situation seemed slightly better, but the swell was still pounding us. The engine could not shift us, so we anchored to prevent being moved and stuck further. The good thing was we were on a rising tide, if not I am convinced a rescue tow would have been in order. Other following boats eventually caught up and saw us stuck and managed to take a different route, a couple didn’t though, one ‘Team Ajax’ being perilously close and was getting pushed our way, we avoid by a few meters. After about 75mins and a lot of thrashing and pounding I could see our position relative to the buoy move, which meant we were off!

I was now feeling ill again having chucked up twice already I decided to have an anti-sickness pill – but not the best time to have it, the best time to have it is an hour before you go on the water… We made it to the pier at Caernarfon, where the runners discharge the boat. To try to give me some energy I managed some sweets and a gel, I was kitted out and ready, however I was conscious of feeling totally ‘monged’, I recalled Alistair saying the pills did have side effects (as do most pills!)… So now I start my 25 mile run, it’s 11 pm, I have no food in me, I feel like a space cadet and just want a sleep. The start adrenaline helped me adapt a bit, but I did not feel great and the 8 miles of road run to the ‘ranger path’ was pretty miserable. Surprisingly only two teams got past us in the sand bar incident, so we were 3rd on the mountain – White Cloud (Alistair Morris and Phil Scarf) 50min in front and Hare / Hill 80min in front; not likely to catch but something to chase.

It was a warm clear night, the best I have had for Snowdon, it was a nice place to be, but I was not performing and when we heard a gate slam in the distance behind us we knew we were being chased – Pavel took my pack and we hotted up the pace – we had a job to do and that was run as fast as we could as a pair. The summit soon came and I was feeling better after stuffing down some gels and chocolate and electrolyte. The descent was dreadful for me, as the one thing you seem to lose quickest when you don’t do as much fell running, is descending skills. I felt wooden and a lump, then I rolled my ankle – a lot of pain, but soon goes and seems to happen all the time now – I have a knobbly ankle as a result of the abuse. The pain eased and I was back on my way trying to catch my mate back up. It is a rocky long descent from Snowdon and I knew I would be paying for this later… We soon reach LLanberis, which marks the start of the 8 miles of the ‘longest’ road back to Caernarfon. To get through this it’s a case of lock yourself in the ‘pain chamber’ and get on with it.

We closed in on Caernarfon town and saw runners in front, no sign of those behind, this helped boost our moral as we pushed to get to the boat, we caught up with the White Cloud runners, which surprised me as they are quite ‘handy’ racers and my running felt pretty tardy, better still the team behind seemed to have dropped back. We hopped aboard the boat ready for the next sail to Whitehaven, normally about 12-15hrs, but we had to negotiate the Menai Straights and the fast tides that we would encounter would not be in our favour.

19458162_10212908986656953_1221532609_n  Slow progress against strong tide in Menia Straits

19433863_10212908983376871_1551192019_n  Telford Bridge – Like being on a river

Four boats got to the Menia Bridges, impressive engineering – especially the old Brunell Bridge. It was like being on a big Canadian river here, with fast currents, big back eddies, rocks on the surface, rocks hidden – not really the place for a yacht. But it is better to do this route than go round Anglesey, which adds 30-40 miles on to the 110 mile leg. We tied to a mooring buoy and watched the other boats battle it out, inching forwards and back as the wind came and went and was barely enough to compensate for the tidal flow – two forces of nature trying to control our destiny! Eventually with some bold sailing by the 72 year old John Donnelly – skipper of White Cloud, they made it – it took them 60 min to do ½ mile. Then Hare/Hill made it (more on that team later), by this time Geoff was getting super twitchy and decided it was our turn, so we un hooked on set off (see pic), with some canny sailing we got to the best channel and prayed for the wind to keep the sail aloft, we had just enough, our speed being about ½ kt. Once through that the straights open out and then it’s the problem of following the channel markers to avoid grounding and so on to the Irish Sea, normally windy and choppy. Not today. It looked like oil was on the surface and barely any wind. I won’t describe the next 30hrs, as that’s what it took us to do the next 90 miles, suffice to say it brings in a different set of sailing skills trying to eek out every bit of performance from the boat and this is where Kees was at his best – tweaking and fine tuning the sails to eek out every bit of performance. The biggest bonus was that although we did find many wind holes we did every little rowing – which is hard work on a 6 tonne yacht.

