Author Archives: Alex Pilkington

Always Trying Something Different – Mountain Bike + Bivvy Kit = Bike Packing

This year I have eased back the miles on the running, particularly the longer distance ones, the main reason to manage wear and tear on the body as the years go on. I would not say I have abused my body over the years but it has had a harder life than most I think.

 

So you have to keep the adventure spirit going in some way and with less big Adventure Races planned I started doing more self-supported and extended MTB rides, exploring all corners of the Dales, some forays into the North Pennines, Southern Scotland and Cumbria. Sometimes taking the lightweight tent and sometimes using bothies, sometimes on my own and sometimes with company. There are a lot of bothies in cycle reach of Settle and they also link up to make some good tours. A bothy is really basic, usually just having a wood stove, however after a hard days peddling and especially if the weather is bad, getting inside a dry bothy is like heaven – even better if there is some wood left in there, to light a fire and get warmed up.

Bike-packed!

At the back end of last summer I was in Riders Cycles at Skipton, chatting to Stuart (the owner) and he suggested I try his YD200 route, he is big into his bike packing! He had organised this as a Bikepack event a  month earlier and said it was popular, I was away with work and could not do it. So on one fine Autumn morning I set off, as the route passed our house I started it from there, rather than Skipton. And indeed it was fantastic and the riding conditions near perfect, but it was a long day in the saddle (14hrs non-stop). Happy with finishing that, Stuart said he had a YD300 planned for mid 2016 – so I said it would be rude not too!

 

I was slightly apprehensive the last week before the ride, as I had never ridden that far before off road. I had also been given a different bike to use a Trek 29+ – basically a fat bike with 3” tyres, it was heavier than my Chiru 29er, but it was a really comfy ride and much quicker than I was expecting it to be. I planned to go light and fast and not to do an overnight bivvy, which many riders would opt to do, as sometimes I prefer to ride at night and manage with no sleep, it is really exciting, especially zooming along under the beam of the bike light and with the moon peeping through the clouds.

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40 riders where at the start, and a civilised time of 8am with a social breakfast provided, it was nice way to start things off, sun shining and a real mix of bikes and people – it was going to be a good, good day. Stuart set us all off in what was a very steady, lethargic start (and Stuart did keep saying it was not a race, in fact it was known as an Independent Time Trial (ITT) – no support, no kit caches, or pre-booked accommodation etc etc.) We were all rolling, myself not wishing to bimble along all day, picked up momentum and slowly rolled passed everyone and by Embsay I was out on my own and in the far distance behind a string of bikes slowly pulled up the hill over into Wharfedale, and that’s the last I saw of anyone. I planned to push hard, several hours of rain was forecast for late afternoon and I wanted to get some distance in. Dale after dale was covered, slowly working my way up towards Reeth, via Nidderdale, Coverdale, Wensleydale, Apedale, mile after mile…

 

In Reeth I called into Dales cycles for a couple of cans of Coke and some cake, had a quick chat with the owner, who was keen to hear of progress and was off 4 minutes later – 73miles done. Now raining quite hard – Waterproof top on and hood up and pressing on to stay warm, up the massive Fremlington edge, then over to Arkle, then Gunnerside, this was a milestone, some 95 miles and half way and now heading south – yippee all good, but a bit damp – 7pm and it had stopped raining. Over to Wensleydale we go, up the huge Cam High road to Newby Head, then down into Dentdale. A second stop for more Coke and crisps at the Sportsmans pub, I was his briefest customer that evening, another 4minutes stop, the second in only 14hrs. By this stage gates where becoming a nuisance – I had opened a hundred of them! The climb over the back of Whernside to Ribblehead was tough, I felt some tiredness in the legs and my climb rate slowed. 11pm at Ribblehead and time for lights, the night had begun – 64miles to go, just look after yourself and on very familiar territory, so no need to navigate. I have a good memory for routes and with the previous 200km ride I managed to do it all off memory, but with more unfamiliar territory on this ride and the extra distance I needed several more map checks – a wrong turn and several extra miles is not what you want, so it always pays to have a 30 second stop and check.

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The eyes were quite tired now from the wind, 4hrs of rain and riding concentration, so I had a caffeine gel at midnight which picked me up, I reckoned my ETF would be 5am, thinking it would take 21hrs in total. The routed winded through Crummack, Feizor, round the Settle Loop over to Malham, along Mastiles Lane towards Grassington and then just 15 miles to go – still all off road though. It was nice to see brother Roger at Stainforth, unable to resist the lure of a night ride, he joined me for the last 42 miles, Roger struggled to grasp the concept that I had already done 148 miles of MTB, thinking 42miles was a good ride! The company was lovely and we shared the night adventure, seeing owls, shooting stars and then one of the best sunrises possible from the top of a misty Barden Moor. By now just 5 miles to the finish and almost all downhill, it was 5am, we were in no rush, but the downhill provided some lovely progress and by 5.20am we were whizzing down the High St of Skipton, 8min later all finished and off the bike at last at Riders Cycle Centre on Engine Shed Lane.    Job Done!

