Stupid Cow! (2017 MRT Spine Challenger)

It’s become a bit of a annual event (3rd time)these days as I find myself sitting on a train heading to Edale at the beginning of the year.  Looking around the train it’s not difficult to spot other Spine racers with excess amounts of kit and huge drop bags. I’d found myself totally relaxed and slowly beginning to be immersed into the whole atmosphere that is the Spine race series and the journey is now routinely part of it. I reflected on my first experience back in 2015 and just how much had changed in my life and what effect this race has had on me. As many ultra racers will tell you that spending time alone for long periods of time during races clears your mind and refocuses you. I’ve made some pretty big life decisions because of this experience. I’ve changed careers, started another business, become a member of Mountain Rescue, trained as a Mountain Leader all because of my involvement with this event. And as I’m sure anyone who has had any involvement with the Spine race will tell you it gets under your skin and you become part of what is fondly known as the ‘Spine Family’.

As I exited the train and wandered along the platform towards Edale village hall it’s bizarre as I immediately started chatting to fellow racers like old friends who were again back for more. It doesn’t feel like the start to a race anymore it’s more like a big reunion with some racing thrown in. Anyway into race registration and the meeting and greeting started with a few formalities of kit checks and documentation checks to do. Then onto the Peak centre for a safety brief with more meeting and greeting of old and new friends. Once everything was done it was off to the YHA for evening meal a few glasses of wine and bed. I laid all my kit out next to my bunk in the order I would put it on or away ready for the next day. Shortly after I was graced with the pleasure of Eugine, one of the Spine race legends. He emptied his kit on the floor making it look like a grenade had gone of in his bag with kit everywhere. He spotted my Hoka boots and gaiters and was comparing his shoes with them and we chatted in a broken Spanish / English / sign language conversation for some time with him showing me his race kit and pictures of previous races. I’ve got to say he is a really nice and funny individual who comes over here and takes on this race every year with full commitment. I certainly admire him for that.

20170114_080735

So after a bit more socialising and wine it was time for bed with the luxury of being able to have a relaxed breakfast and a lunchtime start for those of us taking on the Mountain Rescue Team Challenger Race. We were greeted by a cold and snowy start to the race but for me it was looking like the perfect start and just what I’d hoped for.20170114_084159

fb_img_1484686135025

At 12 noon we were off. I’d been given some strict instructions by Liz this year and they were firmly imprinted in my mind. She had said 1 – I’m not picking you up anywhere else apart from Hawes! (ie dont DNF) 2 – If I spot you on the tracker with anyone else tagging along with you there will be trouble! (I have a habit of letting other racers tag along with me sometimes especially if I think they’re struggling with navigation, unfortunately this usually ends up with me being slower than I should be). With those two points in mind I settled into my race bubble and found a good sustainable pace. I’d spent a lot of time planning my strategy this year and had given my plan to a few of the rescue team who had agreed to come along and provide some moral support along the way. The first big climb is up onto Kinder via Jacobs ladder and is the first thigh burner just to get you warmed up. Once on the plateau the race was on. I was determined to break away from all behind me so a gentle trot was in order to put some distance into it. I knew I had to get to Snake pass under 3 hrs to meet my schedule and it was looking very doable. I really wanted to be over at Torside before darkness having got Bleaklow out of the way with it’s potential navigational difficulties.

20170114_130548

20170114_130551

I arrived at Torside spot on with my timings and was also joined on the way down there by Paul who a fellow team member had caught up with me. We were greeted by Pete, Lizzy, Andy, Maurice & Martyn from the team who I was pleased to see and it gave me a huge boost. I didn’t hang around for long as I wanted to really push onto Wessenden (23.5 miles). It was now getting dark and I knew that the journey up over Laddow rocks and Black Hill was not the most pleasant one especially with the current ground conditions. But it was easier than expected and again I was making good time in fact I was ahead of my times I’d set myself. The road crossing at Wessenden came up quicker than I thought and again I was met by the guys from the team. This time I was gong to take advantage of hot food and several brews. Also my good friend Colin appeared with Nin his wife and family. Again another boost for me and after speed eating a bowl of pasta it was time to press on. The weather was perfect, it was freezing cold and the moon had started to make an appearance. Saying my farewells I headed off into the darkness towards the climb up from Wessenden lodge. Once up onto Black Moss I was conscious of head torches catching me in the distance so I pushed on further to keep them behind me. The moon was now shining bright so I turned the headtorch off and trotted along in the moonlight. I was aware of a weather change so I intended to be over the M62 and at the Whitehouse pub before it changed. Again it all went to plan meeting friends along the way grabbing a quick brew and pushing on. My ETA for CP1 at Hebden Bridge (47 miles) was again looking favourable. I’d intended to be there for around 06:00hrs and stop for a maximum of 4hrs but at my current pace it’d be well before then that I would arrive. The weather had indeed changed and light rain had started to fall. This had made some parts of the route treacherous with rain on top of ice. As I made my decent off Stoodley pike down through Callis wood I came across two racers looking at maps and gps to find the route. Bearing in mind what I’d been told by Liz about navigation I said hi and pushed on. I noted that they had started to follow me so I broke out into a run in order to loose them. This was somewhat short lived and I managed to run for about half a mile before finding some of that water covered ice. Yep I was like Bambi on ice! Hitting the floor was just the start of it as I was on a steep downhill section of tarmac. With a combination of wet ice, goretex and some forward motion I began my journey on my side rapidly along the road coming to a stop when the tarmac turned into gravel some 20 or so feet further along the road. I’ve no idea why but I lay there for a few seconds laughing and swearing before picking myself up and promptly falling over again this time headfirst into the undergrowth! I jumped up and in the tone of ‘Basil Fawlty’ shouted ‘Right that’s it ‘ followed by more swearing at the nearest tree. The headtorches appeared in the distance behind me so with Liz’s threat looming I legged it yet again and didn’t stop until CP1.

I arrived at CP1 at 04:00 almost 2hrs in front of my ETA I’d set myself. My plan was in – change clothes – sleep – eat and out. 3hrs was more than enough and before I knew it I was on my way over Heptonstall Moor. The weather was again wet and conditions had become slippery. Another meeting of the guys from the team at Widdop boosted my morale yet again and I set off towards Top Withins and onto Cowling. As I passed the ruins and shelter at Top Withins I’d become aware of some chafage developing and made a conscious decision to stop in there and apply a bit of anti-friction cream. As there was absolutely nobody around (I thought)it seemed like the ideal place to lets say remove a couple of layers and deal with the said area. My plan was short lived as the door burst open and five female fell runners came in and joined me! Thankfully it’s pretty dark in there and I managed to carry out my mission without offending anyone otherwise there might be a whole different ending to this blog that would have probably involved the local constabulary. Anyway after a brief explanation of what the Spine race is to them I was off again.

A quick stop at Cowling and yet more tea set me up for the long slog across what can only be described as somewhat boggy going through the agricultural section of endless cow fields leading they way up to Gargrave and onto Malaham. Reaching Lothersdale I’d started to get mentally tired and was contemplating going into the pub for another brew when Ewan greeted me. I chatted for a few minutes before pushing on and bypassing the pub. It was now dark and tiredness was really setting in and I wasn’t really sure if I had just seen Ewan or I’d imagined it. Thankfully Lizzy & Pete had set up camp at another road crossing and had more hot tea for me. I arranged to meet them further on at Gargrave around midnight and pushed on towards Thornton – in – Craven.

I was nearly at Gargrave (74 miles) and it was only 22:00hrs and as I passed a bench that I’d stopped at during a summer reccy earlier last year I took the opportunity to have a quick break and more food. Further along the road I sent a txt to Liz just letting her know I was ok and she promptly replied with a positive message from her niece Aimee. I’ve got to say I was in bits and became an emotional wreck for a few minutes. Gargrave came and went and I’d missed Lizzy & Pete as I was almost 2hrs in front of my timings now. The fields that followed were relentless and I certainly was tired. Somewhere north of Gargrave and just before joining the river up to Airton I fell asleep on the move and was promptly woken up by walking into something. That something turned out to be a cow! I’m not sure who was the most surprised. The cow set off running across the field and I set about laughing hysterically to myself. So now fully awake again it was a big push up to Malham (80.6 miles). I got up to the steps alongside and up to the Limestone above Malham Cove and noted a headtorch coming along behind me so again it was time to move quickly up and across the cove. I know the area well and have a route that I use to cross the limestone so after a few minutes the following headtorch was much further behind me and I didn’t see them until they arrived at CP1.5 – Malham Field Centre.

CP1.5 and I was greeted by John & Paul who were running the CP. I’d allowed myself an hour here so I didn’t waste time, re-taped my feet and had more tea and as much food as I could eat. I desperately needed some sleep but didn’t fancy having to bivvy outside…I had a plan! So I checked out of the CP and found one of the bird watching hides just away from the field centre. Now some of the more seasoned Spine racers know these hides well and are a saviour if you fancy a sleep. So I donned all of my layers, lay on the floor, set the timer on my phone for 25 mins and drifted off into a deep sleep. I awoke to the sound of ‘Johnny Cash & Ring of Fire’ playing (that’s another story).

It was almost starting to become daylight when I set off again and as I started to ascend Fountains Fell I could see two headtorches in the distance behind me. With Liz’s words firmly at the forefront of my mind I set off at a faster pace uphill and started to have a very slow jog in places that I could. Try as I might these headtorches were gaining on me and there was nothing I could do to try and put some distance on them. This went on for quite some time before they were upon me. I recognised the voices as they caught me, both said hello and then passed me. It was Pav & Eugene, the race leaders of the full Spine Race! It wasn’t surprising that I couldn’t keep in front of them.

20170116_07554420170116_075557

My next target and I’d now started dreaming of it was a pint of tea and a bowl of chips at the Pen-y-Gehnt cafe. But between me and it was PYG to climb with almost 90 odd miles in my legs….it was a slow process but worth the effort for those chips! Again I bumped into a few friends in the cafe and spent around 30mins in there before realising I was almost at the end of my race.

It was now the long road to Hawes. I left the cafe at a somewhat slower pace as I’d started to stiffen up and my feet had become sore. I hadn’t used any pain relief all race but now was the time so I used some Tramadol to help me on my way. It feels relentlessly long from Horton to reach the even longer road known as the Cam High road and I was starting to become tired again. Yet again I fell asleep whilst on the move but his time there was no cows in the way and I seemed to have managed not to walk into anything. However, on the horizon I could see someone standing prominently on top of one of the hills with what looked like a huge dog. Again a combination of tiredness and probably the Tramadol I was imagining this person and as I got closer he got bigger to the point I was convinced it was a giant with a huge dog! It was in fact a tree and I can say I was relieved about that. One last hurdle was the boggy section off Rottenstone Hill to join Gaudy Lane. It’s not my favourite bit but it is in my case the last section before the finish. As I dropped down to the final few fields before reaching Hawes I was greeted by someone who I believe is a former Spine Racer offering me a cup of coffee from his flask. I accepted his offer and was thankful for the brew. He wished me well and I made the final short distance into Hawes. Along the path behind the church I started to become overwhelmed by the fact I was nearly there. I’ve said it before but there always seems to be dust blowing around towards the end of a race and it always gets in your eyes.

That was it! I could see Liz in the distance at the entrance to the market hall. I’d made it for the second time. To a round of applause  I walked into the hall and was greeted by some more of the rescue team members (Chontelle, Steve, Andy). I was relieved it was job done but was in desperate need of more tea.

16142717_10154383026212807_6683494485715090517_n20170116_200703

Another Spine Challenger over. Did I head home put my feet up for the rest of the week? Nope, as soon as I got home it was all my kit in the washing machine, repack and head off up to Bellingham for the rest of the week as part of the Spine Safety Team. Yes myself and Don carried our worldly belongings up onto Lamb Hill (Hut 1) on the Cheviots to keep a watchful eye on the racers in the full Spine race. I just cant get enough of this Spine Family.

16003007_10154382991642807_6097962212970687967_n

Thanks Stu 

Finally, a huge thanks to all of you that supported me by either dot watching my tracker online or being there in person. It means the world to me that you all take time to be involved in my sport and it really does help me along. And a extra big thanks to my lovely wife Liz for her support and putting up with my crazy world.

Thanks    Al

20170114_131707       555288532

#MatchforAimee

Advertisements
Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Just a few words as it’s been a while

It certainly has been a while. There’s a lot happened since my last rambling on here. You’ll probably notice on the left hand side of the page I’m at it again. Yes it’s nearly that time to lollop along the Pennine Way for 108 miles. Bit of a difference this time as I’ll be taking on a different race. I’m taking part in the Mountain Rescue Team race…….That’s because I’ve taken it upon myself to join Mountain Rescue. Yep that’s one of the reasons it’s been a bit quite on here. I’m now part of our local rescue team – Rossendale & Pendle Mountain Rescue. And very proud I am too. It’s been a long journey with many many challenges and it takes up a whole lot of time but the outcome is something that I love doing. So this years race is to raise a few quid for the team and you can do just that here Al Peppers Challenge 

20160903_105941

On a different note I’m also doing a year of challenges that start with the Spine Challenger and I’ll be updating with more info as we go along. But in true style they’ll all be something that will put me through the mill. This will include some of my favourite races and some of my own personal challenges which will hopefully include breaking a record (That one’s all top secret at the moment)

Here’s some info about the Spine Challenger I’ll be in shortly – The Spine Challenger

Logo

One of my main challenges and the most important is to raise awareness about blood cancer. Our beautiful niece Aimee is in need of an urgent bone marrow transplant and the thing is, it’s the second time in her life that she is in need of this life saving process. So we are desperately trying to find donors aged between 16-30. You can register with Anthony Nolan here – Register with Anthony Nolan

Or if your older you can register with DKMS  – Register with DKMS 

All you have to do is provide either a spit sample or a cheek swab….It’s that simple!

