Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Trail report: Lands End to Pendeen

Being a creature of habit I've got a certain bunch of routes I tend to run fairly regularly and, having covered most of the coast path within easy shooting distance of home this idea I had of documenting every stretch had sort of dried up. There remain however a few gaps - sections I have never run. The bit from Land's End to somewhere just West of Zennor is one such section. Shameful really as it turns out to be an absolute corker!

John O'Groats 874, I'm not giong quite that far today
Parking at Land's End good and early (if you live in Cornwall you can get free parking - local's pass available here) I set off up the coast. The weather wasn't looking too good though I was sure the reports had been fair. The first mile to Sennen is an enjoyable romp over laid granite paths and a few quite technical bits. The little coast guard lookout - like a tiny castle turret on the cliffs - marks the cliffs of Pedn-Men-Du - the black cliff. Sennen cliffs are one of the most popular climbing destinations in Cornwall and rightly so. Short but powerful routes on perfect granite abound though I'd not be getting involved in any of that today.

The steep run down into Sennen takes you quickly into civilisation though at this early hour there was no-one around. Leaving the promonade its generally the done thing to run along the beach - on the way back I traced a far harder and longer route over dunes and down a path behind the car park - not recommended. The line off the bach is pretty obvious and it was about here that the heavens opened. Waterproof on for the first time in a good few months, I trotted along a good path above the rocks between Sennen and Gwynver.

Leaving the beach at Sennen as the heavens open

Not the coast path!
Now things went a bit wrong for me when I got around the corner to Gwynver. The path appears to track diagonally up the grassy bank behind hte beach, just below the lifeguard hut. Don't make the mistake I did and take this route. If you do you'll end up reaching some long, steep steps and will no doubt follow them. Doing so led me to a road. So I followed it for a bit...and got hideously lost. Continuing on I spent hte next hour following footpaths across fields, always close to the coast but certainly not on the coast path!

Eventually I found a sign that led me back to the cliffs just west of the Cot Valley. When I arrived at Cape Cornwall I found a sign for Land's End saying 5.5 miles, but by then I'd done 8.5! I got it right on the way back though and can hopefully help others not to  make the same mistake. At Gwynver, stay low! Keep to a sandy path right at the back of the beach, you'll arrive at the bottom of the aforementioned steps but carry on and soon all will become clear. This section, for a couple of miles, is a real gem. the path is close to the sea and weaves in and out of boulders - lots of sections are redirected a few feet inland and with good reason as the original route is undercut in many places. There's a good bit of boulder hopping and some lovely technical running in a remote setting to rival any on the Cornish coast. Always undulating but never too steep the path winds on, crossing open ground in some places, skirting fields of crops in others, gradually gaining height as you close in on Porth Nanven.

The Brisons from Porth Nanven

It can be tricky to take the best path down to Porth Nanven, ideally head down to seaward and a lower path early on, before turning into the cove itself. If you don't you'll find yourself on a very long set of switchbacks winding slowly to the base. The better route takes you straight down to the stream just behind the pebble beach. Porth Nanven is one of the most photographed beaches in Cornwall being made up entirely of large, smooth, granite boulders and with lovely views of the Brisons, the rocks a little way off shore. From here you'll need to head up the road a few hundred metres until an obvious path leads steeply up the other side of  the valley and on towards Cape Cornwall. The views of this magnificent outcrop are well worth the journey. Most of the buildings are owned by the National Trust and the landscaped gardens and white washed walls contrast the rugged outline of the cliffs beyond.

North of here the path again leads inland and down into the next valley - Kenijdack. Home to the Boswedden mine this area is steeped in indutrial history. Dropping down below the Cape Cornwall golf course you enter a lush secluded and sheltered valley, hidden from the onslaught of the prevailing winds by the Cape. Climbing out among the mine workings and up onto the Northern side of the valley the rugged North Coast re-appears with the mine workings of Levant, Geevor and Botallack laid out ahead. After this steep climb there is a welcome flat section, though the paths are rocky and demand your attention. The observant will recognise the engine houses used in the recent Poldark series as they pass Bottallack. The Crown engine houses, situated just above the sea are a well publisiced attraction. 

Poldark Country
Looking back towards Cape Cornwall from Levant

Further on the Levant mine appears - the buidlings here have been restored and are managed by the National Trust.