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It would have been nice to have someone else pushing me along or to share the ride with, last years quickestrider another Stuart (Cowperthwaite) from Arncliffe, was not doing it due to an injury, shame as we would have been well matched I expect. The hardest part on an endurance event, is feeding the machine, your stomach has a hard time and often craves for stuff you have not got. I ate 16 choc bars, 1 cake, 2 butties, 4 gels and a pack of Haribo, 2 FGS, some biltong and a couple of pepperami, oh and 2 bags of crisps, 3 cans of Coke and about 5 litres of water and electrolytes. I had expended 13000 Calories, completed 190.7 miles and almost 22000ft of climbing. No punctures, no mechanicals and no crashes.

 

So if your run legs are tired, give the bike a go and explore. Get some lights and have a night adventure, or bivvy out, or go for luxury and try a bothy. Make the most of the long days and dry trails! Try a bike pack. Give me shout for help.

Haworth Hobble – 12th March 2016

Haworth Hobble 2016 or “My First Ultra”
A cool and bright start on Saturday morning was pretty much the best you could hope for a 32 mile race across the moors and lanes of Bronte country. After an unceremonious start 300 odd runners made their way through the cobbled streets of Haworth and onto the Wuthering Heights of Top Withens. “Don’t go giddy at the start” had been the words of advice I’d received from an experienced hobbler and I trotted out keeping pace with Rachel Hill and Mark Rogerson just in view. Single file over the stone flags to the first of many reservoirs was fine by me at this point.
Checkpoint 1 came up after an hour and not needing to take on any supplies I left Mark and his mate Michael and carried on up to Gorple Stones catching up with Rachel. There is a great descent down a gravelly track here and feeling good, and a need to crack on, opened up a bit and it wasn’t long before I found myself on the ‘Long Causeway’, a horrible drag of exposed main road. The route then takes a turn through some farms where, after squeezing through a stuck gate and clambering over a fence, it is clear that the landowners would rather not have anyone on their land!
Checkpoint 4 for reasons unclear, provided hot-dogs. Neither having the time nor inclination to ask if they provided a vegetarian alternative, I grabbed some broken biscuits and went on.
The route now follows the Calderdale Way to Todmorden. The combination of wet weather, more wet weather and many pairs of feet had dissolved the path into a slippery soupy swamp. A couple of runners in front of me came to grief, including John Oz who was nursing a bloodied knee as I passed him into Todmorden. After a brief chat I learned Tony Thornton was up ahead and I wondered if I’d catch him.
The YHA at Mankinholes hosted checkpoint 5 and the much rumoured whisky made an appearance. Despite it being a single malt Dalwhinnie I declined, and made my way up to the monument.
It’s a stiff climb up Stoodley Pike and here I got the first niggles of cramp. A quick stretch and refuelling at the top helped to put it at bay but I knew it would be back soon.
The steep tarmac road down to Hebden Bridge is not pleasant on the quads but fortunately this is soon replaced by the lung busting stone steps and steep road up to Heptonstall. The cramp was really kicking in as I descended at an annoyingly slow pace to New Bridge and checkpoint 8. I was with a group of five or so runners whose collective wheels had fallen off and we to and fro-ed as each of us had a burst of energy or relapsed into pain.
Now in survival mode I was getting through water fast so had to refill at checkpoint 9 before ‘Top of Stairs’. Washing down a gel and some more broken biscuits I felt a little better and pushed on down the lanes to the ‘welcome’ sight of Penistone Hill.
On the last climb up Moorside Lane a distant figure appeared and, closing in revealed itself as Tony! After a flying start he’d absolutely smashed it, but was now paying the penalty in cramp. We hobbled along together across Penistone Hill and managed to accelerate down the hill into Haworth. Past the church and then time to play ‘dodge the tourist’ as I clattered down the high street to the finish at the school. Tony came in just seconds behind.
A cracking day out and very pleased to have completed my first official ‘ultra’!
31 Mark Wildsmith 5:19:18
32 Tony Thornton 5:19:25
76 Rachel Hill 5:48:03 (7th F)
78 John Osborne 5:48:36
160 Brian Stallwood 6:23:56
212 Mark Rogerson 6:56:30

