Monthly Archives: June 2012

What a Difference a Day Makes

Just a day after the 1000s race, I was back on Snowdon with my family. From the Pen-y-Pass, we did the Crib Goch traverse (a classic scramble), had a hot chocolate in the summit cafe and took the Miners’ Track back.

Rhys and Pippa (13 and 11) have scrambled before, but had never been on anything as exposed as Crib Goch’s main ridge before: Pippa loved it, Rhys didn’t! Hence, no photos from the ridge itself; I was busy reassuring Rhys.

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Cut Down, but Still a Killer

Still catching up…

On 9th June, I took part in the Welsh 1000m Peaks Race. Many of you will remember that parts of West Wales were suffering flooding at that time (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-18378124), and so won’t be surprised that it was rather wet. Actually, if the weather had been as bad as the day before, I would have probably not have bothered to turn up, but the rain had subsided to a level fairly normal for the western UK mountain ranges and the wind was only moderate, although it was cold for June.

All entrants had been encouraged to attend the pasta supper and race briefing on the eve of the race in the Capel Curig Community Centre. I’d come up with my family that afternoon to Greenacres Caravan Park, just outside Porthmadog. The drive over to the supper from there felt epic, almost biblical, with sheets of rain blowing through the valleys, flooded fields and the odd cascade flowing down the roads.

The supper was rather underwhelming. I had feared that, at £8 it would turn out to be poor value for money, and I was right: a modest portion of bog standard Bolognese and pasta , with no offer of seconds, and a piece of ‘Iceland’ gateau to follow.

I assume part of the £8 covered the hall hire, but I could have turned up just for the briefing without paying a penny, so we were subsidising anyone who chose to do that. If the organisers had wanted us to come to the briefing, they should have included the cost of the hall in the race entry, then charged an appropriate amount for the modest food on offer. The race is always full well beforehand, so it would be easy to cost this. If the charge was just for the food, then it really was appalling value.

The briefing didn’t really tell us much, other than they would strictly enforce race kit requirements because of the poor weather (no surprise) and we would be running a cut down route that hadn’t been finalised! We were also issued with our numbers and electronic ‘dibbers’, small bracelets to be used to ‘clock in’ to devices set up at each check point. We were free to get these on the morning of the race, so I really would have been far better off, in time and money, if I’d not made the 40+ mile round trip and stayed in the caravan.

We turned up at Aber the next morning for the race start, a cue for me to go into a panic when I realised I’d left my dibber in the caravan. We were given our final route instructions and I got a spare number with a new dibber! The new coarse missed the Carneddau and the major summits of the Glyders, although it would still take us over two 800m cols, the Bwlch Tryfan and between Glyder Fach and Y Foel Goch on the main Glyders ridge, before reverting to the standard coarse up Snowdon from the Pass of Llanberis up the Pyg Track.

The first half of the race was pretty straightforward, following a bridleway and minor road round the feet of the Carneddau, and a cycle path to Ogwen Cottage, one of the checkpoints. It was just damp and breezy and I felt strong.

It felt good to be getting into some proper fell running when we climbed up to the Bwlch Tryfan. Before we got to the Bwlch, crossing the outlflow of the Llyn Bochlwyd took a bit of doing, as it was fast flowing and calf-deep, with a very uneven stream bed. It was also very cold and my feet were a numb by the time I was half way across. I enjoy a few glimpses of sun on the way up and was cautiously optimistic that the weather was slowly improving as the forecast had suggest it might.

Once I’d got to the pass over the main ridge, the rocky path disappeared and I was running over boggy grass; slow going but easy on the feet. We’d been instructed to head ‘straight for the road’ once we got over the high point, but the stronger hill runners who’d passed me on the way up got so far ahead I lost sight of them and I had doubts I was still on coarse. However, I soon spotted the race director, Harvey Lloyd below me, near the road and knew I was fine.