So day 2 we were closing in on Whitehaven – 180 miles of sailing done, with 200 miles to go to Fort William. Overnight we passed White Cloud, Hare/Hill and Moby J took more westerly routes, which were longer and no faster. White Cloud was moving faster than us as it was further out at a better wind angle and pipped us into Whitehaven. We had a tidal gate there of 11.20, White Cloud got in at 11.10, we were 8 minutes behind. As you enter the harbour you can put the engine on and reef the sails, effectively completing the sail leg. Approaching the outer harbour, we followed the route that the chart maps as the deepest channel, then ‘bang’ we grind to a holt 50m from the harbour lock entrance, engine on sail up we try to free ourselves, but the falling tide says ‘No’. So we can’t get off we have to sit this out – 11am, we phone harbour master and tell him our predicament and he laughs and says it will be 5pm before we are able to float free. What a pisser! The boat starts to list over, eventually at 50deg, its like trying to sit on a ‘black run’ impossible. Radio on all we can do is chill, but it was annoying as we were prep’ed and psyched for the mountain. Trying to draw out some positives, it was bloody hot and by the time we are on the hill it will be a fair bit cooler. Time to sun bathe a bit, go for paddle, look at the jelly fish, talk to locals curious to our predicament and taking pictures of us…

19441196_10212908983736880_1788538220_n  This was not the plan…    19441328_10212908984056888_873591006_n  6hrs – like resting on a ‘black run’

As the afternoon progresses other boats start to appear out side the harbour and moor up to wait for the tide to rise. 4 boats arrive, Moby J – 2 hours behind, Hare/Hill – 2 hours behind that, then two more. At 4.30 Moby J sneaks past us and into the lock, as it is a smaller boat with less draught, so there off in front… We start to move at 4.45 and make a go for it, but the lock takes an age and is filled with 4 other boats, this takes 30 min and is so frustrating, but by now I am not to bothered about waiting a minute or two longer… Soon we are in and its bikes off, and away we go up to the 5min mandatory kit check stop – all good, teams get asked there estimated time we say 5.20hrs, last year we did 5.25hrs and the record is 5.22 – we want to beat it!

19511804_10212908986376946_1064934714_n  Free from the boat and off to Scafell

It’s a brilliant ride using an old rail line path to get us out of Whitehaven and up to Kirkland village, then we drop into the stunning Ennerdale, 21 miles all in to Black Sail hostel, about an 80min ride – I love this and we get a train going! Black Sail is a bike drop and then we run over the Pass, down to Wasdale and then up the big hill, about 14 miles and should be about 3.45hrs. The evening is stunning, we pass Rod Howard (from Sleepmonsters – ace AR reports! – see pic – Rob Howard)

19458417_10212908986216942_256627457_n    Cruising through Wasdale     19489548_10212908986336945_1700816823_n  The Beautiful Ennerdale

Rob takes some pictures and all is good for us, but the climb is tough in the still, warm evening air – no records today me thinks as the pace drops, but we try our best, Pavel takes my pack on the descent and I take his on the next ascent, so we maximise our progress. We meet the Moby J runners and can tell they are going well – possibly better than us… Soon we summit (see pic) and begin descending, I love picking the best lines and I find some belting grass trods that miss the nasty slab/boulder path (which is a pig to go fast on). I hope this helps us make ground, but they are about 25 min ahead and we don’t see them again, all we can do is keep the ‘foot on the gas’.

19477875_10212908984496899_1496439357_n  Scafell Summit

Soon we summit Black Sail and start passing other teams 3-4hrs behind us, hi-5s as we pass, soon back at the bikes and it is a midge enhanced transition, so no willingness to faff. We are rolling and it feels good, no punctures to great us with, or bike problems. We reverse the route, by now it is dark, so it is headlamp time, the thrill of the narrow rail path as we steam along at 25mph is awesome – I hit a bat full on in the face, it does not hurt me so much but not so sure about him! The watch tells me will be in at around 5.30hr, so not quick enough to get the record but a quick time non-the-less in the hot conditions. We close in on the harbour and we do it in 5.35hr. Happy with that. We are greeted with the sailors who announce we are 10 min too late (a) for the record and (b) to get out of the harbour – arse another 5hr wait…! Being philosophical we will get to have a lovely shower and I would love a beer so much, it is now midnight. The team has some non-race personal issues to discuss, so its team-talk time…