Geevor mine closed in 1990 and you will see remains of a more modern nature. The scars in the landscape are fresher here and the romance is slightly tarnished - this is a bleak industrial landscape showing the true nature of mining - a tough, dangerous business. Geevor itself is now a tourist destination - allowing trips below ground and many displays and activities. Its well worth a visit if this sort of thing interests you.

Heavy industry at Geevor

The next mile or so towards Pendeen watch are more undulating and incredibly beautiful. This day I turned around shortly before the lighthouse but if you managed to get this far without going horribly wrong like I did then you should arrive after about 10 miles and have time for a good look around.

Pendeen Watch

Sunday, 9 August 2015

The Montane Lakeland 50

Running the Lakeland 50 has been the focus for the year really, although I got a bit over enthusiastic about my supposed tune-up race at the Classic Quarter this year. In fact I was worried that 44 miles of coast path 6 weeks out from Lakeland might have been a terrible mistake. For a few days I was very sore but 10 days later I still felt really tired and washed out. The first week of training was ground out though and soon I found myself bouncing back stronger than ever. Having struggled at Classic Quarter with the uphills I was concentrating on improving this before tacklimg the big climbs of the lakes and running hill sprints every week plus making sure all my long runs were on the hilliest bits of the coast path. What I found was that, in the intervening weeks, my legs felt stronger than ever and, without trying to, I was running my long runs quicker than usual and recovering well. So it all looked good.

Come the Friday before Lakeland I'd already been treating myself to plenty of extra treats in the name of carb loading and, after a quick bowl of muesli, headed off to get Simon. We left his house in Porthtowan about 6am and arrived in the Lakes via fried breakfasts and plenty more snacks at about 2pm. Not bad.

Once the tents were up in an already half full field in Coniston we got ourselves registered, experiencing the for the first time the signature Lakeland organisation as a huge queue of  runners were processed in quick time. The school hall was divided in two with queues leading us to a series of desks for kit check, timer chips, weigh ins, etc on one side and the walk of temptation though the Endurance Store stalls on the other. Managing to escape without spending any money on last minute kit was a tough challenge. Then we took a trip around Coniston, wandered down to the Lake, had a cuppa, twiddled our thumbs, etc. I decided a pint was in order and after this we took the decision to get grub at race HQ rather than shell out on a pub meal. This turned out to be a good call, Simon's veggie pasta bake and my chili were both excellent and at £3 a portion (we both had two) good value. By 9 we had run out of things to do so decided to turn in and try and get some sleep.

In the morning we were pretty chilled out. I was having my normal toilet issues and decided to beat the queues by sneaking off to the loos down by the lake. I spent some time on the little pontoon doing some yoga before wandering back to the campsite. We both thought an egg sarnie would go down well but before we knew it we were being called into the briefing. We hadn't factored this into our timings and once it became obvious we would be getting pretty much straight on the buses after briefing we realised we might have been a bit too relaxed in our preparations.

The briefing itself was very slick - Marc Laithwaite has a career as a stand up comedian if the coaching doesn't work out! As soon as we were done the buses started filling. Simon wasn't packed and hadn't had breakfast - I needed the loo again - needless to say we got on the last bus! As we drove to Dalemain, others on the bus were producing pre-prepared pasta meals, apparently triggered by alarms indicating they ate precisely an hour before the start. We nervously scoffed some skittles and double checked our kit to see what we had forgotten.

At last we were there, and a real party atmosphere was in full swing. Each 100 mile runner to pass did so to a round of applause as everyone sat around waiting for the off. I joined the queue for the toilets. This was the last time I would see Simon before the start. I left the portaloo minutes before the start and was ushered into the starting pen, I was pretty much at the back. I saw Justin Lowell, one of several runners making the trip from Cornwall, and we wished each other luck before the gun went off and we were underway.

The checkpoint at Dalemain is 46 miles from the end of the Lakeland 100, so the 50 mile runners are subjected to a 4 mile jaunt around the grounds. This turned out to be a hillier affair than expected though nothing to compared to what was in store. Some jostling occurred, many no doubt going out too fast; I moved up the field a bit since I'd started in almost last place all the time keeping an eye out for Simon who was nowhere to be seen.