You can find out more about Aimee’s story here @Matchfor Aimee

So dear reader as you can see the year is starting off with some major challenges and I’ll be back at the keyboard with more ramblings shortly

#MatchforAimee  @Matchfor Aimee

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Here be Dragons……..Again!!!! Ring O Fire 135 mile Ultra Coastal Marathon 2015

I find it somewhat disappointing yet exciting that summer has now drawn to an end, as this for me is usually a busy time of year with a few more races to contend with. But this year the Ring O Fire is to be the final one of the year (Unless of course I get talked into something else). And what a race to end my year of running.

Its been a year of ups and downs both in and out of my running career. I struggled last year to identify the underlying reason for a DNF on this particular race. Yes the majority of the sole of my left foot had decided to part company but that in my analytical mind looking back was not 100% of the reason. There’s something else, and it reappeared on this year’s South Downs Way 100. Again another fantastic race that I’d entered into as a reunion for those of us that shared a tent on last year’s Mds (Most people would normally get together and have a social but no, we decided to run a 100 mile race). I’d had a severe case of chaffing during the race and it was so much so that I ran the last 15 miles in my pants! Thankfully it was dark so I didn’t scare anyone or get arrested but I eventually threw the towel in at 69 miles. But that was still not 100% of the issue?

Day 1 (35.7 miles)   Holyhead – Amlwch (Start time 13:00 – Time allowed 11hrs)

With much trepidation I made my way to the registration area at the top end of Breakwater Park and almost feeling as if I’d pulled out already, I was not in a good place within myself. This was definitely not the positive approach I normally have at the start of a race and certainly not what I wanted knowing that there was 135 miles in front of me.

But within seconds I was spotted by ‘Bing’ the Race Director who came forward and with a broad smile shook my hand and said ‘Al it’s great to see you again’. We chatted a while and I then headed over to register. Several others said hello, shook my hand and said it’s good to see you. Even two ladies from last year’s MdS recognised me and said hello followed by meeting a fellow Spine racer. The mood was lifted and my positivity had started to resume normality.

After the race briefing by Bing and few words from the local MP and Deputy Mayoress the bell was rang promptly at 13:00 and the all too familiar sound of Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’ played loudly as we started the 2015 Ring O Fire.

Before long we were headed East along the path and marina area of Holyhead then on to CP 1 at the Alaw Estuary. I’d spent some time tagging along with a group of three and one of these, Carl, had also been on the Spine CR in January so there was a lot of war stories to talk about. CP1 came and I was down on last years’ time but quite happy not to be pushing on as much. My plan was to reach the end of Day 1 before 23:00hrs and be in bed by 00:00 so all was good so far. So pushing onto CP2 at Church Bay (D1 Half Way) it was only a short 6.8 miles but steadily the terrain gets decidedly tougher as the coastline becomes increasingly steeper. But this on the plus side lends itself to some pretty spectacular scenery and awesome it certainly was. At CP2 it was a quick in and out affair passing on my thanks to all the CP staff and not staying more than it took to fill my water bottles. I’d been tagging along with various runners of whom I’d catch, they’d leave me, I’d catch again and that was the format for the remaining part of the stage. The scenery continued to please the eye and even though a spectacular sunset was absent I was wishing for nightfall.

After CP3 at Wyfla I spent a little more time there and consumed a ‘Power Cookie’ with some more electrolytes before starting the final 10.4 miles leg to the D1 Finish.

It was almost completely dark by now and the stars made some occasional appearances but mainly the sky was semi overcast and the biting wind that had been with us all day seemed to be more noticeable.

I ran as long as I could without my head torch on allowing my eyes to become accustomed to the dark and the feeling of being slightly detached from the surroundings was brilliant. But the shear drops to my left kept reminding me that I must switch on the light at some point.

The tiredness was starting to creep in and I was scanning the coastline to see the lights of Bull Bay. Within another mile I spotted them in the distance. This meant that on reaching them it was a simple task of finding the ‘Honesty Book’ further along the path as it runs parallel with Amlwch, tear a page out of it, head inland to the finish and that was it, over and done with.

Not so simple! The path seemed to have disappeared and by the sight of various head torches wandering about in different directions behind me it was obvious I was not alone wondering where I was.

Anyway with a bit of precise navigation, a whole lot of gorse bushes, nettles and a few brambles the track was found. Shortly after I passed through Bull Bay I caught up with some other runners and then found the Honesty book not too long after that. Feeling pleased with myself I put the torn out page in a safe place and started on the homeward run to the finish.

This didn’t take long and the overnight stop at the Sports Centre was reached in no time. Again some happy smiling faces greeted me and another warm welcome from Bing as we finished.

I’d planned my stop to the minute in my head. Here at the sports centre we had the luxury of a shower and a bit of time to regroup. I didn’t waste a minute of it knowing that if I was going to finish I’d be using every minute of the following day to complete the stage and any downtime would have to be earned.

My routine remains the same for all multi-day races – Eat, check feet, prep kit, eat, clean myself (if time), prep feet, eat some more, rest.  Feet are the most important asset so whenever possible I air them, check them, apply cream, change socks etc etc. Everything else can be done on the move (including sometimes sleeping).I’d stuck to my plan and was horizontal by midnight.

Day 2 (65.9 miles) Amlwch – Aberffraw Village (Start time 06:00 – Time allowed 22hrs)

05:00 – ‘Love is burning thing  – And it makes a fiery ring  – Bound by wild desire – I fell into a ring of fire – I fell into a burning ring of fire – I went down, down, down – and the flames went higher…..’ (Johnny Cash)

Yep the wakeup call of Ring of Fire echoing through the sports hall followed by some hard-core dance music!!!

This brought a smile to my face as it is definitely my sense of humour but I also turned my thoughts to the feeling of hearing it as I crossed the finish on D3. Anyway I was already up and filling my face with flapjack and coffee before most people. It was however, amusing to watch the zombie like creatures with glazed expressions on their faces wandering about. I’d spent the night with broken sleep and listening to someone who must have brought with them the world’s squeakiest air bed!

Anyway 05:55 and we were gathered outside listening to the race brief and weather forecast and in an instant the bell rang at 06:00 and off we trotted out of Amlwch.

Again my day was planned. Take it easy, make sure the navigation is accurate, look after the feet, oh and enjoy myself! The initial sunrise was spectacular and as always sets me up for the day. The warming rays of the sun eventually burnt through and lit up the coastline in all its glory reminding me of why I do this. The wind had dropped and the skies were clear so it was going to be a fantastic day.

The race continued clockwise in a South Easterly direction and my first point of focus was Beaumaris at CP 8. This was the halfway point at approx 33miles.

However, there was some pretty spectacular scenery in between. Surprisingly I’d started to catch other racers up and spent some time with each of them along the way chatting about just about anything. Down through Moelfre I stopped a few seconds and admired the new RNLI lifeboat station and monument before pushing on and eventually caught up with Jon and ‘Otto’. Jon is an ex Paratrooper and Otto a cross Husky. Both of them run various races and challenges to raise money for the Parachute Regiment benevolent fund and I must say this is an excellent cause and a little close to my heart having spent a bit of time with them several years ago. Every admiration for these two and they were running in complete synergy which reminded me of myself when I run with Henry.

We reached CP6 at Red Wharf Bay and I must say that this is one of my favourite CPs as it’s just a gorgeous place. So a couple of minutes to drink and eat and then off again.The next leg is quite a long drawn out affair taking in the edge of the bay some sand a raised coastal path and some tarmac before climbing up and reaching the furthest point East at Penmon Point.

On the way I’d stopped for a drink at a small ice cream shop in a car park and came across Jon buying Otto some cheese and was insistent he bought me a can of coke. We moved on again and Jon and Otto somewhere I lost sight of Jon and Otto and didn’t see them again for the remains of the day.Climbing up towards Penmon there is a diversion in the path and I met two runners (James & Rhodri) coming the other way asking if I knew the way. I glanced at my map and pointed them in the right direction. From that moment on the three of us naturally stuck together and chatted as we pushed on. Another runner (Anthony) joined us at some point along the way on a beach and we now had become a group of four and this was going to be it until the final couple of miles on the last day. The three runners had expressed a slight concern about the navigation towards the end of the stage as it got a little tricky, especially when we had to try and find the hidden Honesty Book on the edge of Newborough Forest along the beach.

I was feeling a little apprehensive about his as from last year I’d been led up into the estuary and almost waist deep water so I needed to avoid any errors at all costs as time would be a premium at that point. We reached the halfway CP and my routine kicked in. Food, feet, food, go. I’d experienced some slight hotspots on my left foot again so a covering of Moleskin held in place with some Rocktape did the trick and also donned a pair of fresh shoes and socks. I’d allowed myself 15 mins at the CP and went over by a few minutes but that really didn’t matter at this point.

The four of us set off leaving behind some poor souls who had withdrawn and were waiting for the ‘happy bus’ to take them home and away from the encounter that faced us. My next focus was  CP10 at the Sea Zoo as last year I’d been suffering here and almost dropped at that point, so on we pushed through Menai and CP9 making good progress as we travelled. We had a constant regime of calculating moving averages, distances and ETA’s at the next CP and so far it was working very effectively.

CP10 came and it was a very brief stop as we had been convinced we had missed a turn and lost a little time but having confidence in the map had solved the problem. This leg was now all about getting it right and I was at the helm with the Navigation. It was now dark and finding any form of signage was near impossible and also the coastal path signage is a somewhat random and well-spaced out. I’d marked a few reference points on the map and knew if we could hit them then we would be pretty much on target and hit them we did. Newborough forest loomed and we pushed on along the South Westerly edge of it and headed onto the beach to find the hardest sand then turning West then North we started or search for the Honesty Book on the Western side of the forest. Finding the marker flag for the honesty book took some doing as it seemed to be much further around the forest and further up the estuary than I could remember but yes we eventually found it. An obvious track back into the forest was picked up and we followed this towards a more prominent track through the forest that I’d identified on the map.

Along the way we came across someone’s maps, the torn page from the honesty book and various other bits and pieces. So we collected them knowing that a runner in front would be missing them. A few hundred meters later and we came across the said runner seemingly fatigued and slightly disorientated. He was convinced that he hadn’t lost anything and randomly checked his kit and eventually discovered that all we had found was his. Again we didn’t hang around and I think he followed our lights through and out to the forest perimeter where we located CP11. The evening had turned cold and some of my fellow runners had put more layers on and during our journey we had all seemingly taken it in turns to be up and down both physically and mentally. Another quick stop at the CP with a change of batteries in the head torch some more fluid and a quick calculation to check our progress and ETA at the D2 Finish.

It was now 01:22hrs and we had until 04:00hrs before the CP finish for D2 closed and we had 6.5 miles to cover and find another honesty book on the beach at Aberffraw bay. This gave us 2hrs 38mins to reach the end of D2 before the cut-off so we had to travel at least at 2.7 miles per hour to be home safely within the time cut-off. This last leg had a few tricky bits of field crossing and footpath location but we eventually found the beach and then the honesty book after a little time looking for it. Suddenly after another recalculation it was obvious we had to move quicker to reach the CP. We had a couple of miles to cover and most of it was to be on sand so reaching the finish of D2 seemed to be slipping further away but we pushed on and broke into a rather rapid trot. After 60 something miles for the day and being on our feet for over 20 hrs it was somewhat of a challenge to run fast but we managed it finishing the day with 14 minutes to spare!

We entered the small village hall to be greeted by lots of smiles and congratulations from the support team and of course Bing himself. The hall was rather cramped and finding my drop bag and some floor space was a real challenge but after a bit of a search I found enough space to sort myself out. The same routine applied – Food, feet, food. I’d decided that little rest was going to be the best option so I stayed in my kit, wrapped my sleeping bag around me and put my feet up on my bag and lay listening to a whole lot of snoring going on!

Day 3 (33.4 miles) Aberffraw Village – Holyhead Breakwater Park (Start time 06:00 – Time allowed 11.5hrs)

05:00 – Love is burning thing – And it makes a fiery ring……………….etc etc

There it was again! Fortunately or unfortunately I’d not been to sleep as I’d been lying in wait for Johnny Cash to make an appearance so the shock to the system wasn’t quite as great. I’d had around 40 mins of lying down since the previous days / evenings ordeal and was getting ready to start D3. My plan was to have minimum rest as not to stiffen up and it all seemed to be working. More coffee and flapjack and at 05:55hrs the race briefing started then at 06:00hrs prompt we staggered off on the last leg. Next stop the race finish (I hoped). I knew that at the first CP of the day at Rhosneigr a treat of a bacon sandwich awaited us, courtesy of ‘Sandys Bistro’ so it made it all the more important to push on for this. At the CP myself, James, Anthony, Rhodri seemed to be remaining together as a group and it was all going swimmingly until I started to drop behind as we made our way around Cymyran Bay.