2015/16 Open Five Series kicks off in Swaledale

The first of the 2015/16 Open 5 series kicked off a couple of Sundays ago, normally there is quite a large showing from the Settle Harriers at these exciting events, but numbers were down on this one and it was just Annie, Mike and Alex taking up the challenge. For those that don’t know what it is all about, it is basically an orienteering event, split between running and mtb, with 5 hours to complete the task. You visit controls , by route planning and navigation and each control has a score, the person with the highest score wins. Sounds easy. In reality it is not. Before you start you get your map, but not the control descriptions and values, also 5 of the controls marked on the map are ‘dead’, this means you can’taccurately pre-plan your route.11057353_10156225605085503_7884775752539012302_oAnnie doing something.

After a bit of map-geeking you start at any time you wish within an hours window and you can choose to run or mtb first. I usually always run first, but for Swaledale the committing mtb section and the incoming bad weather helped me decide that it may be better to ride first – this paid off I think. So you ‘dib’ out and get your control descriptions, I made a schoolboy error here and forgot to check my start time, only realising that 2 miles down the road and then having to second guess it. The rain came sooner than forecast and I decided to ‘sheet-up’ in the valley before heading up on to the moors, which is where I would be for a good couple of hours. The riding progressed well, it was wet and windy and I had to keep up a high work-load to stay warm. James the organiser often likes to put helpful little safety messages on the map warning of hazards, so when I read, that going down the direct gully route required a deathwish, I just had to have a go and test it out – it was steep and scary, but mostly rideable in a fashion and most importantly much quicker than the sensible route. I survived and it was fun.

Time speeds by in these things and you have to constantly tweak the route, so that you do not overcook your time, for these events my rule of thumb is to allow 3hrs for the bike of which the controls total 350 and 2 hours for the run, with a total of 250 = 600 total. I decided to drop two low scorers on the mtb that would have been timely to get to, I got back to transition in roughly 3.10hr, a quick two minute footwear change and a glug of drink and I was off. The legs felt quite fast on the flat ground as I headed up the valley towards Keld on a random route hovering up the checkpoints. All was well until the first steep hill and I could feel the onset of cramp in my cycle quads, I staved it off a few times and then it really got me bad as I hopped a style, I had to join the ministry of silly walks for a bit until I could run it off again. The run was well planned and some of the controls nicely tucked away and needing some good mapwork to find quickly. All the way round you keep passing fellow racers, friends and the ‘peer’ competition, so it is always a very sociable event. Anyway my time was soon disappearing and my pre-planned route had to be shortened, but I was happy with what I had got and happy with the way it had all gone so far, all that remained was one control and the ‘river crossing’ – which sensibly I saved until the very end. Normally an ankle deep 20 yard splash, but not today it was up to my thighs even with my long legs it was a tough crossing, one slip and you would be swimming – which some did. After emerging nice and clean from the river it was a half mile dash to the finish, I went reasonably quickly, but no means a ‘balls-out’ sprint as I thought that I had 2-3 minutes in hand.

12240421_10156225619470503_255331557907904794_oAlex crossing the river.

I met Annie and Mike at the car all wet and bedraggled, but quite warm still from running. We changed as quickly as we could as we were still in the rain and then wandered over to the village hall to ‘down-load’, not to all take a shit, but to get our dibbers off and get our little results ticket. It was not long before all the racers were back and in the warm, stuffy hall (lovely) swapping stories about routes and all the ‘what-ifs’. There are 5 different classes, M & F Solos, M & F & Pairs and Mixed Pairs, with some 250-300 racers in total usually competing. Swaledale was good to me, as I got round pretty efficiently and quickly, banging in 37 miles and 6000ft of mtb and run, I managed the high score of the day too! – 525 and better still I had just 16 seconds to spare on my five hour limit – perfect! Although Annie and Mike only visited a couple of run controls, they managed a strong ride and finished in the top half of the Mixed Pairs. Annie is super, super tough! – it was hellish windy out there and anyone who has ridden in high winds and rain knows how debilitating it can be..!

 

Next month it is just over the border from Chester in sunny Wales. I will probably be going down, so happy to take a couple of others, I’m also happy to run through the O5 concept and help people with the map side of things as well – I think that all us ‘mountain types’ should be pretty proficient with a map and these events are brilliant practice. Also more importantly and the ‘one’ for your diaries is the ‘Bowland’ event on Sunday Jan 10th this is being planned by Chris Maudsley, he is planning the run stage and I’m doing the Mtb stage – so get yourselves down, it’ll be a cracker!