I for one have a funeral that I am keen to attend, Kees (pronounced like case) the Dutch guy, has a mother in Holland who is critically ill (also with cancer). The race so far has been slow and we have had three lumps of bad-luck. Fort William is at least 2 days away, so ETF is Wednesday night / Thursday morning. Given these circumstances and also Pavel’s follow-on plans for a Pennine Way record attempt on the Saturday, on balance it seems the best thing to do is finish racing at here at Whitehaven and retire. Sad as it is not to finish, but it is less sad than missing the others.   –  There is always another race  –   Without doubt we had some bad luck on the sail legs, but the sailing the guys did was very well, always being one of the lead pair of boats. As for the running we managed two King-of-Mountains, but it will be a big shame not to get the overall cup. It was a much closer run this time for us, with Muir Morton and Sam Bush of Moby J team pushing us hard. This makes for exciting racing and as we have trackers it is quite addictive following this race as there are so many unpredictability’s, that can change things either way for teams – we seemed to get on the wrong end of these in this race. In hindsight the smaller lighter ‘Tacktix’ boat we raced in last year may have been much better…

I feel like I want to do it again next year…

White Cloud was the first boat home, then Hare/Hill and double handed crew, who sailed and ran it all – incredible effort! Moby J won it overall on the IRC handicap.

See Sleepmonsters and 3PYR website for more info.

 

My First Three Peaks….

My First 3 Peaks

I was entered to run this iconic race back in 2013 and naively thought that the arrival of our daughter at the end of February wouldn’t make any difference to my training… yes, well anyone with children will know that was never going to work! So 4 years later here I was, lined up with the good and the great, ready to see if I had what it took.

I’ve done a few longer events over the last 6 months (TdH and Haworth Hobble) so the distance wasn’t the issue, but I’m not really a ‘fell racer’ and knew that for me, the speed was going to be my biggest challenge.

So on the day conditions couldn’t have been better, very dry underfoot, nice temperature, cloud rather than full sun and not too windy. OK, so no weather excuses then!

Quick kit check, safety briefing and then into position… and we’re off. Shuffle out of the field and then through Horton, hundreds of runners filling the road ahead of me in a scene reminiscent of a city marathon rather than one of my local fell races. Wow, what an event! Turn left and onto the track up Pen-y-Ghent and nice to see a few familiar faces cheering us on already.

Pen-y-Ghent to Ribblehead
I’ve been up here countless times but it never seems to get any easier. I started off just behind Julia but soon couldn’t keep up with her and that was the last I saw of her (well done on a great time btw). ‘Just go at my own pace’ was my mantra for now, there’s still a long way to go! 33 minutes in and here come the leaders, thundering back down the track that I’m huffing and puffing my way up… how do they do it? Tom Owen followed by Ricky Lightfoot and a steady stream of elite runners. Back to the grind. I reach the finger post and start running again and before I know it I’m dibbing in on the summit (00:49:04) and heading along the wall with the others. Despite my lack of climbing prowess I seem to be quite good at coming down and find myself flying past a good number of more cautious runner. I’m sure they’ll catch me later but for now…

 

I get to the bottom in no time, a few more familiar faces cheering me on and now it’s focus on keeping a good pace to make sure I’m within the dreaded cut off times. I soon catch up to Richard Timms, we run along chatting for a while until a laps in concentration and I trip over a rock and hit the ground. That would have been an embarrassing end to my 3 Peaks career! Dust myself off, back up and soon I pass High Birkwith (01:26:14) and plod on towards Ribblehead. I meet Carmel, catch Richard again (we yo-yo all day) and then hit the road. I hate road running at the best of times but right now I enjoy it even less. I’m keeping an eye on the clock and I’m going to make it to the next check point in time, but this short stretch on tarmac just seems to drag on. Before I know it I round the corner to Ribblehead, crowds and a tannoy announcing my arrival (01:58:05). Friends and family are waiting with supplies and words of encouragement, a quick stop and I’m off again. Having never done this race before I’m slightly nervous about the ‘climb’ to come.