I’d hit a real low point and was totally exhausted. The others pushed on and I could see them gaining distance on me, lots of distance! I felt terrible, my head had gone and I had convinced myself that I was to drop at the next CP at Four Mile Bridge. A combination of cramps, nausea, and depression was gripping me and eating away at me. I slowed to a rather slow amble and didn’t even care about finishing anymore. I’d completely lost it. At one point I think I sat down. Heading towards me was a runner who was out for his morning run. He briefly paused and told me I wasn’t far from the CP and to keep going. It didn’t make much sense and looking back I’m not sure if I even responded to him. Shortly after he came back the other way and paused again telling me again I’d not got far to go and something about how he didn’t know how we did it. I wasn’t even convinced that he was actually real as things had become a little blurred and I can’t remember some of it. However, I’d started trying to get some glucose in me another Power Cookie, some electrolytes and a tramadol.

Unbelievably I began running and trying to chase down the runner and following him across the fields. The CP was now in sight and I remained focussed on reaching it before the cut off. I did and found my new friends still there and cheering me on as I ran the final few meters. Job done, I was suddenly back into it and now determined to finish this thing and beat my demons. I’d no idea where the strength had come from but it was now a joy to be trotting along with everyone again and the beach and CP at Trearddur Bay was now in sight. Both myself and Rhodri exited the CP knowing full well we only had 9.5 miles to the finish but there was somewhat of a bit of a hill to climb at the end!

The scenery was again stunning and we had started to catch other racers up and re-joined Anthony. Another map check and work out our ETA at the finish and everything was going to plan again. The final push up towards South Stack then onto North Stack was epic and certainly an evil twist in such a long race. It was thigh burningly fantastic with climbing a constant for a few miles, but it was worth the effort as we were rewarded with a view that was absolutely stunning. I’d become separated from the others as my feet had begun to complain and I was intent on finishing so a slow steady pace was to be it until the final few miles of which I’d promised myself a run in. Coming off the mountain it was a steep rocky descent and I’d managed to lose the path in favour of a straight line route that unfortunately treated me to large boulders, gorse bushes and some fierce drops. But I was going downhill and that was the main point. Eventually I picked up the correct path and made the final descent towards the finish. I could see the finish in the distance across the headland and could hear the infamous Ring of Fire playing. I’d started laughing and giggling and the feeling of elation was overtaking me. No pain, no discomfort just bouncing down the rocky path and heading towards the Ring O Fire finish flags.

The feeling was amazing as the finish line was crossed and I was immediately handed a beer (courtesy of Purple Moose Brewery) by Bing and presented with the much coveted Welsh Slate Ring O Fire finishers medal. My new friends had finished just before me and we were reunited and impressed with each other that we had all finished the journey more or less together. A steady stream of runners made their way in and we all cheered and clapped each other. It was all over and the job was done. I’d not moved as quickly as last year but this was part of my plan just to finish and it had all come together.

In Summary

I’d stayed over on the Sunday night after the race at a fantastic campsite (Blackthorn Farm) just outside Trearddur Bay and on Monday morning gone to the onsite restaurant for breakfast. I staggered my way in moving as fluidly as the tin man who’d been out in the rain and gone rusty. Sitting down I noticed the place maps had a map of Anglesey on them. I pondered this and it still didn’t sink in that a not too many of us had just covered the 135 miles of coastal path in just 3 days. This was put into perspective when I noticed that my journey back home was only 143 miles!

I was still deep in thought when I’d overheard a couple also looking at the map on their place mats and planning their day out. One of them said ‘Did you see the runners yesterday, apparently they were running all the way around the island’. ‘That’s impossible’ was the reply!

I’d mentioned early on that something else other than severe blisters had prevented me from finishing last year. Well, I did a book review earlier in the year for the Ultra Running Community. The book was ‘So you want to be an Ultra Runner’ by Andy Mouncey. In his book he mentions that ‘Performance is Emotional’. In other words a happy head is a happy heart. Last year and for the earlier part of this year I’d become stressed and depressed with my work and hadn’t realised it had taken such a toll on me that it was affecting many different aspects of my life. Getting to the finish line is not always about strength and performance because if you don’t have the right mind-set to drive forward it becomes difficult to maintain any sense of wanting to achieve. I’ve made a life change with regard to work and its paid dividends with my positivity and drive. I can’t wait to see where this is going to take me.

Finally –

Thanks to all the organisers and CP staff that help out on this event, you are all stars and I cant recommend this race highly enough. A big thanks to all my friends and family that support me and send all the messages on social media, text, follow my tracker etc it means so much to me. And last but not least my lovely wife Liz for all the support and putting up with my crazy challenges.

Would I do it again? Well what do you think…………..?

Al Pepper 120150905_063426

20150904_17170020150906_170327

20150906_17055620150904_123510

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Fellsman 2015 ‘Messing about in the Dales’

fellsman_logo1

Trotting along and chatting away to a running buddy of mine, Garry, we took a right, dropping down from Ripponden Bank Top and along a small track. We’d been catching up on our most recent races and I’d asked Garry about the upcoming Fellsman I’d entered. His response was well I’ve been there done that and drawn a line under it! I noted a sense of that he probably wouldn’t do it again.

At that particular moment we were running in the Calderdale, another tough event and especially this year as the route was a new one with much added excitement and even bigger climbs.

We did eventually finish the Calderdale after much shuffling and swearing and it turned out to be a cracking well organised event and another one I shall return to each year.

18:20. It was excellent to be back in Threshfield and it always feels like home as I do seem to spend quite some time running around there. I’d been there a few months earlier and run the Wharfedale Off Road Half Marathon route with Henry (Our Springer). It did feel quite strange being there without Henry especially as he normally rides shotgun and howls for most of the way there before we run and then sleeps in the back of the van all the way back!

Anyway I digress, it was a brief walk to the school (Race HQ) for signing in and kit checks at 18:30. I’d arrived early and tied up with a couple of fellow Spine Challengers, David and Johnathon.

Off to the kit check and was surprised to see another Spine legend ‘Tom Jones’ helping out with the kit checks.

It was apparent that the Fellsman was a well-established race and similar to the Spine race it too had a friendly running family feel about it. I’d retired back to my newly fitted out van to re-pack my kit, eat as much food as possible and settle in to watch a film and of course have the obligatory couple of cans of Guinness. I drifted off listening to the sound of rain hitting the van roof wondering what tomorrow would bring

05something or another. Whatever, it was it was early! I re-packed my kit yet again(putting some more warm layers in) and got ready to go and catch the coach to the start line in Ingleton. On arrival we were greeted with a downpour, some smiling marshals then promptly issued with the iconic Fellsman Tally. The tally is a round disc with 24 checkpoint locations around the edge. At each CP you get it punched and nowadays in the world of modern technology it also has an electronic tag that you swipe at most CPs and it records you having being there. I’d seen pictures of the Tally before but I wasn’t quite sure if I was glad or not to actually have one hanging around my neck and about to face collecting a full house of punches on it. The route is around 61 miles (more if your navigation is slightly out) with 11,000 feet of climbing. As a warm up at the beginning it takes in two of the Yorkshire 3 peaks (Ingleborough and Whernside) followed by many of the tallest summits in the Dales eventually finishing back at Threshfield.

With a bit of banter between us and a difficult decision of waterproof on or waterproof off we started. I’d opted for a windproof jacket instead of waterproof and thought I’d save that for later just in case the weather got worse. How little we knew about what we were about to encounter.

20150425_082851 20150425_104948 20150425_121801~220150425_192328

Ingleborough was upon us and after a long slog in the cloud and drizzle to the summit it was the first CP punch on the tally

The weather at the summit was slightly harsh to say the least and saw to it that we all got a good battering by the wind. Dropping down along the NW side of Ingleborough gave us a full view of Whernside covered by cloud. Just after the Hill Inn CP the rain came down with anger assisted by strong winds and an icy cold feel to it. It was definitely waterproof on time! The climb up Whernside was cloaked in mist and went on forever to the summit. This was a climb to do quickly as the weather had really taken a turn for the worse. Second CP punch at the summit and the long boggy descent with a river crossing thrown in towards the Kingsdale CP. After a mug of hot sugary tea and several chocolate biscuits dunked in it now was the time to push on the summit of Gragareth. Nother summit and another punch on the tally at the Gragareth CP. The weather had now decided we needed a little snow and more wind just in time for the traverse across the high ridge to the Great Coum CP. This was becoming less enjoyable with now endless knee deep bogs that threatened to suck your very feet from your lower legs. I was busy bog hopping and running when I caught up with another racer who was taking a rather more tentative approach to the whole matter and was busy measuring the depth of each bog with a walking pole before he attempted to cross it. He was prodding each bog with his pole like a master swordsman before jumping across. I slowed and watched with interest and also thought if he disappears up to his neck in it I’ll take a different route. However, he stabbed his pole in the ground and it promptly sunk up to the handle. This would have indicated to him that the bog was quite deep and to find a different route but unfortunately with the method he was using he proceeded to follow the pole into the bog. Head First! He eventually reappeared holding his now banana shaped pole and looking like the creature from the black lagoon. A few of us picked him up and I chose not to take that particular route before continuing with my bog hopping routine in a different direction. The weather was now biblical and reminiscent of the Spine race on the side of Pen-Y-Gent. It was a long long way to Great Coum but the relief of dropping down through Flinter Gill then eventually reaching the larger CP at the village of Dent was enough to drive me on.

At some point along this part of the route I came across another runner who seemed to be limping. I slowed down and asked if he was ok? He was actually quite cheery under the circumstances but pointed out that he’d lost one of his shiny new Salomon Speedcross 3 shoes in one of the recently mentioned bogs and he was retiring.

I’d promised myself a decent stop for 5 minutes at Dent and was warmly greeted by some hippies in a tent handing out hot sausage rolls and tea. It was heaven and I managed four large sausage rolls and several mugs of tea. Needless to say the hippies (marshals in fancy dress) were happy to oblige handing out the savoury delights to us wet a freezing racers. One prominent thing that I’d noticed was just how many people had pulled out and were sitting wrapped in foil blankets on the fun bus patiently waiting to be taken back to Threshfield.

I had to get moving before I either froze or ate all of the sausage rolls. The weather was changing and it had stopped raining, there was even a glimmer of sunshine poking through. Proceeding up towards Blea Moor CP I decided to make myself into a clothes line and steadily pushed on with most of my damp and wet clothing hanging off me with the hopes of drying out before nightfall.

The next character I met was Justin who was struggling a little with his knees and had had a bit of a moment just before I’d caught him up. He’d not attempted this distance before but had done the Haworth Hobble a few months prior as his first ultra. We chatted and decided to stick together for the next few CPs.

Justin had done a route reccy for the majority of the Fellsman and clearly had good knowledge of what we were likely to face through the night.

As we passed thought the next large CP at Stonehouse it was more tea and this time pasta and cake with more tea. I also think that this was served to us by either elves or santa clause. Whatever, they made us most welcome and the temptation to sit in the warmth of the tent nearly got me so I stood outside in the cold and filled my face instead.

On the Fellsman at nightfall or last light individuals are grouped at certain CPs as a safety measure and myself and Justin had decided that we should stick together and drop into a group with similar pace. This eventually happened on reaching the Redshaw CP. The journey to Redshaw CP passing through and up and over Great Knoutberry was hard going with soaked ground and more bogs.

Redshaw CP was again an oasis in the world of cold damp mud. However, the skies were clear and it looked like being a fantastic clear evening. Inside the CP I was greeted by Tom Jones ( a legend of the Spine Race) and he quickly made me a cup of hot sugary tea and directed me towards the hot dogs (Fantastic, with fried onions). We chatted briefly before I yet again headed outside so as not to get too comfy. Justin talked to a friend who was at the CP whilst I had noticed a bit of a niggle in my left lower leg so I used some Kinesio tape to strap it up.

Eventually we were made part of a group and would stay together until the ungrouping at the penultimate CP at Yarnbury. There was seven of us, Myself and Justin an American lady (Alison) and guy that had done the Fellsman 37 times (Ted), A lovely couple from Ipswich(Rob & Anne) and another guy who I believe was called Ibi We all seemed to be similar pace.

We left Redshaw CP and headed off towards Snaizholme CP that was only just over a mile away but what was now a bit of a theme was that just a mile on the Fellsman is neither easy or straightforward. However, we were rewarded with an absolutely stunning sunset as we passed through Snaizeholme and onto Dodd Fell.

20150425_200852 20150425_202527

I was reminiscing in my head about the last time I’d passed through here on the Spine CR and just how much colder it had been. We bagged Dodd Fell and dropped down to Fleet Moss CP and this time we’d made a decision to stay a little longer and get warm. The temperature outside was rapidly dropping and I already noticed ice on my pack when I removed it. More tea and I’d decided to eat a couple of pork pies that I’d brought along with me. They were like rocks! So I packed them inside my jacket with the hopes they would thaw out by the next major CP.

Navigation from here on would be a challenge but having Ted along with us who had done this 37 times would definitely be an asset.

We left the warmth and smiling faces of the CP and entered a starry night to be confronted by plummeting temperatures.