I wound my way up the road to the pass, still feeling surprisingly strong. However, as I started up the final section, the Pyg track, the weather worsened (the sun I’d seen earlier had given me false hope) and I really started to flag. I was now getting passed every few minutes. It was properly raining, rather than that type that’s half way between mist and rain that’s so common in the mountains, which was what we’d had earlier. I’d taken some food at Ogwen Cottage and had been disappointed that nothing was on offer at the Pass of Llanberis: by this stage I was getting sluggish from low energy levels, exacerbated by the cold and wet.

I finally stopped quite a long way up, knowing that I had to eat something despite the foul conditions and proximity to the finish. I dug out my emergency food from my pack and sat on a step on the path, blocking out my discomfort as I ate. A slightly over-keen, but lovely good Samaritan, Gregor, who was going up with his daughter gave me aid; some hot chocolate from his flask and a sit inside his Bothy emergency shelter, were he helped me climb into my over-trousers). He was very concerned, but I knew I’d be fine once I got to the summit cafe.

It really was tough to turn right when I got onto the summit ridge, towards Garnedd Ugain, the penultimate ‘1000’ (and actually the first on the bad weather route), rather than left to the now very close finish on Snowdon’s main summit and the warm cafe. It was frustrating to grind my way up the shallow slope, which I knew I would hardly notice if I was fresh. Once I’d clocked in, it was ‘just’ a case of trotting back down a bit and another frustrating grind up through the throngs of tourists to the finish, to be given a slate medal.

I finished in 4:49:36, 48th out of 95. I often finish about half way down the field in fell races, but to do so in this felt like a real achievement. I’d was more spent than I had been for a long time and had been colder than I’d ever been (any worse and I would have had mildly hypothermic).

The cafe was heaven. I opened up my leaky waterproof ‘stuff sack’ in my bag to get my slightly damp tenner and bought an Oggie (the biggest pasty you’ve ever seen, similar to a Cornish one), a cup of tea and a sticky bun. Bliss. I still had to walk down to meet Cath and the kids in Llanberis, but that felt straightforward and I enjoyed some pleasant chat with a couple of other competitors on the way down.

If I was doing it again, I would have worn more from the start, taken more food and eaten some of it sooner! We learn a lot from the toughest experiences.

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Vane Glory (or Ben Vane 1, Prometheus 0)

Having posted on something a while after the event the last time, I’m at it again! I’m well behind now, having been away for more weekends and spent the weeks in between keeping up with the normal stuff.

On Friday, 1st June I took a delivery up to Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute. The weather forecast looked pretty good, so I planned to take the opportunity to sneak a peak, as I often do when delivering near near some decent hills, then spend the night in my van afterwards. I’m slowly (very slowly) working my way through all the ‘Munros‘ (3000ft mountains in Scotland): there are 283, and I have climbed just over half  of them. An obvious ‘new’ Munro for me was Ben Vane, which would be number 147.

Wanting to get maximum value out of my time away from home, I also booked a ticket to see Prometheus, in IMAX 3D at the Odeon, Braehead cinema. I’d never seen an IMAX film before, so I was looking forward to a spectacular treat!

The standard ascent of Ben Vane is a straightforward, out-and-back route: the foot of the mountain is accessed by a hydro-electric service road from the side of Loch Lomond, then the peak is climbed up a steep path with a few brief scrambling opportunities.

The ‘hydro’ sub-station and several sets of pylons clutter the views lower down, so it’s just as well the service road is tarmacked and makes for rapid progress. It was a relief to be climbing the mountain path in ‘no time’.

The path winds its way through very steep, craggy slopes. The steepest bits are rather dirty, as you would expect, but many of these take you round the edge of sections of lovely, clean, not-too-steep rock, which were a pleasure to scramble up. I was wearing my Merrell Trail Gloves, and, just as I found on the Start Point tors, they were really suited to this. It was fairly sunny, but with a refreshing breeze; ideal for a fast paced ascent.

I got to the summit in about 90 minutes from the road and spent a while enjoying the views and taking pictures. I made a quick descent, which would have been tricky and slow without the path (crags are hard to spot from above) and got an interesting view of Ben Lomond between two small rock faces on the way down (see the last picture).