After the initial loop we were off across fields towards Pooley Bridge. The first 5 miles went down in a flash and we were soon climbing steadily up to a location known as the Cockpit with views to our right over Ulswater. Already we had passed clapping and cheering members of the public and at the top of this climb a bunch of kids held out their hands for a high five and cheered us on by name (we all had our names on our race numbers) which was a great moment and really made me smile. From here the route led down along the side of Ulswater and I let rip, more than I should have, not 10 miles into a 50 miler but it felt good and I was in my element so why not?

Ulswater from the Cockpit

The first check point at Howetown arrived soon enough and we were greeted by a ranch full of cowboys. More importantly a revelation, a box full of tiny bits of fudge among other goodies; plus Chia Charge flapjacks. This, and every check point throughout, gave out sealy bags to fill up with whatever you wanted - I was beginning to realise I hadn't needed to pack so much food!

Yippee Kay Ay! Cowboys ahoy at Howetown checkpoint

From Howetown we started the longest climb of the day up to high kop, steady at first we soon got to the meat of things and head down, hands on thighs, the real work began. After a good half an hour of staring at the horizon we crested the final steep section only to realise we were only half way up! Eventually though it was done and we set off across the tops before dropping down towards Haweswater. This had been the one part I'd worried would be a route finding nightmare and, had there not been a steady stream of runners ahead it could have caused problems. As it was I followed the procession off the fell and down to the trail along the banks of Haweswater without incident.

The start of the big climb up to High Kop

Its a long way along the edge of Haweswater and I could feel the first taste of tiredness creeping in, With still no sign of Simon though I chastised myself for feeling like slowing down, after all Simon was up ahead and he wasn't slowing down! (nothing like a bit of friendly rivalry to spur you on!!). Someone tripped and narrowly avoided serious injury just ahead of me and I reminded myself to keep an eye on my footing. Towards the end of the lake the terrain gets a bit more technical and there are a few ups and downs. Cresting a short climb on the path I met Simon, crashed out on a rock and complaining he was done for. Turns out he got himself on the front line at the start and over enthusiastically went out way too fast. This tactic had worked well for him at Classic Quarter but today it wasn't to be. He waved me on and on I went, over The Rigg, a wooded peninsular jutting into the lake, and on to the Mardale head checkpoint.


We were cheered in by the marshals who were ringing cowbells, clapping and shouting. I stopped only to fill my bottles and drink some flat coke, reasoning I better lighten the load and eat all my own food before I started on the goodies on offer at checkpoints. Retracing my steps to leave the check point I met Simon as he came in. He was talking about dropping though I knew he wouldn't. After exchanging words of encouragement I was off. The route here takes on the second longest climb of the day up Gatesgarth Pass. I suddenly felt very tired. I think knowing I wasn't chasing Simon anymore and had in fact gone off a bit quick myself trying to catch him suddenly caught up with me - that and the twenty miles I had just run!

Still smiling, Gatesgarth Pass

Climbing up Gatesgarth Pass
The climb up Gatesgarth Pass was really tough. Steep right from the start and with unforgiving conditions underfoot - the path was just a boulder field - I really felt it and was passed by a good few more capable climbers than me. After a long trek and lots of switchbacks we reached the high point of the pass and started to descend. Any hopes of a long, steady, runnable descent were soon dashed though since the terrain was just as technical and very steep at first. By the time things levelled out my feet were feeling quite mashed from all the boulders. It was also very hot and I stopped at least once to dunk my hat in a stream.

Eventually we crossed the river Sprint at a lovely bridge and climbed again for a time before another descent on a mixture of roads and paths. I joined in with a group of runners I had been regularly switching places with for a few miles and it was good I did as I'm sure I would have missed the steps over a high wall we had to take to get off the road and onto some steep farmland. Eventually we arrived at the Kentmere checkpoint. This had been a hard slog and I was feeling a bit low. So it was great to arrive and find a heavy metal themed checkpoint handing out fruit smoothies, just what I needed in the heat.  I didn't hang around though, the seats were dangerously comfortable!

Coming down from Gatesgarth Pass

Kentmere rockers

Surprise surprise, there was another big climb from Kentmere, as I left the check point I was alone and had to grab the route book for a quick check but everything was straight forward enough. Go up the road then up the track. All very steep and the track, again, a boulder strewn, foot destroying nightmare! Luckily the views were incredible and took my mind off the increasing fatigue and sore feet.