Middle tong CP was our next target. Now at this time any specific fence crossing points were indicated by red flashing beacons and they were to be our navigational points. Using compass. Map and gps backup we eventually found Middle Tong CP. It had been hard going as none of this was paths but as a bonus the bogs had now frozen up.

Our next CP was an aptly named ‘Hells Gap’. It certainly was Hell and it had definitely froze over.

You’ve got to feel for the CP marshals who had been out there for hours in a tent patiently waiting for racers to pass by and also wait for the last person. Outstanding effort.

Cray CP was to be our next large CP and it was a welcome sight and a chance to warm up. I even sat down in there too! This time I treated myself to hot chocolate and tea…..both in the same cup. And my pork pies had warmed up so I downed them together with a ‘Power Cookie’ topped off with a tramadol and a caffeine tablet.

I also put nearly all my layers on as I’d started to shake a little bit just before the CP. Off again into the darkness leaving the happy bunch of marshals behind with one or two not so happy racers who had been completely frozen and exhausted.

Buckden Pike was one of our final large summits and it more than made up for it with what seemed like a near vertical path (it probably wasn’t). Again it went on for an eternity and was relentless but just as a teaser we could occasionally see the flashing read beacon light at the CP on the top.

Eventually we reached it and again was greeted by a marshal in a tent who was happy and smiling, sort of.

The next little tricky bit of navigation was to find the CP at Top Mere. If my memory serves me right it was quite well hidden and took us a little bit of time to find it. The going under foot was still tough and instead of deep bogs we had frozen peat bogs to climb up and down and clumps of heather to constantly fall over.

We could make out the CP at Park Rash and I thought I’d made a mistake as I could see head torches coming towards us leaving the CP. In reality they should have been going away from us!

In the warmth of the Park Rash CP all became clear. The group in front of us had missed the Top Mere CP. Every credit to them for going back to find it and not pulling out.

Meanwhile I was busy putting more layers on. My plan had worked out and all my layers had dried earlier in the day so I was one happy camper and extremely warm. We spent about 20 minutes eating, drinking and chatting to the marshals before once more heading out into the decreasing darkness.

20150426_053252 20150426_054206 20150426_062443 20150426_091719

It was almost sunrise as we made our ascent onto Great Whernside. This was our last big climb and it certainly knew how to spoil us.

I was sure that my legs had been lost several miles earlier and they had been substitutedwith a couple of fence posts.

No matter what the difficulty was or just how painful it was we had the honour of seeing the sunrise on what was to be a glorious start to the day and that seemed to put everything into perspective. By the time we had reached the summit of Great Whernside it was spectacular and the feeling of elation and that it was nearly all downhill together with we only had two more punches to collect before the finish. It surely was a bit overwhelming. We pushed on downhill and I’d been intending on making it back within 24hrs and it was still a possibility.

Down through Capplestone Gate CP and pressing onto Yarnbury CP the ground had now become as Justin described it a ‘Fairway’ (well he was into his golf). We were de-grouped at Yarnbury and it was a free for all back to the finish. Myself and Justin started speed walking as initially the hard tarmac road was painful and unforgiving compared to the last few miles of pasture land we had crossed.

Anyway I announced that it could possibly be done and we could be back within 24hrs. With that we broke into a very gentle trot down through Grassington.

I had to slow down as the pain in my left leg was just immense and was like being stabbed each time my foot hit the ground. Justin went on ahead as did the couple from Ipswich whilst I hobbled my way through the village centre to be applauded by two elderly gentlemen sat on a bench at the edge of the village square. Out of Grassington I knew I’d cross the river then up into Threshfield and home. I saw another group of racers in front and told my legs to ‘man the F up’ as we are overtaking them so off I went running past and up the hill towards the school knowing that I was within two minutes of finishing.

Several more people applauded and one guy wished me all the best and said he’d seen me at various CPs as he’d been following the race around all day and night. Rounding the corner for the last few hundred meters a motorcyclist gave me a high five as he was passing and shouted well done.

That was it! Before I knew it I’d entered the school and finished. I parted with my Fellsman Tally and handed it over to prove my journey and that I’d finished. Justin was waiting sat on a nearby chair, so we exchanged congratulations before I headed off to find more sugary tea. I’m not sure if I was within the 24hrs but I’m sure I’ll find out soon.

It’s funny that after that last bit of energy and expenditure and managing to run to the finish I was now struggling to drag myself back to my van in the car park.

The sun was now high in the sky and providing a warming glow. I managed to get my shoes off, sent a text to Liz letting her know I’d finished then sat for about twenty minutes reflecting on the race and wriggling my toes in the slightly damp but cool wet grass, it was heaven.

So there we are. That was the Fellsman. If you’ve read this and done it then you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s something that’ll get into your head. If you’ve not done it then go and do it, I promise you’ll not be disappointed with yourself when you hand over that fully punched Fellsman Tally back at the finish. A fantastic well organised friendly race.

Finally a big thanks to everyone who helps to organise and make the Fellsman work. Your incredible people who give up your time and comfort to allow people like us to indulge in a sport we love.

Thanks to all my friends and family who support me and give me encouragement to keep going, it really does mean a lot to me. But most of all thanks to Liz for her continued support, looking after me and putting up with my crazy world.

Thank You

AP

PS, Get out and go and do stuff!!

 

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Spine Chilling -The Montane Spine Challenger 10th – 12th January 2015

Difficult one this….. It’s all to easy to start off by saying that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But each and every challenge has it’s own hurdle to jump and that seems to be what has happened to me this far. I do a race and there is always one thing that stands out as a bit of a hurdle to get over during it. For example, if it’s a hilly race then there is usually a nice steep ascent or descent towards the end when your legs are screaming for mercy and feel like they’re made from rubber (not expensive rubber I might add but the cheap stuff that drops to pieces easily). These however, are usually the result of a sadistic Race Director who giggles uncontrollably when race route planning and delights in seeing athletes crossing the finish line with the said ‘cheap rubber legs’. So what happens if you take an already challenging route, The Pennine Way, plan a linear race along it in the depths of winter and let mother nature take care of placing some more hurdles whenever she feels like it?

Well, you end up with a race that is so difficult that usually over half of the racers either don’t finish or have to retire due a wide variety of injuries from hypothermia to cartilages popping out of their knees. Welcome to the ‘Spine Race’. From the mind of Scott Gilmour (Race Director) it is a race of two parts along the Pennine Way in the depths of winter. One long and one shorter. The long race is the ‘Full Spine’ – 268 miles from Edale to Kirk Yetholm in 7 days and the shorter race ‘The Spine Challenger’ is 108 miles in 60 hours starting in Edale and finishing in Hawes. Both races follow the route of the Pennine Way and have their own challenges be it either distance or tight timings, together of course with everything else mother nature decides to test you with.

My choice of race was the Spine Challenger. Partly down to work commitments and partly due to a bit of fact finding before jumping in at the deep end. I’ve divided the race into 2 legs as it’s easier to explain than day by day as I really can’t remember what day was what during the race! ( I hope you’ve got a brew as it’s a long one)

Leg One: Edale to Hebden Bridge (Checkpoint one)

After a somewhat uneasy nights sleep at the Edale youth hostel all of us racing in the Challenger made our way down to the start line for a 06:30 start. The previous afternoon / evening had been taken up with safety briefings, mandatory kit checks, documentation etc to validate our entry and check we were suitable to start. This in itself is a rather chaotic process but all adds to the experience nevertheless. I’d had a pretty straight forward journey on the train to Edale and had bumped into a few other fellow racers including Eoin Keith and ‘Spine Racer’ Dave Lee. A veteran of the race and he told me about the delights that we could expect on our journey. As I looked around the train it was apparent that many of us where indeed heading for Edale. There was a huge pile of bags and each of us clung to a small lightweight pack like it was the last thing we’d ever hold. Anyway back to the story. With the weather forecast of wet and windy or should I say gale force winds and heavy rain we all made our way down to the start line in a muddy field next to the village hall. As if by magic the wind and rain upped their game a bit more just as we set off at a slightly delayed start of about 0643. It was pitch black as we started and the weather was doing as much as it could to discourage us (Mother Nature and her hurdles). But with all of us looking like we had just come out of a chapter from Ernest Shackletons diary set off into the darkness we did without regard. Our start time was 3 hours before the long race start but unbeknown to us they had to postpone their start due to bad weather!!! The train of racers moved swiftly up through the village of Edale and onto the start of the Pennine Way. Just over a week earlier we had been staying in Derbyshire and walked this part of the route and it was snow covered and icy. Today it was a muddy bog with winds blowing so strongly it was taking people off their feet. We battled on and at one point the wind took my hood off and nearly my headtorch with it. It was hell! It seemed like an eternity until we made the foot of the first big climb up Jacobs Ladder onto the Kinder Plateau. There was some respite from the wind on the climb but nearing the top going past Edale rocks it began to blow like nothing I’ve experienced before. The visibility was really poor and I was focusing my mind on making sure that I didn’t veer off course by checking the map and gps constantly. I’d caught two other racers up (John & David) whom I’d had the pleasure of chatting with on Friday night. They where here for their second go after an unsuccessful attempt the previous year. We approached Kinder Downfall. Now as you’d expect by the name it’s one huge waterfall and it is very impressive in full flow. But I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! The water was actually not going over the water fall but being blown back up and into the sky!!!! The noise was deafening and the spray off it was unbelievable. We had to find a river crossing point quite a way from it just so that we didn’t get blown over into the water and swept off into oblivion. The three of us trudged on towards Snake Pass on what seemed to be a never ending path of the all to familiar slightly submerged famous Pennine Way stone slabs. They are notorious for being slippery as we all found out at one point or another along the way and those that dare step off them risk disappearing forever into a deep brown gloop of a bog! Surprisingly the wind subsided for a short time and the sun even came out! I took the opportunity to take off my Gore-Tex over mitts, empty the water out, turn them inside out and hang them off me to dry. I’d been reluctant to remove them earlier as the water inside had warmed up and was keeping my hands warm.

Arriving at the road crossing at Snake Pass we were asked if everything was ok by some of the safety team and told that the weather was about to change. Again as if by magic and on demand a flurry of snow fell that quickly turned into sideways hailstones that threatened to blast any exposed skin off your bones. Now we were heading towards Bleaklow along the ‘Devils Dike’. This is probably my least favourite section as for miles and miles you trudge relentlessly along a stream that winds its way up onto the Bleaklow and Shining Clough Moss. I started to have a real down patch and began slipping behind John and David and eventually let them go on ahead. After the ascent up Devils Dike there is a really unpleasant descent towards Torside Clough. I was now having a really hard time of it. Being alone didn’t bother me, neither did the navigation as I’d done a reccy of this, and that was the problem! Several weeks earlier back in November I’d done this exact route and on the descent I’d gone over on my left ankle severely damaging a lateral ligament, leaving me on crutches and almost having to withdraw from this race. The demons had arrived early! As it happened the weather lifted and yet again the sun came out lifting my spirit and allowing me to push on again. So I did. Down to Torside reservoir I wondered just how I’d made it down there weeks earlier with my ankle in bits as it was a treacherous route at the best of times. Eventually I found John and David having a brew at the side of the reservoir (Needless to say being Yorkshire men they didn’t offer me one, hah!) so I joined them briefly before they departed leaving me to sort myself out and have a breather. That done I pressed on once more up towards Wessenden Head. I’d now caught up with another group of racers and joined them for the next part. I’d also met a couple who were out for a bit of a stroll and asked me why what we were all doing. I tried to explain in easy terms but I might have confused them even more when they replied with comments of ‘you’re doing what to where, and how far away?’

Anyway I joined the pair of racers. This time it was Emiko and Dominic. I tagged along behind for several miles just generally chatting and moving forward. These guys had been on the pre race training weekend and had done some of the route I didn’t know but I had said that I knew the route from Blackstone Edge all the way to Hawes so I knew if we worked together we’d be in for a finish. We made good progress along down towards Wessenden Head and we were joined by Andy who had not been able to start the race but had also been on the training weekend and knew Emiko. He had joined us for the section around the reservoirs. Prior to us meeting Andy we had a bit of a moment along the slabs around Wessenden Head Moor when Emiko had stepped off to the side and disappeared waist deep into the bog. Fortunately myself and Dominic grabbed hold of her and pulled her back out again! Pressing on again we parted from Andy when he left us in a layby to make our way towards the M62 footbridge. The weather was becoming increasingly colder and flurries of snow began to fall again. It seemed to take forever to reach footbridge over the M62. Many times have I passed underneath this iconic bridge and always wondered what it would be like to cross it. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be in a winter race going over it. Looking down it was strange to see everyone going about their business in their warm cars not even noticing 3 head torches trotting across the bridge back into the pitch dark bitter night.