Many runners get delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) in their thighs after big downhill runs, which is due to eccentric muscle damage, caused by using the thighs as brakes during the descent. Confidence and technique allow good hill runners to let gravity do its thing on steep descents, going faster and more or less avoiding DOMS in the process.  However, the descent was fairly technical and I couldn’t ‘let rip’, so I got my first case of DOMS for years a couple of days later!

I had plenty of time to get to Braehead and see Prometheus, which was rather an anti-climax, hence the alternative title for this post. I posted the review, below, on Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s film review Facebook page:

Firstly the film – Not so much a triumph of style over content as design over content. The ‘deep’ questions the film asks are a cipher, a reason to fly a beautifully designed ship out to a beautifully designed planet, which has some beautifully designed alien stuff and aliens on it, where the crew, a group of underdeveloped characters who we don’t much care about, get involved in some beautifully designed set pieces.

It was a stunning film, but didn’t leave much of an impression, because the depth promised early on evaporated. If you want a proper thrill ride, which doesn’t promise any depth, but actually delivers (a bit) more, see The Raid.

Then the 3D -This was my first IMAX film: where was the extra detail? My guess is that my brain was too busy trying to focus on things that appeared to be at different distances because of parallax, but were actually all at more or less the same distance (on the screen), to properly process all that lovely IMAX detail. So I say Mark’s right: 3D isn’t just a gimmick, it’s a distraction that gets in the way of a good viewing experience.

Another problem with 3D is that it you have to keep your head vertical: cock it slightly, as you tend to do when staying in the same position for a while, and the polarising no longer lines up and you’ve got a double image.

Oh, and the deluxe 3D glasses we were loaned for the screening gripped my skull like a vice behind my ears and gave me a bit of a sore head by the end of the film.

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Gosh, has it been that long?

Not much running or training to report on I’m afraid! I’ve been too busy enjoying myself.

My wife, Cath and I had a weekend away (alone!) nearly 2 weeks ago now. Since then, I been really busy doing my tax return and drinking cider as part of my village’s jubilee celebrations (Kington St Michael, as featured on BBC Points West!)

So, back to 2 weeks ago. Cath and I stayed at Sampsons Farm, Preston, Newton Abbott on 25th and 26th May. Check out Sampsons Farm, I’d recommend it for a stay.

On our first day, we parked up near Start Point and walked north up the coast. The sky was clear, but it was surprisingly cold in the keen breeze: I wished I’d worn one of my Buffs, as my ears got a bit achy after a short time in the wind.

By South West Coast Path standards, we didn’t have a lot of ‘up & down’ to do and made fast, easy progress. Our first point of interest was Hallsands ruined village, a fishing village abandoned in the early 20th Century because offshore dredging caused the shingle beach in front of the houses to wash away, removing protection from the waves. The village was damaged over a period of a few years, then much of it was destroyed in 1917.

We had a very pleasant coffee at Britannia @ the Beach at Beesands, a delightful fishmongers, store and seafood bistro.

It was starting to feel a lot warmer by this time, as the breeze had died down somewhat.

I enjoyed the rock formations near Dun Point, and was impressed by Slapton Ley, Devon’s largest natural freshwater lake, which is separated from the sea by a barrow sand bar.

We walked back to the car, then took a further short walk down to Start Point Lighthouse, enjoying some excellent scrambling on the tors the line the top of the ridge of Start Point.

My Merrell Trail Gloves proved to be well suited to scrambling, with good grip and letting me feel the holds!

We liked the look of Britannia so much we walked back to it for our evening meal, which was superb (but not cheap!)

On Sunday, we took a walk up on to Dartmoor from the layby next to the entrance to Wrangaton Golf Club. There’s not much to say about this really: some good views and more decent weather! Oh and we saw a slow worm!

One final note: I should have worn some head cover; I have a full head of hair, but my short hairstyle left me with a bit of sunburn on my scalp!

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