On the ascent after Kentmere

Thankfully this climb was over relatively quickly and on the very runnable descent to Trout Beck I rediscovered my mojo. I was all of a sudden moving well and feeling good and on less technical terrain I could open up and push my pace a little. From Trout Beck we climbed up past Jenkins Crag and through rolling farmland with great views of Windermere. Soon we were heading down and into woodland about Ambleside. I was lucky to be in company of an Irish chap called Paddy (seriously!) who had done the reccy and knew the way as there were several paths heading off in various directions in the woods.

James Turner clowning around
Coming through Ambleside was incredible; everyone we saw was clapping and cheering us on and we ran strong through the streets and into the checkpoint. Here the theme was "Circus" and I was greeted by James Turner another of the Cornish contingent who I had chatted with the night before. Now dressed as a clown he filled my bottles while I sorted out a cuppa. I had to get out quick though it was boiling in the hall. I drank my tea as I walked through Rothay Park. Best cuppa ever!

After another steep climb and descent I arrived at a confusing road Junction with another guy (Robin, I think?) who seemed to know the way. Turned out he lived right there and we ran past his wife's business a cafe called "Chesters by the River". As we passed he laughed at a sign up on the wall, I think it said "Run forest run, you fat girl" - "that's for me" he said. From here the path is flat for a couple of miles. The sun was low in the sky and the light golden as we ran along the river towards Elterwater. It was absolutely stunning and I was feeling good, though by the time the route left the river and climbed briefly I was glad of an excuse to walk for a bit.

Beautiful light, on the way to Elterwater

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Just after passing the Wainwrights Inn we had a moment of confusion and the two runners I was with (Robin had pulled ahead by this point) were just resorting to a spot of map reading when a helpful member of the public pointed out the way. After another long flat section through a campsite we were at the Chapel Style checkpoint and 40 miles in.

Chapel Style checkpoint

The helpful staff here sorted me out with a meat stew and a cuppa and brought it to me while I sat and sorted myself out. My hat was wet from multiple dunkings and with it starting to get dark I was feeling a bit cold. I added a second t-shirt and swapped the hat for a dry buff. The stew was lovely and with some warm food inside me I was ready for the next stage. Off we headed, there were plenty of people about and again I was able to join a group and follow the crowd as it were. We were treated to a beautiful mountain sunset as we crossed farmland before a steep climb up and over Side Pike Pass lead us onto the downhill stretch towards Blea Tarn. Shortly past this was the unmanned checkpoint and we were all keen to arrive before dark. As it was we had head torches on before that but found it easily enough.

Sunset in the Lakes

From here a steep drop down the road and then another climb began. I tried so hard to stay with the group but my legs just wouldn't allow me to keep up and I was worried I would get lost as it was properly dark now. Luckily the road book was clear that I pretty much just carried on, eventually finding the road and soon after the final checkpoint at Tilberthwaite. I was overjoyed at the sight of quartered oranges and slices of water melon and ate several of each before heading off up the "stairway to heaven" a steep set of steps leaving the checkpoint - and lit helpfully with lanterns. From here the climb went on and on, I was alone and although I couldn't see it I was all too aware of the steep drop off to the side. One section of brief scrambling focused the mind and shortly after this I was overtaken by someone who clearly knew where he was going. This time I was determined to keep up and attached myself firmly to his heels. A group of ladies soon did the same to me and we marched on into the darkness, always climbing until at last, we weren't. By now it was raining and the next descent was meant to be very technical - it did not disappoint. Slipping and staggering I was unable to do much more than lurch downhill, twisting my ankle at one point and somehow managing to arrest my fall before any real injury occurred. Eventually the path improved and levelled at bit and here a helpful supporter let us know we had just a mile to go. Knowing this I took off into the night and ran the last mile hard; sure enough before long we entered Coniston and, despite the lateness of the hour, were cheered on by a few onlookers as finally the school came into site and it was all over.