We were making good time and our intended eta at CP1 was looking good. I would be good enough to get an hours sleep at least. Crossing Blackstone Edge I was feeling confident of our progress and I knew when we reached the Whitehouse Pub I knew pretty much all of the route to Hawes. It was bitterly cold and still lightly snowing but we were joined by the moon occasionally popping out from behind the clouds. We arrived at the pub and fell inside to feel the warmth and smell of food. After changing batteries in head torches and gps and downing several pints of coke, orange and bowls of chips we were ready to go again. Another racer ‘Basil’ asked to join us to the CP. We were now 4. Outside the pub it seemed even colder and the snow was still lingering in the air. We set off at a good pace with me leading and apart from a slight error we started to make our way sprightly towards CP1. It was an eerie feeling being out there ( the film ‘American Werewolf’ was at the forefront of my mind) being battered by the piercing wind with the moon shining an orange glow on us casting intermittent long shadows of four strangers who seemed to be totally dependant on each other to keep going. I absolutely love this and it’s something that is so hard to explain to most people, the camaraderie amongst racers is priceless . Pushing on we crossed Stoodley Pike and dropped down towards Charlsetown. We were in grasping distance of CP1 but for the hell of a climb up and then the descent down to Hebden Hey Scout / Activity centre.It was heaven to see the support staff smiling and being so helpful to us. Baked potatoes and chilli with gallons of tea was thrust upon us and anything else we needed.

Leg Two: Hebden Bridge (CP1) to Hawes (the Spine Challenger Finish) – you might need another brew at this point

Between us we had agreed to leave at 06:30 so I headed off to grab an hours sleep( I think it was nearer to 20 mins) and get my fresh shoes and kit. 06:30 came quickly but I felt fresh again, especially with a full set of new kit on. Jokingly we had decided to have a dry shoe day! ie lets try and keep our feet dry as long as possible. I think that lasted about 10 minutes! Moving along over towards Walshaw Dean, Top Withins and Oakworth it seemed to fly past. Two friends, Chris & Paul had met us before we went onto Oakworth Moor. Chris had a flask and gave me some coffee and it might as well have been a £400 bottle of champagne it tasted so good. I mentioned that we had now just about done half of the distance.

Al Pepper Spine 2015-0002 Al Pepper Spine 2015-0031 Al Pepper Spine 2015-0033 Al Pepper Spine 2015-0055 IMG_7909

This spurred us on immensely and we headed off for Ickornshaw Moor. The terrain would change soon and we would be mainly travelling through agricultural land on footpaths. Now that sounds great until you add cattle and sheep. The ground would become increasingly wet and churned up by livestock. Navigation would become increasingly difficult going from field to field. As we passed the various road crossings and small hamlets my friend Paul kept on popping up and taking pictures of us and to be honest this was just a real boost to morale and certainly gave me more and more confidence that we would be in Hawes for Monday. Having done an extensive reccy I knew that there was another pub in Lothersdale that we could stop for food. This was turning out to be one great sadistic pub crawl!!! On reaching the pub the Landlord insisted that we come in as we were because he’d put carpet protection down on his floor for us racers. This seems to be a bit of a theme. Everyone along the way wants to help and accommodate us and make sure we keep going. So we settled for a huge meal and yet more coke, orange and hot chocolate before moving on. In the pub there was another racer tucking into a full Sunday roast. Unfortunately he was out with a knee problem and the medics were tending to him. It was a bit of a wake up as I remembered him from sharing a dorm with him in the YHA. It just goes to show that you never know when fate will deal its hand and your race is over.

Leaving the warmth of the pub it was apparent that there was a change in weather. It was really overcast and lightly raining. Little did I know that shortly this was about to nearly be my undoing for the first time. I remembered from my reccy in June that we had to cross Thornton Moor and in June it was blowing a gale and bitterly cold. I also remember thinking to myself this will be hell in January. And it Was!!! Mother Nature had carefully positioned another hurdle. I knew exactly the route and how long it would take to reach Thornton-in-Craven. On the moor the wind was unbearable the rain was exceptionally heavy and it was almost dark. My trusty ‘Buffalo’ clothing was beginning to get soaked and then I started to get cold, very cold. Because of the design of the clothing usually if you can keep moving you can generate enough heat to keep warm. I was now running and getting colder! Initially I was shivering and not too worried but then I’d started to violently shiver and also being tired I couldn’t focus on my map, gps or even my surroundings. Water was now running out of my sleeves and into my gloves. The clothing had failed and was now cooling me even further. Everything going on in my head was telling me that the inevitable onset of Hypothermia was with me and I had to get warm and dry. I’d told everyone else and my goal was to reach Thornton-in -Craven, find shelter and get into dry clothes. I only remember bits of the journey but I managed to find an archway between two houses and quickly change my top layers. Annoyed with myself my companions reassured me that it wasn’t a problem and we were ready to fight again.

it was now totally dark and we had picked up some more racers and at one point there was about six or seven of us. I still knew the terrain and with a bit of careful map reading and remembering the footpaths we were well on our way to Malham. The route briefly joins the Leeds – Liverpool Canal and eventually after Gargrave joins the River Aire all of the way to Malham. The journey was straight forward but really hard going underfoot with the amount of residual water lying on the banks of the river. At one point it was knee deep! Coupled with the endless cattle fields and mud it was relentless. I made a suggestion that we should take shelter in the pub in Malham for a while and have a hot drink. This was a bit of incentive for us all to push on before closing time. I’d made a bit of distance on the others and reached Malham only to find one of the pubs in darkness! I tried the other pub and it too was closing (22:30)! Apparently Sunday hours. I had no idea what day it was let alone opening hours of pubs! Anyway with a bit of persuasion the Landlord allowed us in for half an hour and sold us cold drinks and crisps. I took advantage of this and swapped my socks to sealskinz with a pair of thin wool socks as a liner before heading out into the night once more. Heading off towards Malham Cove I mentioned that we had lots of steps and a rather tricky crossing of the rock formations on top of the cove. I had done a detailed reccy of this part and knew it well so I had a nice easy route worked out across the rocks. The wind had now picked up again and was increasingly making forward progress difficult. We reached the road crossing just short of the Tarn and started our final trek to CP1.5 at Malham Field Centre. Passing the Tarn it was unbelievable to see the water being blown over us and the size of the waves crashing against the shore of the Tarn. At last we reached CP1.5 and found respite from the rapidly deteriorating weather. Inside we were greeted by John Bamber and his crew. Instantly the kettle was on and it was hot brews all around. We had decided to stay for a couple of hours and leave just before daybreak. I had a shake down of my kit and tried to grab a few minutes sleep outside in my bivy bag. I found a bench under cover and got into my bag. I’d also put a couple of handwarmers in my jacket to take the chill off. It didn’t last long, I was back inside not knowing if I’d been to sleep or not. But the four of us had decided to leave so we donned our kit and as we signed out a message came in from the Safety Team and said that nobody should leave because of the severe weather coming in (Another one of those hurdles). In effect the race was stopped. We waited for about 3 hours until the weather had moved on and we were released from the checkpoint. After many more brews and lots to eat we were off again. For safety reasons the route had been changed to miss the summit of Pen-y-Gent so that would give the legs a little rest from the climbing up the near vertical ascent up it. Making our way up towards Fountains Fell the weather really had started to hit us hard with driving rain and high winds. I was feeling the cold now and starting to shiver again. I pushed on alone knowing that if I didn’t move faster I might be in the grips of hypothermia. This was my second warning but now I didn’t have any dry clothes, only my saturated Buffalo top. I was getting blown all over the place and getting colder. My down jacket was soaked and had no insulation whatsoever now! I knew from my reccy that on the descent there was a place near a small cliff that was sheltered from the wind. Crossing the summit of the fell I was convinced that coming towards me was a huge figure of a man, a giant even! It was difficult to see with the cloud and rain but this huge silhouette was getting closer! I had some clear glasses to put on for eye protection but my hands were so cold I couldn’t open the zips on my front pack to get them out. I realised that it wasn’t a giant at all but one of the huge cairns (piles of rocks). I knew now that I was fatigued and cold. My mind was playing tricks on me. On reaching the shelter of the cliff I took the decision to put my saturated Buffalo back on. It was a nightmare with cold hand and the uncontrollable shivering. It took my breath away putting the cold fleece next to my skin but this was my only chance. Now I had to move quickly and get out of the cloud, wind and rain. The others had now caught up and we made haste with our descent. Thankfully as we descended the rain stopped and the fierce wind was now drying me. We picked up the pace and made our way along the diverted route to Horton-in-Ribblesdale crossing the edge of Pen-y-Gent. We decided to stop at the café for a warm and food. Many more racers had the same idea and the place was awash with wet kit and tired, battered bodies. But I knew we had only around 20 ish miles to the finish and this was a definite morale boost and a milestone. Fed and watered we exited the homely, warm confines of the café for the last push. Feeling totally refreshed I explained to my fellow racers that navigation was simple and I was going to get a bit of a wiggle on.It was strange being alone but I was totally comfortable and at one with my surroundings. I knew the route and I knew I would finish. It was the first time I’d thought about what we had just done and the experiences we had all had. It was uplifting and I felt a sense of achievement just getting this far. Some people call it ‘Flow’. A time when you are out running and you are completely immersed in the experience. Well if that’s what it is then I was experiencing it. Nothing mattered I was distant from myself and before I knew it I had covered many miles and found myself on Cam High Road. A single track that is straight as an arrow crossing the fells and I knew lead me almost to the point I would descend down into Hawes. I took the opportunity to play some music and spookily one of the first tracks was ‘Highway to Hell’. Immediately I found myself standing on the start line of MdS! I reminisced about that experience and tried to compare it to what I was doing now. There was no comparison this was totally different in it’s own way. MdS was a wonderful experience and I’ve gained some great friends from it but this was ‘Brutal’ and the description of relentless is a term commonly used to descried our experience. Were as on MdS there’s time each day to regroup and rest – no such luxury here. I started to drop down off Rottenstone Hill and made my way through the many bogs. It was now pitch dark and my head torch gave a confusing impression of the ground. It made it look like it was flat and dry. In fact it was mostly knee deep bog! As I eventually reached the tarmac of Gaudy Lane I was beginning to be overwhelmed by the experience and some dust must have blown into my eyes for I knew that within a short time it would all be over. I wondered how many people had been watching my lowly tracker progress towards Hawes. I approached the paved section that lead down into Hawes and I spotted a head torch heading my way. Then I recognised the familiar voice of my friend Darren. I can’t explain just how happy I was to see him. Darren was one of the Mountain Safety Team Coordinators and had been following my progress on the tracker system and came out to meet me. We trotted along the street together and in the distance I could see my wife Liz, Henry Hound and my friend Paul. More dust blew into my eyes! I passed them by and went into the Market Hall to be greeted by a round of applause, some hand shaking, hugs and the promise of a brew. That was it, I’d done it! Unbelievable! It was a lot to take in. Everyone was so friendly and just wanted to get me some food or a hot drink. I felt like I’d just woken up from a dream and couldn’t believe what had just happened. I recognised many faces from the race and it was apparent we were all part of a very special family now. It’s totally different to anything I’ve ever experienced. By the nature of the event and it’s severity the camaraderie it develops is rather special. Part of me was wondering what it would be like to be carrying on attempting the Full Spine and part of me just wanted to fall over and sleep! Racers kept coming into the market hall and eventually my three friends – Emiko, Dominic & Basil came in to a round of applause. It was great to see them and glad they had finished successfully.

It leaves me just to say thank you to everyone who helped out on the race and kept us safe out there. Also a big thanks to all of my friends who supported me and watched my tracker making its way North and of course Paul for the photographs and Chris for the coffee. Last but not least my lovely wife Liz for putting up with my mad sport but mostly for just being there for me x

Photographs courtesy of http://www.paulbrownimages.com

Post Race

I told you it would be a long one! Just like the race. Two weeks on –  I’ve still not stopped smiling about it and I still can’t feel three of my toes. I’m already planning what I would do differently next time. Yes I’ll be there again for more. I saw a post online that somebody said that these races (The Spine & Challenger) are completed with three things equally – fitness, mindset, emotion. I can say that this is 100% true. They are all equally important and reliant on each other and for a race like this it’s essential to make sure that time is spent developing each one and using it to its best ability when called upon. Oh and that Mother nature sure knows how to put them hurdles in your way!

AP

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Peaked in the Peak District (High Peak 40 & Red Bull Steeplechase)

 

High Peak 40  20th of September

I might of mentioned this before once or twice but this is a favourite of mine…….. 04:44 and I’m already awake waiting for the alarm! I wasn’t to sure about Liz though as she was trying to cherish every second in bed that remained before my alarm (playing Gangnham Style) went off. Already Henry Hound was up and ready to go as today he was joining me for most of the race. Kit packed and off we went to Buxton.

As always the place was busy with lycra clad individuals milling about and queuing for the toilets in a last minute attempt to save some weight. I asked Bill (the RD) if it was ok to have Henry with me and with his usual pleasant smile said ‘yes he’s very welcome and we remember him from last year. He’s the black and white springer isn’t he?’ Damn! I’m remembered for having a dog and not my physical prowess and athletic performance!!! Anyway we gathered at the start at the Pavilion Gardens and at 8am sharp we were underway and I was heading for CP1 (Bonsal Incline) to meet Liz and collect Henry.