Restocking at Hill Inn

Whernside
Everyone says what a beast the climb up Whernside is, and it didn’t disappoint! I’ve run up Whernside pretty much every way possible in the past but that top section, new to me and on tired legs, is an absolute brute. All four points of contact and every ounce of energy used, expletives and heavy breathing fill the air from all my fellow competitors. The shouts of ‘you’re almost there’ not making any of us feel any better until at last the hell is over and we’ve made it to the top (02:51:55). Wow, that really took it out of me! I don’t usually suffer from cramp but now it was hitting me with full force, stopping me in my tracks. How frustrating. For the next 10 minutes it was run, cramp, stop, stretch, repeat. Eventually it starts to pass and I ‘m back to running. I’m really familiar with the route down, and with gravity on my side I once again start making up lost places. Out onto the road and there was Annie with Mike and family, a quick hello and on to the Hill Inn. I was going to make it, no bus of shame for me today.

The Hill Inn reached (03:20:07) and the pressure is off. Another quick stop to replenish water and food (thanks support team!) and then it’s the last big climb of the day.

coming in to Hill Inn

Ingleborough
I do this climb regularly so I knew exactly what was to come. Walk, jog, walk and I catch up with Steve. Both of us are feeling it by now but keep ploughing on. Anyone who’s done this race knows just how hard this climb is at this stage; regardless of how fast or fit you are. So it’s head down and a slow grind upwards. By now there are almost as many 3 Peaks walkers mixed in with the runners and the steep section sees a bit of a traffic jam. To be honest it’s a welcome relief to go so slowly now. Half way up another familiar face (Pete Ellwood) provides some welcome words of encouragement and a swig of water… I’m finding this very hard now. More Harriers cheering me on and the summit is finally reached (04:18:01).

Now for the run off Ingleborough back to Horton. As soon as I start to run the cramp hits again big time. Ouch! Run, cramp, stop, stretch, it’s a repeat of Whernside for another 10 minutes. Steve runs past and disappears off in the distance, John Oz says hello and then I’m trotting off down the rocky track on very tired legs. It’s a long 5 miles back but soon enough the welcome site of the marquee comes into view and I know I’m almost there. I catch up with Richard and push on, knowing I’m almost there has given me a second wind. Under the railway, cross the road and I’m in the finish funnel to shouts and cheers and I’ve done it. My first 3 Peaks fell Race completed in 05:11:41 What a great day!

* A massive thank you to all the Harriers who made the effort to come out and support all of us runners. It certainly gave me a huge lift to see you all. And an even bigger thank you to Sally and Edie and the Rogerson clan for being my support crew on the day.

[David Alexander]

Coniston Fell Race (Roger Laycock)

Coniston Fell Race
What a cracking race! Steep climbs, fast descents, rocky technical sections great views and excellent cakes at the finish. Perfect! No wonder Matt Fretwell chose this as a first attempt at a longer race; apparently he’d never done anything as long as this 9 mile, 3,500ft classic. Hard to believe for such a good runner who seems to have been having good results with the Harriers for years. Any lack of experience certainly didn’t show and hardly seemed to hold him back as he blasted round in 1 hour 20 minutes, finishing 19th, (from 200+) not far off the front runners and that despite suffering blisters on the long, long final descent off the last checkpoint on the Old Man. An excellent result. Well done Matt.

It felt chilly in the valley before the start, but except for a stiff breeze on Swirl How, the second checkpoint, conditions were perfect. Dry underfoot, clear enough to enjoy the tremendous views into the Lakes and down the coast South of Black Combe; vest and shorts weather with just enough sun to work on a tan. It doesn’t get much better in the Lakes in April- well most times really.

My legs were still surprisingly weary from a three day run along the GR221 in Mallorca (150km and plenty of climbing), an equally excellent, but very different route, the previous week.( If you fancy doing it, let me know). For those who’ve done the Three Shires and know the joys of the first climb up Wetherlam, Consiton too packs much of its ascent into the pull up to the first Checkpoint on the summit. Not quite as brutal as the thigh burning slog from the Langdale side, but the height gained is no less demanding with a lung busting steep start, hands on thighs (for me anyway) for the first half mile and then a long, long trog up to the top. Sometimes tussocks, more often rocky, craggy paths needing concentration, reaching the summit doesn’t come soon enough for those of us who prefer downhill!