I finished in 12 hours 34 minutes. Simon arrived an hour or so later, saying he'd had a tough time but still with a sub 14 hour time so nothing to be ashamed of. Every runner that entered the hall at the end was announced as "50 mile finisher" or "100 mile finisher" and greeted with rapturous applause. Another great touch. This was without doubt the most fun I have had on an ultra and my best performance to date. After stuffing down my free meal - veggie pasta followed by ice cream - I showered and went to bed, the sound of more runners being cheered in sending me off to sleep.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Classic Quarter 2015

The Endurance Life Classic Quarter was my first Ultra, was in fact the first race that made me aware there even was such a thing, having known a friend who'd completed it. I ran it solo for the first time in 2013.

This year, with Lakeland 50 in my sights as my main goal I sat down and wrote out a training plan to get me there and decided I would race a 50k about 6 weeks out to try and get some semblance of start line self discipline, since usually all my sense goes out the window and I shoot off too fast, mooch around the check points and get all caught up in what everyone else is doing. This time, with a few few races under my belt, I wanted to get things right. So a tune up race would be called for. Pretty soon I realised that 6 weeks out was the Classic Quarter, of course this is no 50k - in fact its 44 miles, almost as far as Lakeland though with a lot less ascent. Close enough I reasoned, I'm in. After all, if I don't feel 100% I could always stop after 50k right? Right? Yeah right

My mate and long time climbing partner Gareth and I had a few weekends earmarked for a trip to Skye with a view to climbing the Cuillin ridge, but with a couple of dates rained off and only one chance left Gareth announced he wanted to sack it off and join me on the Classic Quarter. This was a first for Gareth who had previously not raced further than half marathon distance; great, should be fun. Hang on, shit, what if he beats me? Suddenly my relaxed approach to the whole thing was out the window. Can't let Gareth win, can't let Gareth win. Not that I'm competitive or anything but a bit of friendly rivalry can't do any harm.

Also running this year would be Simon, my friend and running buddy from down here. Simon always makes out that me winning is a foregone conclusion but he's a dark horse and recently having moved to a village off the beaten track his run commutes were adding up to a daunting number of weekly miles; I had my suspicions he would do a good job this year.

Over the first half of this year I'd gradually got over Achilles Tendonitis, or rather I'd found a way to manage it and still keep on running which is essentially the same thing really isn't it? The miles were adding up and things seemed to be going well until a month out I came down with the flu. Not the "man" variety, the laid up in bed, shaking like a shitting dog, can't do anything for a whole week variety. Damn, I hadn't been illl like this for years. After two weeks I was pulling through but the family holiday to France offered limited running opportunities and by the time I got home it was time for tapering! I'd had enough enforced tapering but a long run the week before wasn't likely to help and would quite possibly hinder me so I sat tight and hoped I'd done enough.

The start line of the Endurance Life Classic Quarter 2015 (c) Gareth Hayfield
Race day arrived, as did the three amigos and we made our way to the Lizard for the off. There seemed to be a lot more people at the start line this year - a fact confirmed by the results - about 270 lined up this year. Soon we were away, or rather we weren't, bottled up at the first narrow point it took a while for things to thin out and normal service to resume. Add to this my plan to run as steady even a pace as possible and I found myself being overtaken on the uphills and then stuck behind people who were not quite so happy to leg it on the steep descents as I am. Still the first few miles flew by, I didn't see Gareth after the start, Simon however was close by until somewhere near Mullion where he pulled away from me. Aha, I'll reel him in later, he's gone out too quick thinks I. How wrong I was.

I've been pretty happy with my nutrition on long runs for some time now and generally eat regularly from the outset - every half an hour, alternating between Torq gels and Baker boy flapjacks. The latter were a real find since they are tasty, individually wrapped and just the right number of calories. Better still, they're CHEAP. Given your average gel being about £1.50 and an eneergy bar a similar price running 20 miles or more can become a very expensive business. A five pack of baker boys flapjacks is £1.50 though, so this signfiicantly reduces the overhead. So far they haven't failed me...but this time around I'd shopped late in the week only to find that Tesco's were out of stock! Horrified I scanned the aisles for something similar, eventually deciding on Tesco's own range of very similar looking fayre. It wasn't until I bit into one a few miles into the race that I realised that looks can be deceiving; this was not the moist, buttery offering I am used to, more a super sweet dried out husk of a thing that clagged up my mouth and refused to be swallowed. Oh well, I'd have to put up with them they were all I had. This, combined with the increasing heat of the day meant I was taking in more water than I was used to, but I didn't see that as a problem early on.