P1060959P1060964

At CP1 my race partner was all ready to go and within seconds we were trotting down the incline on our way to CP2. It’s always funny how suddenly lots of other runners always comment of how it must be great to have a dog pulling you along. Now that might be true in some cases but for me I’m just not that fast and the constant pulling is akin to running downhill permanently and trying to slow yourself down all of the time. This year I’d decided to take Henry further than last year so at CP2 (Taxal Layby) we said our brief hellos to Liz and pressed on. CP3 (Digleach Farm) and we, well Henry was recognised yet again. There’s a lot of tarmac towards CP4 (Beet Farm) and I found myself drifting off back to the MdS and remembering when I’d been out on the long stage and the sun was setting. I’d been using allsorts of thoughts to keep me moving and one of then was just this moment running with Henry in this race! How bizarre. CP4 came as a welcome sight as I knew the terrain changes from tarmac. We stopped briefly and at last I was recognised, well my kit was! Are you in Team Buff UK a voice said. I briefly stopped and chatted to Darren who knew some of my other team mates. Whilst we chatted Henry was fed and watered by another marshal and then we pressed on again. I always enjoy this section as its were the terrain changes for most of the remaining race distance. I’d noted my left Achilles was slightly annoying me and starting to become noticeably sore and didn’t think too much about it but would check it when I stopped in Castleton. CP5 at Rushup Edge came quickly and I was well up on my time from last year. Not bad considering my legs were still in recovery from the last few events only weeks before. I left Henry with Liz at the CP and pushed on along the Edge and up towards Mam Tor. My legs were increasingly arguing with me and becoming heavy as the decent downwards into CP6 at Castleton arrived. It was agony, both Achilles and lower legs were now burning! I made my way into Castleton and passing the CP and met Liz on the road near the Cavedale path. I looked down at my feet and Liz commented at the same time as I did. What’s happened to the shoes? Both my feet had become excessively pronated. My shoes had all but collapsed!! My trusty Inov8s had let me down so with some swearing and some food we were off again. Henry was pulling me like a train up through Cavedale and I was finding it difficult to keep up and stay upright at the same time. We pushed on and was joined by another runner who was happy to run along and chat until the next CP at Bushy Heath Farm. I parted from Henry and changed into some Brooks Cascadia shoes in anticipation of more tarmac and headed off to CP8. Unfortunately the damage was done and my legs / Achilles were shot! It was a painful slow plod through Tideswell. Henry joined me again for another leg and as always he wanted to jump into the river to cool down and I nearly went in with him at one point! We climbed up and along making our way to the car park at White Lodge and met Liz again. This time I needed a sit down and all the time I’d made up I was now loosing, but never surrender and after a  few short minutes we were off yet again. Out of the car park and it’s a short sharp climb into yet more amazing countryside. We passed a few more runners as we made our way through the lush green meadows towards CP10 (High Low). Henry was deposited again with Liz in preparation for me to collect him at CP11 (King Sterndale).  Flagg lane was my next hurdle! It’s a long straight road that has so many false crests it’s untrue. It drops down into Chelmorton and the route eventually drops down the shear sides of Deep Dale. I can only say that the name is a perfect description of the terrain. It’s strategically placed in the race at about 38 miles so that it can provide much amusement to the onlookers watching us racers with rubber legs trying to descend down and scale up to desperately reach the penultimate CP. I collected Henry again so that he could enjoy the last few miles and of course take the credit as we crossed the finish line. That was it, over and what a mighty fine day it had been. With a quick shower it was off to one of our favourite pubs – The Pack Horse Inn at Crowdecote for a brilliant meal and a few wets. It was an end to another excellent race but crikey was I paying for it with my legs although the pain was notably reduced after Mick served me some of the best ales around.

HP40 HP40-1 P1070025 P1070133

Red Bull Steeplechase 5th of October

When I entered this race I thought yes I’ll make a go of that and see how many steeples I can get to. On Sunday morning I was thinking can I make it to the first one just 8 miles from the start! The race format is that there are 4 steeples along the route and at each one a proportion of the runners are knocked out until there will only be a small percentage of the field that will actually make it around the whole course and finish. The total distance was 21 miles with a total height gain of 1400 meters, 580 meters of which is in the first 8 miles!!! After another relatively early start we arrived in Castleton and the weather was superb. We bumped into some other Team BUFF UK members and friends from races earlier in the year (Sarah, Les, Chris, Duane, David) It’s unusual to see many of us together as we are from all points of the compass and are always racing in different races around the country so it was really great to have a chat and see each other.

RBSC3 RBSC6 TBUK Red Bull Steeplechase

Without further ado the men gathered at the start line and we waited for the start gun….and we waited…..and we waited! Then the starter shouted go instead. Off we went onwards and upwards and then upwards some more and more and then a bit more before we really started climbing some more to reach the ridge line North East of Mam Tor. It was one hell of a climb and at one point I was on all fours hanging onto clumps of grass! Surprisingly when I reached the ridge line I felt ok. It must be the back squats that help that or I was that out of breath I couldn’t feel anything! But turning right (North East) along the ridge towards the Vale of Edale it was a constant uphill and downhill rollercoaster sort of ride. The scenery was spectacular and as we climbed ‘one tree hill’ I thought I was imagining that I could hear a brass band and then ran past one at the top of the hill!!! Nope there definitely was one. We started our descent along the route towards Ladybower and I really was starting to feel tired and decided that I would be mad with myself if I actually didn’t get knocked out! At that point I made a pact with myself that I was jus going to plod along and enjoy a trail run. Most of it was spent contemplating the year and all the experiences I’d had both good and bad and realigned myself for the start of next year and Spine Challenger Race in January. Again Darren who I’d seen at High Peak was at one of the water / Red Bull points at Ladybower and we briefly exchanged words (I will have a proper chat one day Darren). It was only a few miles to Bamford so I broke into my best shuffle and absorbed the sights and sounds of the race. At Bamford I reached the finish line for that leg and was quite relieved to be knocked out. I was completely exhausted. Only eight miles but everything had now caught up with me and I was shattered. Duane was already there and had pulled out. We chatted about the year and it was apparent that all of us had been busy and we needed some much deserved rest. So we caught the shuttle bus back to Castleton and I met back up with Liz and Henry. The atmosphere was brilliant as we watched some of the hardy finishers cross the line. The whole event is brilliant and topped off with some excellent food and a few beers courtesy of Red Bull. In the words of the great Arnie ‘I’ll be back’ but for now I’ve definitely peaked.

RBSC1 RBC-014 RBSC5 P1070130

So if you’ve got this far in following my musings and found a little bit of inspiration then hopefully you will have got out that front door and gone on some adventures of your own this year. I will admit I’ve found myself outside of my comfort zone this year and loved every second of it. Some of the people I’ve met, places I’ve seen, experiences I’ve had have just been amazing and I fully believe that to experience life in a slightly different way and create memories that will last forever is far more important than any material object. Never ever underestimate what your capable of!

Are you still sitting there?????

AP

Thanks to Team Buff UK, Duel-Fit, The Original Power Cookie, Liz and Henry and of course everyone that supports me and everyone that helps out at all of the races.

Photo of me at the top of the climb courtesy of Jane Benson

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Here be Dragons!!! Ring O Fire 135 mile Anglesey Coastal Ultra Marathon

29th – 31st of August 2014

Sunshine at last! But I was heading for Anglesey and having visited the place many time before knew exactly what the weather could deliver. I’d been looking for something to aim for after MdS and the ‘Ring O Fire’ Ultra seemed to be shouting out to me. A multi-day race with 135 miles of distance to cover, what could possibly go wrong? It seemed perfect.

I managed to arrive at Breakwater Park, Holyhead before most people, including the race organisers! Eventually other runners started arriving and I took my overnight back and drop bag to the start area. It was great to meet up with a few of my desert buddies and a few familiar faces from other races earlier in the year appeared. Signed on, number stuck on me and I was ready to go. The pre-race briefing was done by the Race Directors ‘Bing’ and ‘Q’, the Mayor said a few words then Johnny Cash singing Ring Of Fire blasted out of the speakers the bell rang and we were off promptly at 1pm.

20140829_102453 20140829_110748 20140829_123842

Strangely it felt like I was starting a smaller shorter race. The thought that we had to complete 33.4 miles on the first day hadn’t even entered my head. The whole race for 3 days follows the Anglesey Coastal path and takes in some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in the UK. To the untrained eye on a map it seems to be gently undulating for the majority of the distance but this would catch many out. I’d decided to push on to the first checkpoint at Alaw Estuary almost 10 miles away. It wasn’t to difficult and I’d surprised myself in my relatively quick pace for me. Stephen a runner I’d met from Mds joined me for a while and we chatted about the race and the desert before he disappeared off into the distance. CP1 done and it was off to the next one at Church Bay. The terrain was getting rather serious with climbs and descents becoming more regular and slowing the pace right down. Although surprisingly it wasn’t too much of a problem and my legs were eating them up without any issues. The scenery was spectacular and more than made up for the impending difficulty of what was about to come. CP2 done and a group smiling faces and lots of clapping sent us off out of the CP back onto the relentless climbing and descending. On to CP 3 at Wyfla was the next target and I’d been joined by a few more runners so we chatted and compared races as we trotted along.

Looking at the headland in the distance and the huge power station perched upon it I’d noted that the CP was just behind it. But as with all coastal paths it can take several miles or more to reach a headland due to the recesses in the coastline, plus we also had a beach to cross so it was hoped the tide would be out! It was and a short while later we appeared at CP3. 10.4 miles and we would be at the finish. We had become a group of about 7 and had been following each other along the path for quite some time now. We all left the CP together and headed off into the now  fading light.

There was a distinct feeling of rain in the air as we began our last leg. The terrain became very gnarly with some huge climbs and to add to this the rain had started to hit us from the seaward side helped by a strong wind. Between us our level of skills in the art of descending down muddy slopes began to differ and our group was split. I began my homeward battle with Garry who I’d met earlier in the year on the Haworth Hobble who was with his friend Stephen I’d ran with earlier. As the daylight really started to fade we made good progress and I had one eye on the map all of the time just in case. Before the finish we had to locate an ‘Honesty Book’. This was a book located in a plastic box at a specific place to prevent runners taking a short cut. On finding the book we had to tear out a page and present it to the next CP or Finish. Apparently it was located just past Bull Bay near a disused water tower. Apparently unmissable! For the last few miles I’d been occupying my mind with spotting dive sites along the coast and  trying to remember when I’d dived them and what I’d seen. Predominantly my diving experience of the Anglesey Coast  had been ship wrecks so I was now passing on my endless knowledge of these to Gary who was running with me. Not sure if I was helping matters and possibly just sending him to sleep! But we just couldn’t find the book or the unmissable water tower! Another runner, Dimitri, had now joined us and together we desperately searched in the blackness for the book. I still hadn’t put my head torch on at this point as my night vision was pretty good and could still read the map. Gary, Dimitri and I found ourselves crossing a field and then into a small holiday home estate. More runners joined us and we were now about six of us. It was absolutely throwing it down and blowing a gale and by chance I spotted the silhouette of a structure that resembled a tower. That was it! We found ourselves climbing through someone’s garden and after a bit of slipping and sliding down to the edge of the coast I decided to put on my light. Now I don’t really like heights and it’s probably best that it was dark but on switching my light on I found I was less than a meter from what looked like bottomless drop off the cliffs into wild the sea below!

We found the book, tore a page out each and made our way to the finish in Amlwch. Greeted again by smiling faces and Johnny Cash we settled in for what was left of the evening. Cold Pizza and a hard gym floor have never felt so good! The biggest problem was with so many others in the sports hall you can just imagine the sound of snoring and other noises coming from the masses.O4:55 ! Johnny Cash again with his Ring of Fire! (This might have been in my head, I’m not sure)Lights on and looking bleary eyed into the now bright lights Bing and Q gave us the news that we were all racing again in an hour, so we’d better get our act together! And today was a 65 mile stage!

Before I’d gone to bed I’d prepped everything so all I had to do was put my kit on pack my bag, eat and go. I can’t say the same for the other runners though! It looked like a car boot sale with kit everywhere.

06:00 more Johny Cash and the bell was rang. Off we went back the way we had come to rejoin the coastal path. Strangely I was feeling great and was ready for the day ahead, in fact I was really looking forward to being out at night. The sun was making a slight appearance as we headed to CP1 at Traeth Lligwy. It came with the smiling faces of the marshalls and without stopping CP2 was in our sights. I was with Gary at this point and we mentioned finding a fish and chip shop for lunch and that was it. The seed was planted! Moelfre was the next village and we stopped briefly to take some pictures of the sea and the memorial to the Lifeboats and I passed yet more knowledge of shipwrecks to Gary. Keeping an eye on my watch we negotiated the various beautiful beaches and tiny villages. At CP2 – Red Wharf Bay I’d decided to stop for a short break,let my feet dry and change socks. Quite a few runners passed me by but I’d again decided that I’d catch them later.

ROF 1 ROF2

Two more checkpoints and it would be halfway (33 miles). Back on my way I’d completely switched off and was now in my own world of nothing apart from taking in the sights and sounds. I seemed to be on autopilot and just following the map without a care in the world. This is one of my many reasons that I run ultras. It sometimes is a relief to be in my own space without worries or concerns and I have an ability to do this when running long distances. People often ask me how I occupy my mind and most think that I listen to music but that doesn’t happen very often. I just zone out, be absorbed by the environment and follow my route on a map. It’s brilliant, almost like being in a deep sleep but with having a fantastic dream. Also I’d been taking advantage of the blackberries growing in the hedgerows and making a welcome break from the usual snacks.