—Alex—

2015 FRA Fell Relays

Saturday saw the annual FRA Fell Relays take place. Beautiful autumnal weather and a prolonged dry spell meant that Pendle was seen at its very best. After a couple of years off from doing the relays the Harriers managed to field two teams: a mens open and a female open.
We aimed to field our strongest teams possible and selection is always difficult, especially when last minute injuries have to be dealt with, non-the-less we got there. Clayton Harriers where the club behind the running and organisation of the relays and a brilliant job they did too, some 900 runners in total descending on the small village of Barley! Plenty of witches hats around the place as well.

Carol posing to the camera.

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Jill on Leg 1

The relay comprised of 4 legs; one and four being shorter and run as solo, here we had Josh and Jill on leg one and Matt and Angie on leg 4. Leg two was longer and done in pairs, so here we had Mike and Mark and Carol and Judy; while leg 3 was a navigation leg of similar length (14km) with Alex and Brian and Julia and Helen.
Position wise the men were 40th and the ladies 129th from 148, not sure of representative positions in class. Winners on the day were the super strong Calderdale, also interesting to see Bingley down in 8th place, no-longer the unstoppable team they used to be and like-wise for Borrowdale – an ageing team it seems, fielding only a male vet team, to their credit they won this! Full details appear on Sportident.
We’ll have to start plans for next year in good time as they’re north of the border…

Big thanks to Roger and Andy for getting us all sorted pre-race and on the day.

Ingleton MtbO

Whilst I have been taking a short holiday off running to give a foot niggle a chance to recover, I have been really enjoying the hills by Mountain Bike. So as an alternative to doing the Clougha race this Saturday, myself and several other harriers looking for a bit of fun and adventure took to the saddle on the Ingleton MtbO, this years was an extra big challenge; a 5 hour course taking us as far afield as Barbondale and Dentdale. The event took place alongside the Overground / Underground festival.

It was nice to see we had a good mix along from the harriers – Aaron Campion and James Maxwell paired up, James Annan and Julia Hargreaves were going by tandem, Sharon MacDondald took to the CX bike (brave), Gary Allsopp (who needed another bike to add to his stock of 13) and myself on my trusty 29er.

Weather on the day was dull with hill fog and drizzle, not the best forecast for 5 hours of riding, but nether-the-less we had to get on with it!

So to the ride – a good course over my favorite Yorkshire Dales trails – we are so lucky to have this on our doorstep! For me it was interesting, when I first had sight of the controls map I suspected the course may just be clearable – which is good I think from a course planning perspective, also the geography and positions of the controls meant route planning was quite easy, helped probably for me as I am local and know the area really well. So what this means is that you have to go for everything from the outset and this changes the dynamics considerably. Afterwards I noticed my main competition – Andy Conn (a GB rider and recent bronze M40 medal winner at the European MTBO Championship in Portugal) had dropped the two controls near Wharfe, I reckoned these were worth getting at this early stage, with options of then dumping the far NW controls or the far SW controls later on. As it happened time went well for me out there, despite the poor weather the ground was still firm, quite fast to roll over and I was having a good ride, with super-fast navigation. It was only when I hit the rough stuff on the track going along from Barbondale into Kingsdale, I started doubt my ‘go-for-all plan’, if you have ridden it you will know it – the worst trail in the Dales! I knew it was rough going but this time it seemed worse still, it was quicker to shoulder the bike and run CX style. A slight headwind slowed things down in Kingsdale, so with only 50 min left to go from here, I decided the SW 5 pointer at Thornton would get dropped. Time was still tight for those up Chapel-le-Dale and once up there I made the big gamble to get the Ribblehead 25 pointer – it worked, just. I was late back by 9 min (which means -15pts), my progress in this critical final stage was slightly hampered by a CRO kafuffle at the bottom of Whernside and again coming into Ingleton – I decided over-taking the slow ambulance was not appropriate, despite my rush.

I met most of the harriers while out on the ride (for a quick yell and a wave) and a few afterwards -its great to discuss routes and all the what-ifs! I did not see the two lads (Aaron and James) – but hopefully they I had a good ride…? – I know they were late back (getting their monies worth!) so not sure if they had had a mechanical or puncture…? Also I was a little shocked with the stats of the ride, for me it was 59.9 miles (plus 1 mile bike-hike!) and 6400ft of climbing … And the gamble paid off as I managed to win with 505/525 points.

For me a week to rest before I need my running legs to work for Snowdon, Scafell and Ben Nevis on the Three Peaks Yacht Race – we have a title to defend and I am praying my foot holds up! I am teamed up with the Old Wrinkly’s sailing crew and Stuart Walker (despite the name is a pretty quick runner!)