The run out to the second marshal at Swirl How is just the same as the Three Shires route with some scope for canny route choice and fast. In perfect conditions a great little section and chance to get air back in the lungs and run with ease. In clag, a different prospect with plenty of scope to go off exploring- I’ve been tempted before! The need not to make a larger and surprisingly easy error, going the wrong way off Swirl How, heading for Wrynose and not South towards Coniston Old Man, forgetting which race your in seems crazy. How could anyone mistake North for South, up for down, but apparently in poor conditions many do. Not this time, with a colourful string of vests setting out the good running route ahead, though sadly Matt, in his high-viz Harriers strip was long gone. (Does anyone actually like our health & safety inspired, luminous green, ‘look at me’, club colours?-just thought I’d ask- on behalf of quiet a few others).

Anyway……there are a few sections overall where route choice can make a small difference before the final run off the Old Man, but the best options from the summit do make quite a difference. I played safe, not knowing the best way off and took the direct line; straight down towards and through the old quarries. Picking a line, trying to maximise running on grass was great fun. Jumping off small outcrops, leaping boulders, taking the brakes off to chase down the runners in front. I managed to pass a few who were less reckless than me, but sadly lacked the speed on the last half mile down the old mine road (more sessions with Andy & Carole needed) to hold them off. Being overtaken by runners I think I’ve already passed for good, takes miles out of my legs. Those that knew the best line appeared out of nowhere, having gained lots of ground on people like me who hadn’t run or reccied it recently. Even more demoralising; they’re in front , but made less effort getting there! A great descent, fast (it’s all relative) furious thigh burning fun.

Coniston is a super race, similar to Fairfield and Kentmere (which I know quite a few Harriers have done) in the type of running and ‘feel’ of the race; classic Lakeland days out. Challenging, but not intimidating, something for everyone, great fun and great atmosphere, oh and great cakes, (or have I already mentioned that?!) Sadly, it usually clashes with the 3 Peaks, which means many Harriers don’t really look at doing it, but if you fancy a change from running a fell route on road, path and pavement, give it a go. You’ll love it!

Roger

Hester’s Hobble…

What a race, what a route and what a lot of mud!

The Haworth Hobble is 32 miles of beautiful Bronte country and starts with a run up the cobbled high street past the parsonage. We soon also passed Top Withins, which is alleged to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heights. Despite its accumulated ascent of about 4,800’, the Hobble is very runnable and the first 15 or so miles were fast. There was an impressive field of runners with the British Athletics team using it as a trial race before the trail championships in June (the winner finished in an astonishing 3.54hrs!). Needless to say, I didn’t see any of them and just kept my head down and did my own thing, which was mainly to try to stay on my feet and not keep slipping over on the wet stones and in the bogs.

DSC_0587

The route takes you along parts of the Pennine and Calderdale Ways taking in some gorgeous windswept moorland and numerous reservoirs. Curlews and lapwings were calling and it felt springlike despite being a bit damp and unbelievably muddy. Rachel Hill was running as a pair and passed me looking strong at about the 9 mile mark. About twenty miles in you get two major ascents and those felt tough. I was feeling sorry for myself on the climb to Mankinholes and then some friends passed me who had done the high peak marathon the weekend before. I knew they’d still be recovering and yet they were chatting away and didn’t appear to be suffering at all. It was nice to see them and it gave me a kick up the bum to try to crack on. The next cp was a bit of a godsend, there were two bottles of whisky on the table and as I arrived I was offered a glass so I necked it and it didn’t half give me a boost. I felt positively cheery and with a fire in my belly I headed for the ascent to monument at Stoodley Pike. Unfortunately the fire went out as I started the climb and it was a matter of just getting my head down and grinding it out.

DSC_0495

I almost cheered at the top and with wobbly legs I made an effort to get running again. We went down a killer hill coming into Hebden Bridge followed by some demon stone steps out of it and then up to Heptonstall, my quads were really complaining now! That was followed by lovely woodland at Hardcastle Crags which helped to keep me distracted & around this point I struck up conversation with another runner and we ended up chatting for most of the rest of the race which really helped to keep me pushing on and stopped me thinking about the hole in my sock, my aching knees and my sore toes. We had another steep climb to tackle and more beautiful moorland before catching a glimpse of the last reservoir before the finish. By this time I was feeling quite happy and relieved to know we were nearly home. Coming back into Haworth was brilliant and people lined up along the route to cheer us on. I’d started the race thinking I’d be happy just to finish it and so I was really chuffed to find I’d done it in 6.13hrs. It’s the longest I’ve run since my reactive arthritis after the Lakeland 100 in 2015. It was great to see so many familiar faces in the hall. I met up with Brian again and was delighted to find that he’d had a great run finishing half an hour quicker than the previous year (when he’d been getting over his pericarditis). Let’s hope this is the stepping-stone to more long distance adventures and a year of good health and good running.