The race continued through the first checkpoint - I came through Gunwalloe at 9 miles in 1:49, pretty much exactly on target pace for this section. The next miles out to Porthleven flew by and I chatted for a while with another runner who turned out to be local and a climber. I stopped to get more water in Porthleven - back in 2013 I ran out of water between checkpoints after running past a water stop and I was ken not to repeat that experience again. We ran around the harbour and out onto what I knew would be a tough section. Still I was on pace - ahead really - and feeling good, but as the hills arrived I forced myself to hold back a bit. I let the group I was with pull away and settled back into running my own race. Sure enough as the hills around Rinsey passed by I dropped down about 30 seconds per mile on average but this was all part of the plan. Provided I kept a steady pace up to half way I knew I would be faster on the flat section around Mounts bay and needed to keep something in reserve for that.

After a long stretch down from Rinsey and along the back of Praa Sands we arrived at the compulsory bag check. This was the first time I had encountered a mid race bag check and was expecting it to be a logistical nightmare. As I arrived I recognised Steve Wyatt and shouted out congratulations for his recent Enduroman victory. Steve kindly offered to refill my bottles while my kit was checked by a marshall managing to simultaneously check four of us at once. Consequently we were in and out in a couple of minutes.

The next section up to the halfway point is always harder than it should be - there are no really big hills but it undulates and so feels more runnable than it is. I felt quite tired as I approached Perranuthnoe and worse, I was developing a nasty bloated feeling stomach. It actually got so bad I skipped eating for an hour and decided at that point to try and just eat gels as I'd brought a few extra with me. Not wanting to stop I just filled up and ran through the check point and got up to Marazion in no time it seemed. This was where I needed to make some capital of the flat runnable section but it turned out my legs had other ideas. I just didn't seem to have any go and whenever I pushed the pace I could feel the beginnings of cramp building in my calfs. Instead of opening up and running strong I was reduced to a shuffle. Rather than stop and recover a bit I forged on at this reduced pace as I had it in mind that I needed to run this whole sectoin. In hindsight a walking break or two might well have got me back on track.

Mounts bay is interminably long and almost all on tarmac or concrete, following Penzance is Newlyn and I welcomed the hill out of town as finally I could allow myself a walk. Another mile or so lead me to Mousehole and the formidable regennis hill. Once done though I was back on the trail though to be honest I was in a bit of a low. I knew I wasn't going as well as I could do and I still had the hardest setion to come. Still it was a relief to finally arrive in Lamorna. Again a quick refill and off, scrambling up the rocks out of the harbour the reality struck - this was going to be a slog.

Last year at the Plague my quads gave out pretty badly about 40 miles in and I found running downhill a real problem but even in the final miles I was still able to climb reasonably well. So it was puzzling to find I could barely get any strength to get up the steep hills in this last stage. At several points I was having to stop and let the lactic acid ache subside before I could continue. I clocked some very slow miles at this point but then, out of the blue, I picked up. Around St Loy I started to feel a little better and found I could move more easily, even up hill. This is one of the funny things about long distance event likes this, suffering is rarely a linear descent; I was pulling out of the trough and cresting a wave of new found energy.

I arrived at Porthcurno in exactly 9 hours. With 5 tough miles to go I knew I would never reach my goal of getting in under 10 hours but I also knew I would finish, no matter what and at this point even if I walked I'd get to the finish faster than in 2013. Still I decided to give it my best shot and set out from Porthcurno with a mouthful of jelly babies and a mission head on. It had also occurred to me that I still hadn't seen Simon, he was clearly having a better race than me.

I was determined to enjoy this day, even through the lows so it was particularly satisfying to feel good in those last 5 miles. I crossed the line tired but happy in 10 hours 17 minutes, seeing my family straight away who took great pleasure in telling me Simon "finished ages ago". He stormed in in 9 hours 47 minutes. Having come DFL (dead fucking last) in 2013 he had set a nearly 4 hour PB! Gareth had also weathered his first ultra extremely well finishing in 10:39.

Smiles all round we headed off. Gareth and I were happy to hobble into Dominoes with Hannah and the kids before collapsing at home with a beer or  two. Simon on the other hand was off out having forgotten his girlfriends birthday was on the same day as the race!