I’d almost reached CP4 (½ way) at Beaumaris and caught up with a group of runners that I kept meeting along the way. People were clapping and cheering us on and I spotted a lady with a portion of chips and I was oh so tempted to act like a seagull, steal the chips and run off! (Thanks Gary for planting the seed earlier on)

I rested a while at CP3 and yet again dried my feet and changed socks. There were a few bedraggled runners there and many who had decided this was a good place to drop out. The journey continued and I’d hooked up with the group I kept meeting up with. Unknown to me at this point we would all pretty much finish early the following day nearly all together. Checkpoints came and went and I arrived at CP6 alone. I’d made a decision about a route marked on the race maps earlier and everyone else had followed a slightly different route but I’d trusted my navigation and found the correct route.

At CP6 I was greeted by a cheerful group of ladies who insisted that they fed and watered me. My left foot was now beginning to give me some cause for concern as it was starting to blister on the sole. More sock changing and insole swapping just in time for the group of runners whom I’d left to follow the other route. We decided to stick together for the next leg to CP7.

The light was now fading so head torches was the order and we pushed on into the darkness. We travelled along the path along the beach skirting the perimeter of Newborough Forrest. Again another honesty book was somewhere along the path. This took some finding as we kept on mistaking the night fishermen for the flag marking the book. Eventually we found it and with a slight and very wet detour into the estuary arrived at CP7 And again a very welcome sight. Everyone was pleased to see us and asked us if we were ok. I was now limping severely and was not on my own. Each of us were now looking worn and battered. However, the sight of peanut butter sandwiches and Coke was just awesome!

ROF 3

We moved off and started the final leg to Aberffraw. This was now becoming a painful experience and it was becoming even more difficult to maintain a regular pace. I was relying heavily on my poles and when we entered the last set of dunes looking for another honesty book every step was like walking on hot coals! Eventually Aberffraw village was reached and myself and an Irishman called Danny gave each other some encouragement as we hobbled towards the finish in the village hall. Yet again there were smiling faces and clapping as we completed the stage.I was shattered and it was somewhere around 3am on Sunday morning! Q showed us into the kitchen and gave some pasta and we just ate in silence staring at the floor desperately trying to be awake.With my kit found I quietly found space on the floor and just lay down with my feet on top of my bag. I’d removed the shoes and socks and my left foot was in bits. There was little sleep and I just contemplated my dilemma and had a painful couple of hours just lying there.

Morning came quickly and I knew I was done. The feeling was terrible and as others prepared to start the last day I was now just staring at my feet. I couldn’t believe that this had stopped me literally in my tracks. Two days of wet feet and 100 miles had taken their toll and the forefoot sole of my left foot was starting to separate and deep blisters had developed. If they had been surface blisters I could have patched them up properly with the kit I had with me. Everything else was fine but walking was hell. To say I was feeling annoyed with the whole situation was an understatement. I wished people near to me the best of luck and Q spotted me moping about and promptly cheered me up with a brew.I reluctantly sent a text to Liz letting her know that I was out and she responded in a way that only she can and made me feel much better. It was great to have such support from her and I suddenly felt much better and happy with myself that I’d made the right decision to pull out and I’d managed to run over 100 miles of this beast. I had been worrying about my right foot before the race as it had split but I’d used some super glue to hold it together and that had worked a treat!!

I’d managed to scrounge a lift with Bing as he made his way around the checkpoints heading towards the finish. I was not alone in the van as a fellow runner Daniel who was also out shared the journey with me. We swapped stories and hobbled around like two zombies but vowed to take it all on again next year. It was great to see everyone at the checkpoints and give them some support to keep them going. Everyone who completed this event deserve every credit and it’s not a race to be taken lightly.

20140831_155413 20140831_072901

Finally I cannot emphasise just how good this event is. The organisation is second to none, the race directors Big and Q are brilliant and are always there for everyone. The marshalls are all stars and deserve a special mention and in my opinion a medal!

Cant wait to go back and finish it off.

Thanks to Team Buff UK, Duel Fit, The Original Power Cookie for your continued support

Race website http://www.ringofire.co.uk/

Some Photos courtesy of Mark Wynne

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Last Leg – Marathon des Sables (Part 5)

11th of April : Stage 5 – Rich Merzoug / Igadoun Tarhbalt – 42,2 km

The last official day of the MdS. I say last official day because the following day we would be taking part in a Charity stage that would not be part of the MdS but would eventually lead us to the bus back to the hotel.

The usual morning routine went on as usual but there was an air of excitement amongst the bivouac. For some they would ultimately meet friends and family at the finish line and for other like myself it was the completion of a wonderful journey. Tent 145 gathered together for another group photo and the obligatory hand shaking and well wishing. I already knew that our spirits were high as was our determination and it would take something very serious to prevent any of us from completing the race. The previous evening we had been chatting away and Duncan had returned from Doc Trotters having just had his feet repaired and he commented that ‘after the sand had been washed out of the blisters and the iodine applied they were now fine!’ There was a pause and Daz commented of how wrong that sentence sounded and especially to the average person. A similar comment was made shortly after about the fact we only had a marathon to do and we had finished! Yes we had changed our thinking and also become different people. Most people would train and taper for weeks before a marathon. We had just completed numerous ones in an unforgiving environment carrying our kit and were about to complete another one! The start procedure happened all over again as it did each morning and before we knew it we were off. I trotted along talking to lots of people as it seemed everyone was excited about the last stage. Initially I’d been following along behind some other runners but the nature of the stage being flat for the first leg I could see for miles and decided that I wanted to be on my own. Taking a slightly diagonal path NW a broke trail and found my own pace. I’d slipped into a trance like state and was just absorbing the atmosphere. This had been going on for sometime when a Land Rover came up along side me and apparently one of the occupants had been trying to catch my attention and I’d completely ignored them. They pulled in front and I had to stop. They asked if I was ok? Absolutely fine I replied, I just wanted time alone and also pointed out to them where I was on the map so they knew I wasn’t lost. I was running parallel to the main field and also I’d been following the front runners route which at the time was pretty much in a straight line all the way to CP1. With a smile and a ‘Bonjour’ they let me carry on following my own route. At CP1 I’d started to reflect about the journey, not just the race but the whole thing some 2 years ago when I decided I was going to have a go. I was almost sad to know that I’d be reaching the end so soon. I laughed to myself when it read in the roadbook that CP1 was in a small leafy valley. It brought pictures to mind of a summers day with a breeze gently blowing the trees and being able to hide from the sun. Not today! the sun was burning it’s way through the slightly overcast skies and the oven like heat was becoming overbearing. Leafy valley my Ar$e!

There was to be just about every type of desert terrain in todays stage and as the CP’s passed it seemed to get progressively harder! There was also notably more people around and the kids were always on the scrounge for anything. I lightened my load by giving away sweets and pepperoni sticks knowing that I would only throw it away at the finish anyway. As the last CP got nearer I didn’t want it to end (I’d change my mind shortly) and we started to encounter small farms and more people cheering us along. The smell of the fresh herbs was amazing and definitely made a change from the normal smell of the desert. At the last CP they said only 10km to go. I asked if I could go back and do it again much to the amusement of the CP staff. I wasn’t joking! At the CP I’d spotted Pete and Danny from the Hope team who I’d met on a few occasions before MdS. They were having a bit of a moment of congratulating each other before they headed off. I sat in the CP and watched and listened to my surroundings trying not to miss a second of it. With a change of socks and a refill of water I set out to complete the final 10km.

Instantly I found myself in a Oued heading West. It was ankle deep soft sand and about 200mtrs wide. It was Hell!! Using my poles I tried to get a pace going but it was useless. It was like being in deep snow and progress from this point was slow. It went on for ever and I passed countless other racers who were just struggling to move. I’d decided to give it everything and carried on regardless until I found a rock step leading me onto the next part of the terrain. This was a huge bolder field with valleys and steep climbs. I was at this point listening to music and was deciding just what track would be the most memorable to cross the finishing line to. The GPS told me I was about 4km away from the end and after a huge rocky climb I could see it in the distance like a mirage. As with all of the stages there was always a sting in the tail and this was some dunes at about 1km from the end. It was now in my grasp and as the finish line grew in height as it got closer I started a fast run. At about 150mtrs from the line there was two other racers trying to help each other towards the finish. One of them was limping really badly and the other was holding him up and trying to move forward. Now I was on a mission at this point and going at it like a mad thing. Something told me it wasn’t the done thing just to race past the two racers but to cross the line with them. So I loaded up my finishing music track and played it at full volume. I got level with the two racers and to my surprise they were Japanese. Grasping the one who wasn’t limping by the arm I shouted ‘Come on let’s go!!’ he in turn grabbed his mate and I pulled them both along like a trailing flag behind me. I had a moment of reflection about what I was doing and what it must have looked like – A 6ft 1in bloke running, shouting and dragging two very small Japanese people behind, one of which couldn’t walk,  at full speed towards the finish line…and my choice of music was ‘PSY Gagnham Style’, this being played loud in my head so I was laughing like I was possessed !!!! I noticed people cheering me on and waiving at me. They probably thought I didn’t know I had two Japanese people attached to me.

I was still laughing when I crossed the finish line and there was a lot of head bowing between me and my new friends, but I think they thought I was some kind of mad man and made a hasty retreat away from me and saying ‘Fank You Werry Much’. I got my moment with Patrick as he presented me the coveted MdS medal and had a dance then gave me a hug. That was it!!!!! It was over, Id done it!!!! The feeling was immense and the cup of tea waiting for us was even better than before. A few tears rolled down my cheeks and I became deliriously happy, talking to everyone and shaking hands. I noticed the two Japanese racers quickly walking / limping away from the finish area glancing over their shoulders in my direction.

That evening in the bivouac there was the prize giving and an appearance by the Paris Opera. It was a surreal feeling to be out there in the desert with all of these people who had their own individual journeys and achievements to celebrate. It was awesome! Eventually tent 145 couldn’t stay awake anymore and we retired for the evening safe in the knowledge that tomorrow we would be walking the short charity stage, getting in a bus and heading to the hotel. I tried to stay awake and listen to the Opera singers magical voice but sleep was getting the better of me. It’s an odd feeling doing multi stage races as your body doesn’t fully shut down during the race but it was as if it knew we had finished and had started to switch off. Sleep came easy and I don’t remember anything, not even the crinkle of Alan sleeping on his mat made from crisp packets.

The following day was so relaxed and we started the stage by gently ambling along and making our way towards the end of the charity stage it was only 7.7km long but it allowed some of the friends and family to walk with us. The purpose of the charity stage is to support UNICEF helping the locals with resources such as schools etc and to emphasise that events such as MdS should give back to the local communities. As we neared the end we came into a small town and it seemed that everyone was out to see us. It was great to see the locals and feel like we were part of it. Buses were waiting for us to take us back to the hotel and it was only a few hours before we would eventually taste that cold beer and relax.

IMG_7770 _CA50280 IMG_7778 IMG_7796 IMG_7827 IMG_7832

Final Thoughts

It was a journey, a very long journey. I don’t mean the race I mean just getting there. Some say that MdS is a little bit of a parade and it’s lost it’s severity. I and many other would say go and give it a try. It’s not just all about the race it is every aspect of it. I’ve learnt so much on the way and gained many friends. It is one of the most expensive races in the world to do and I for one will probably not be able to afford it again. However, I cannot put a price on the experience as a whole and it will be with me forever, so in the big scheme of things I don’t think it was a bad deal.

I would like to say thanks to the hundreds of people that have and still do support me. You all make a massive difference to me and how I face some of the challenges that I undertake. Thank you to all my sponsors – Team Buff UK, Duel-Fit, Likeys, The Original Power Cookie. We also raised a few quid for the two charities – Pancreatic Cancer Research and Rossendale and Pendle Mountain Rescue.

My biggest thanks goes to my wife and best friend Liz. Without her support over the years I could not do the things that I do. She is always there for me when I’m training and sometimes there waiting patiently at a checkpoint mid -race with all my needs and giving me encouragement to keep going. Love you lots Liz xxx

I can’t miss out my four legged training partner also. Henry, our Springer Spaniel loves it when I’m training for races and sometimes even races with me. I must admit though he’s been the cause of many a fast downhill run or me landing in a bog!

Thanks

AP

In Memory of Steve ‘Scotty’ Scott  my friend – ‘Old Soldiers Don’t Die, They Just Fade Away’ Your not forgotten mate.

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Better late than never!!! Marathon des Sables (Part 4)

It seems a lifetime ago since my last ramblings and it’s not that I cant be bothered to write or that I’ve forgotten about it. But it seems the pace of life especially work life has out balanced the time that I’ve had to put my thoughts and memories up here in cyberspace! More about that later. But back to the story

9th of April, Better late than never: Stage 4 – Ba Hallou – Rich Merzoug – 81,5 Km

I don’t think that I’d ever get bored with watching the sunrise in this magical place. There was very few people up and about apart from myself and the other Alan who as usual had spent yet another night rustling about on his sleep mat! It was slightly cooler than other mornings and the thought of a bit of a downturn in temperature would be welcome with what we were about to embark upon. I decided I’d make the most of being horizontal as I’d already prepared my feet and kit the night before so I lay there just being nosey and watching the bivouac come to life. It was like ‘Groundhog’ day but definitely not boring. People started to mill about, the water truck arrived, the two camels ‘Charles & Camilla’ appeared on the horizon walking with their Berber towards the bivouac. It was a regular routine for man and beast. Most of the tent was now up and we got each others water ration cards and headed over to collect the first of our daily ration of water. There was an different atmosphere amongst everyone this morning and it was almost as if it was the morning of the first stage all over again.