2017 Settle Harriers Results:

Rachel Hill (with Tony Wimbush) 5:53:53

Brian Stallwood 5:58:22 (2nd M60)

Hester Cox 6:13:09

David Alexander 6:42:50

Laurence Ormrod 6:44:57

 

NB Photos are courtesy of Dave Woodhead at woodentops.org.uk

Giggleswick KWL Race

Hi all,

There was another good turnout this year at the Giggleswick KWL on Sunday with 33 Seniors running. This means combined with the Juniors there were 80 Settle Harriers competing, brilliant!

It was a cold afternoon making it difficult to warm up, and, combined with the delayed start time meant there was a distinctly chilly start line. Underfoot conditions were excellent however, and the absence of the usual snow and/or mud made for some exciting racing.
We soon warmed up with the stampede across the playing fields, this soon settled down and we were able to enjoy the delights of the stream crossing, the steep climb and the rock jump not once, but twice!
Well done to Alex Pilkington who executed his signature move of waiting until the end of the second lap before storming past me down the hill to the finish to be first Harrier home.
Congratulations to Carol Evans as First LV50 and 5th Lady overall, 50 secs ahead of the first LV40!
Commiserations to Steven Proctor who sustained an ankle injury on the second lap but still managed to finish. Hope it heals fast!

Well done to everyone who came along to race and many thanks to those who came to support and cheer us along!

Best wishes
Mark

[Also some photos on FB]

Results below:

Pos.
26 Alex Pilkington MV40 26:16
30 Mark Wildsmith MV40 26:33
32 James Annan MV40 27:05
35 Sam Griffiths Man 27:09
45 Adam Procter Man 27:53
58 Will Buckton Man 28:29
71 Carol Evans LV50 29:01
87 Steven Procter Man 29:59
88 David Sexton MV40 30:03
89 Richard Timms MV40 30:24
118 Laurence Ormerod MV50 33:16
121 Rachel Avison Fell LV40 33:18
122 David Wild MV50 33:19
126 Helen Greenep LV50 33:29
134 Nicholas Hutchison MV40 34:07
135 Andrew Hinde MV50 34:16
137 Richard Greenep MV40 34:23
140 Chris Beesley MV60 34:25
144 Judith Marshall LV40 34:44
145 Angie Mills LV40 34:44
146 Julia Murfin LV40 34:47
153 Stephen Moor MV50 35:23
154 Barry Scholes MV60 35:27
155 Julia Hargreaves LV40 35:34
158 Deborah Mahoney LV50 35:47
160 Clare Wild Lady 36:01
169 Helen Hutchison LV40 37:05
173 Ruth Maxwell LV40 37:21
176 Joanne Oakey LV40 38:51

180 Iain Crossley MV60 40:26
186 Jill Gates LV50 42:48
194 Richard Handford MV50 45:35

Tour of Pendle

Some six Harriers took part in the Pendle race last Saturday. I saw Mark W and Tony T at the start (and certainly, not thereafter), whilst I did not see Adrian W, Mark R or David A apart from sighting a distant Harriers vest at one point.

On the way over, I thought that we’d be relegated to the bad weather course as happened last year, since it was raining hard and also cold. The idea of “two laps round a muddy field near Barley” was a gloomy one, so I was delighted to find that the organisers decided to go ahead. It was colder over in Lancashire (the weather not the people) and snow was on the ground even in Barley.

Once away, we climbed quickly into quite deep (though not crisp and even) snow. By the time we got to the top (for the first time of many), it was about 20cm deep and it was snowing quite hard with a cold wind blowing. Some runners seemed to get by happily with shorts and vests, whereas I was more in the overcoat and muffler camp up there. As my wife kindly pointed out when I mentioned this later on, “that’s because they were going fast, dear”. How the leaders of the race broke trail I cannot imagine. On the occasions when I stepped out the muddy rut in the snow along which everyone followed, it was hard work just for a few meters to pass someone. I see the first three were within half a minute of each other so maybe they shared the trail breaking then had a sprint finish…well done guys.

 

I am sure most of you know this race. I had done it before but had mis-remembered how many times you drop to intake wall level before trudging back up to the top. So just when I was congratulating myself on being on the last ascent, I realised to my chagrin that the final and steepest one lay ahead. Doh! Oh well, I drew on my resources of motivation and managed to haul myself up. Over on that side of the hill and on top, the track was now just hard packed snow with no sign of mud, so it must have been getting colder. I managed to pass a few runners who were having problems with grip and practically on all fours to pull themselves up, and I arrived on the top for last time with no-one else in sight ahead and in mist. I took a bearing and counted paces here since the last thing I wanted to do was follow the wrong set of tracks back down the far side of Pendle. Happily, it soon looked like the M6 again, and then back to the finish.

Mark W was first Harrier in a cool 3h 9m, and Tony was just over 3h 30m. I managed 4h 9m which was a fair bit slower than I thought I’d done before. However, that feeling is one of “deja vu all over again” these days, although in fairness to all runners, the conditions must have made a rather slow race. The Harriers acquitted themselves well with everyone finishing in the tough conditions.

Loz

British Fell Relay Championships – Luss, Loch Lomond, Scotland

The Harriers had two teams out this year, a male open and female open (as it happened the female team was in fact a V40 and then male would have been a V40 if it wasn’t for Matt and Mark being so young!). We had difficulties getting 12 runners as a lot of the club seemed to be injured at present – people have to be more careful like me and not get injured all the time!
We travelled up Friday evening as it was a 200 mile journey to Luss (the home of the Highland Games), the girls stayed in a luxury hotel in Glasgow and us fellas camped in a damp field on the edge of a busy road. The morning of the race started fine and dry which meant de-camping and breakfasting for us was almost pleasurable, however the weather was set to change as a band of rain was due to hit (this was the only UK place that had bad weather on the Saturday and we had made a special effort to get the full effect of it!

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Kerry P – roped in to the ladies team at the last minute – coming down from Leg 1.

 
122 teams from across the UK where competing, thats over 700 runners in total, so it was a BIG event, however the organisation was slick and everything seemed to happen smoothly and efficiently! 4 legs where run with legs 1 & 4 being solo and shorter distance, on these legs we had Simon, Kerry, Matt and Carol). Legs 2 & 3 (Mike & Roger; Alex & Mark; Rachel and Carmel, Jill & Judy) where longer and tougher and for this years event they where quite a lot tougher, particularly the ‘nav’ leg, with the longest team taking over 4 hours to complete it. Now I am used to tough terrain and tough navigation and to me this felt pretty darn tough! tussocks and full on compass work, with check points mostly being ‘re-entrants’ (funnily at the start someone asked Mark and I what a re-entrant was..?, and I said it is a map feature that is hard to find! – Mark laughed and said that they would be in for a hard time…

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Mark and Alex, damp but pleased to have finished the ‘Nav’ leg.

For the race commentarywe where asked to provide a short team resume (which I thought I would share, as it gave insight into the team strategy)…

Simon Oxley – Leg 1 for damage limitation. Has a fondness for the longer fell races, but still cuts the mustard on orienteering races, so hopefully he’ll not get lost on this leg.
Mike Egner & Roger Laycock – Leg 2 old Brontosauruses moving through. Mike is to be crowned the 2016 V60 FRA & BOFRA Champion – no one has won both before; Roger is just happy when enough of him is working to allow him to run, has a fondness of Pendle.
Alex Pilkington & Mark Wildsmith – Leg 3 Alex is an ace navigator, happy on bike or foot, the rougher, longer, dirtier the better (notable events include BGRs both summer and solo winter, plus several Adventure Race World Championships at far flung places. Mark is fast and keen for anything; building up to a BGR in the next year, just done the infamous Marmot sportive in the Alps and nearer to home the 3 Peaks CX, also if you need a beer festival organising – he’s your man.
Matt Fretwell – Leg 4 Matt is the kid of the team and will smash leg 4, latest PB is a notable 12th in the 3 Peaks CX, he’s at home on the trails by foot or bike, he can descend a mountain faster than an avalanche.

The results where pretty reasonable: male team 42nd and female 102nd (or 4th FV40), overall winners where Dark Peak, with consistent runners on all the legs. For results and split time geeking see Sportident – also the ‘Strava Flyby’ is quite good fun to watch!

Also thanks to John Oz for coming up to support us.

Alex P