The tent disappeared again in seconds and a smiling Berber packed it away, whilst everyone started to get serious about the day ahead. We had another photo of our tent all together and it almost felt that this could be one of the last times we would be together, maybe we might not all make it through the long stage. I instantly put that thought right to the back of my head and decided that we all would. We all shook hands and wished each other the well and made our way over to the start line. Now I don’t like being at the front of any race but this morning we were standing right in the front row of the whole race! The top runners who today start a few hours after us came along and shook our hands and wished us well. The press and TV cameras were filming, the helicopters were hovering in the distance and Patrick was starting his countdown. Suddenly a runner collapsed falling face down over the start line and into the sand! The countdown was momentarily stopped and medics rushed to him and pulled him to one side of the start area. The countdown resumed and ACDC Highway to Hell blasted out of the speakers and we were off. Medics and race staff formed a barrier around the poor individual who was now receiving treatment. For some reason it was more overwhelming and emotional than the start on the first day, I can only think that it was because of what was facing us! As always I’d studied the maps and knew we had some very small dunes, flat terrain and an Oued to cross before reaching CP1 at about 10km. Today was definitely all about keeping it together but I couldn’t help run all the way to the first CP.

Then it became apparent it was going to be very very long day when Jebel El Otfal came into view. I’ve got no idea of the height but having spent a lot of time around fells and mountains it looked like something that would be at home in the Lake District! According to the map it was a 12% climb for most of it progressing to 30% for the last 500mtrs in other words Steep!

IMG_7673 IMG_7672 IMG_7676

The climb was relentless and the temperature soared with now wind blowing along a small confined valley all the way to the top, it was becoming hell! Eventually the summit was reached and the view was breath taking. People had stopped for pictures and taking on fluid. I decided that I needed to take advantage of the downhill bit and give my legs a chance to recover. My recovery was to run down as fast as possible! This was probably the quickest I’d moved for all of the race as it was such a relief to bound from rock to rock giving a different muscle group something to do. It was heaven and I made good time all the way to the bottom. It flattened out again and I came across a small group of runners crouching down attending to what sounded like an Italian lady who was crying and very distressed. As I passed I offered my help but they waived me on but I couldn’t help noticing that one of her feet was pointing in what seemed like the wrong direction. Game over I thought and took a little more notice of where I placed my feet amongst the rocks. I’d started playing a game with myself by now and had made a pact with myself that nobody would overtake me until I’d reached the next CP. As always I was greeted with a ‘Bonjour Alan’ by the smiling faces of the CP staff who kindly handed me my water ration. Into the shade, sock change, some stretching and off we go again. We headed of into the huge pass of El Maharch and some welcome shade as the massive rocky walls guided us on our way. The stage opened up across a long flat dry lake with a welcome breeze cooling us as we crossed it. The terrain changed often and this was definitely a day of differing challenges and vistas. CP3 came along and the sun was starting its demise. We headed up another Jebel and pushed on along a ridge for what seemed like hours. The sunset was unbelievable and seemed to go on forever. Crossing the ridge the runners became few and far between but I saw someone heading towards me along the narrow path and he seemed like he was out for a bit of a stroll. I noticed he had no pack on was talking to himself. A few of us asked him if he was ok but none of us got a response he just mumbled and carried on walking. Then I spotted his pack on the floor near the path and it looked like he’d ditched it but shortly one of the race officials appeared who obviously was aware of the racers predicament and acknowledged our concern. At CP4 the organisers were insistent that we put our chemical light sticks on the rear of our packs and wore or head torches before leaving. I was getting a bit giddy at this point with the thought of spending the night out in the desert. I just couldn’t wait!

It was just what I remembered from my time in Iraq. The sky was ink black and the stars where like bright diamonds that went all the way down to the horizon. The air was slightly cooler and I was in my element. At CP5 the there was a green laser pointing towards the sky and was there to guide us to the checkpoint. It seemed to take forever to reach it. I’d decided that at CP5 I’d take a slightly longer break, have some food, double check my kit and feet before heading back out. Also my plan was to crack the long stage within 24hrs and I was already on track as it was well before midnight and I was literally 2Km away from CP5. I wasn’t expecting what I saw at CP5 though! Still smiling the CP staff handed me my water ration and I moved into the CP area. It was like a battle zone. There were people in allsorts of distress sleep, exhausted states. I found a space away from the carnage and sat down to begin my prep for the final push. It was unbelievable, there were individuals crying, snoring, talking and just staring into space. Personally I didn’t feel that bad, I was a little thirsty and felt hungry but other than that everything was fine. It looked like most people were making CP5 their home for the night and waiting until daybreak before trying to move off. On that thought I ate and drank then made my way out of the CP as quickly as possible.

IMG_7705 IMG_7704

Leaving CP5 I was questioned by one of the support staff if I was ok to be heading out on my own. I reassured them I’d be fine and disappeared into the darkness. I’d started to run away from the CP so that I could be on my own and it didn’t take long before I was all alone with the occasional head torch in the distance behind me. I had about 21km to go until the finish of the stage and after a quick bit of estimating I thought I’d be home within about 4 hours and hopefully arrive at around 3am. I was making good time and decided that at all costs I’d be looking to beat the sunrise so it became a mission to complete this as soon as possible. Covering ground was relatively easily on the hard packed crusty ground and I’d turned my head torch off and used the moonlight to see my way. After a couple of hours it was apparent I wasn’t going as fast as I’d planned and fatigue was setting in. Time for a break and I sat amongst some small dunes and ate some more food. I’d noticed a bit of pain from my right foot in the area of the blister and had been getting worse as the stage went on so together with the food it was time for a ‘Tramadol’ ! Now I’m not sure if that was the right or wrong decision but the next few hours got a whole lot more interesting. CP6 came and went as if it was just a dream and I barely stopped but only to collect water and refill my bottles. It was approx 10km to the stage finish and I was pressing on so I thought. I’d already passed through  lots of camels, seen some elves and goblins around a fire, heard voices in the darkness and was now watching myself trudge across the desert! Non of this actually was real when I looked back on it as nobody else recalls anything that I’d seen so I’d put it down to the earlier Tramadol. This was to be the longest 10km I’d ever done! Glancing down at the gps it was indicating that my average speed was 1km per hour!!!! The sand was like flour and at one point was up to my knees, it was horrible and so difficult to increase speed, eventually the depth of the sand got less and the route followed an Oued that seemed to lined with a hedge on each side. That wasn’t there either but lots of other people recall feeling the same about the Oued. In the distance I could see what looked like two lights about 300 meters away and that was surely the end of the stage. It wasn’t 300 meters away it was nearer to 5km and took forever to reach. Back to running as fast as was possible it just never seemed to get any closer and I repeatedly checked the gps to make sure I wasn’t running on the spot! After an eternity the finish line became visible with the bivouac behind and after a fast run I’d done it. It was amazing and crossing the finish line there was just me, a couple of officials and of course the man with the cup of tea. That was the best brew ever and after a few pictures I collected my water ration and found the tent. Alan was still awake and congratulated me and we whispered about our adventures. It was around 4:30am ( Thursday 10th of April) and I just couldn’t sleep so it was time for a brew and watch the sun come up. Eventually all of our tent was back and we were definitely a group of happy campers all exchanging stories of or journey so far. It was quite a shock when one of the guys said that’s it we are nearly done. Just another marathon to do and we’ve finished MdS! We all nodded and agreed then realised what had just been said. It was as if we were just running a 10k race and nothing to really be that bothered about. It was amazing how we had all changed and it was just another day at the office. We looked around and noted just how many other runners hadn’t returned and there was a steady trickle of runners coming in for the majority of the day. The last competitors crossed the line later in the afternoon and the whole bivouac made their way to welcome them over the finish line closely followed by Charles and Camilla the two camels. I’d dropped back into my usual routine and had everything ready for tomorrow. Most of the day was spent eating, chatting and keeping my feet up whilst watching the many zombie like individuals shuffling past our tent on the way to the Docs. That evening all the emails from home arrived and again it was unbelievable how many people had been supporting me. It was another emotional night reading the messages over and over again before settling down with the map book and looking in disbelief that we only had the one stage to go. It felt like we had been there for a lifetime!

IMG_7712 IMG_7714 IMG_7717

I couldn’t help but feel an little excited that we would be crossing the finish line on the next day but I still had to remember that it wasn’t yet over and the desert would bite you at anytime no matter how beautiful it was if you didn’t pay attention and respect it. Another night under the stars and I knew I would really miss this place and that had been a subject of conversation between us all. I don’t think it took much for me to sleep but the last thing I remembered was that dammed sleeping mat of Alan’s rustling away (apparently it did make numerous unsuccessful attempt to leave the tent during the night but remained with us for the duration of the race!!!)

Note: I’m currently thinking about the final part so hopefully it’ll not be too long before it’s up here.

Cheers  AP

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Another day at the office – Marathon des Sables (Part 3)

8th of April, Another day at the office: Stage 3 – Oued Moungarf – Ba Hallou – 37,5 km

Daybreak and my routine had begun. I’d been already awake waiting for sun up as was one of my tent mates (another Alan) who had already commented about his lack of sleep so far this week. We both seemed to have the same sleep pattern of about 3-4 hours per night! I’d noticed Alan had a really smart piece of kit by way of an ‘Ultralight’ inflatable sleeping mat and did initially feel a bit envious as mine was the wafer thin foam that doubled up as the back-pad of my rucksack. It was entirely a lottery each night as to which part of the desert protruded through it and provided an all night long trigger point massage! Unfortunately my envy had now turned to being completely p*ssed off with Alan’s mat as it sounded all night as if he was sleeping in a family sized bag of crisps! Even when he was breathing you could hear the damn thing making a noise (not you Alan) we both developed a mutual hatred for the thing and every so often during the night I’d see the mat pass over head and out of the tent only to be brought back in by the desert wind crinkling and crackling it’s way back to it’s master! I digress. Meanwhile I’d started my routine – feet, kit, food in anticipation of cheery Berber whisking the tent from our world. Eventually everyone was up and going about their own routine including the other Alan who by now had become a true master of eating his breakfast with a stick, yes I did say a stick! Due to a kit malfunction he had now resorted to using a piece of stick carved by his own fair hand into the very very rough shape of a fork and had now adopted a very primal way of dealing with dehydrated food.

2006-01-01 00.00.08-1 2006-01-01 00.00.12DSCN1410

I’d started to get a little complacent with it all and had to keep reminding myself that the ‘Long’ day was almost upon us and today was going to be a key stage to the success of it. My plan was definitely to preserve myself. I’d had the emails from home wishing me well and knew that tonight’s would be the last ones I’d read for 2 days. It seemed as if everyone was wishing me well for the long day and not just the whole race. But as always we started the day with all the usual pomp and ceremony with the helicopters performing their usual routine of low level sideways and backwards flying as we ran out of the start area. I wouldn’t do justice towards the stage if I said it was ‘Same Same’ ie sand, dunes, wadis, rocks but it was and it was stunning. I spent the majority of the day at a fast walk with some occasional running thrown in whenever possible but still reminding myself about the next day and to look after myself. There seemed to be little time on my own today which I was missing as I’m quite an unsociable runner and really enjoy long runs with just my thoughts and the luxury of switching off and taking in my surroundings. However, the day passed uneventfully as I’d hoped apart from an encounter with Patrick Bauer (Race Director) right in the middle of nowhere so I couldn’t resist a photo opportunity. We reached the later part of the stage nearing the finish and the ruins of the ancient village of ‘Ba Hallou’. Just to put things into perspective this village probably dates back to times before the writing of the Bible. It was very grounding to be in an area that largely had not had many humans there for hundreds / thousands of years. The finish line soon became visible and I could already taste the tea awaiting us on the other side of the line. Strangely I’d already started planning my assault on the following day and already had my well practiced routine going through my head. On reaching the tent I’d already started de-kitting and began eating and drinking my daily food allowance. I’d also managed to save some food from my previous day so as the evening progressed I ate what I could and then started giving away food, fuel and anything else I could to make my pack lighter. I’d already cut up my sleeping mat and used it to pad the shoulder straps of my pack as they had decided that my collar bones needed rubbing down! I was amazed that everything was still working and I’d no real niggles and problems apart from 2 small blisters. I looked around the tent and there were some cracks showing amongst my tent buddies with toenails coming loose, blisters forming, joints and muscles hurting. With my feet taped and still eating I settled down to read the evenings messages from home. That was an emotional experience. It seemed that an aging bloke who decides to chase one of his dreams had a lot of support back home. I couldn’t believe just how many people were watching the webcam on the finish line each day and sending so many positive vibes to me and I will be forever in your debt as it really was a huge boost. Anyway I settled into my sleeping bag and stared up at the amazing desert sky with the millions of stars watching over us. I couldn’t help thinking that the next time I’d be looking at the stars we’d be racing through the night of the Long day……..I couldn’t wait.

IMG_7628 IMG_7639 IMG_7642

 

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Blog at WordPress.com.