Monday, 4 May 2015

Salomon Fellraisers

In an arse about backwards sort of way I thought I'd review my Salomon Fellraisers as I hang them up for now and switch to another make and model.  I've really enjoyed running in these shoes, they have served me well on so many levels and I will be continuing to run in them often I'm sure.

Ever since I started running off road and looked at getting a pair of trail shoes the Salomon range appealed. On several occasions I had slipped my feet enthuastically into the brightly coloured saw toothed monsters that are the Salomon speedcross, hoping each time that last time I was wrong and that they really did fit, but alas, it wasn't to be. Too narrow at the front and with far too much heel at the back I just couldn't get on with them.

Then along came the Fellraiser, not the best looking shoe if I'm honest about it, something about their shape initally made me think "Clarks" but put them on and oh wow what a difference. Much more room up front but snug fitting everywhere else - glove like in fact - and with a significantly lower profile (the Fellraisers heel-toe drop is 6mm), these immediately felt like a shoe I could get on with.

That sensible exterior is made up of a sort of plasticy faux leather which looked pretty hard wearing with mesh in between for good drainage.  Underneath the sole is almost identical to the Speedcross; that aggressive chevron pattern covering the whole shoe.

The speed laces work well - although I know not everyone is a fan - holding my foot securely and with no slipage around the heel. Despite being pretty low profile they actually feel pretty well cushioned, helped to this in part by the Orthofit insole.

Out on the trail the Fellraiser performs well in almost all coditions, wet grass, mud and loose ground are no match for the Salomon sole...the only weak point being in crossing wet rocks where the grip is not that reassuring. This in part can be put down to the agressively lugged sole but I think the rubber compound also contributes, being quite hard and so not too grippy. On the coast path though for the most part I feel confident in the placements I am making. The close fit also makes a meal of even the most technical ground.

What has really impressed me is their durability. That hard rubber compound has lasted well, the lugs still effective after a year of solid use and the upper looks good as new. So new in fact that, having bought a second pair I was having difficulty telling the old and the new ones apart! I retired my first pair after over 600 miles and really they were still going strong, but feeling a little like the cushioning was starting to go under my forefoot.  I've run on all surfaces and completed various ditances up to 100k with rarely even a blister to show for it. I'm a fan, you might have noticed.

Ultimately for summer use I have decided to use a slightly less agressively lugged, more cushioned shoe (more on this soon), but the Fellraisers will still be my go to shoe for winter and wet weather trail running. Salomon have not done anything noticable to "improve" them this year - although the new colours are, in my opinion, pretty dire - so hopefully they still size up pretty much the same and will continue to do so in future.

Friday, 27 February 2015

On the Arc of Attrition

On 6th February the inaugural Arc of Attrition was held on the coast path in Cornwall. 100 miles, from Coverack to Porthtowan, along the coast path. Billed as the South West's toughest foot race - and few would argue - this was going to be an amazing event.

I'd briefly thought about entering but my ongoing Achilles issues meant there was no way I would be fit enough so I was spared the decision.

Instead I decided to film the race.

I can't tell you what it felt like to stand on the start line with all that distance laid out in front of me.
I can't explain how it felt to head off into the evening on that Friday, or what I was thinking as the light soon faded.
I have no idea how it must have felt at 3am, navigating the coast path and knowing that I'd still be running at 3am tomorrow.
I didn't emerge on tired legs into the daylight and feel the first rays of the sun begin to breath energy back into my body, nor do I know how long that next day must have felt.
I can only start to imagine the feelings that would have flooded through me as the sun dipped down below the horizon at my back, while ahead there were still miles to go.
What that second freezing night had in store for those still out there only they can tell.

What I do know though, is that this was another triumph from Mud Crew. Organising a race such as
this must be a logistical nightmare. The check points were professionally run and stocked with all manner of goodies, from pasties and soup to cake and hot drinks. That they were all in pubs was an additional comfort.

The online tracking allowed a military precision to the event and meant everyone was kept safe throughout.

The following week saw many on social media echoing what I've just said, that this was a brilliant, if brutal event.

 For my part I did find out how cold it gets trying to sleep in a car when it's -5 outside. In fact it was impossible and I gave up after half an hour. I'd love to thank whoever the lovely lady was at Mousehole that gave me a bowl of soup and a thick slice of bread when I got there, it really perked me up. I also found out just how spread out the runners would become in the space of twelve hours. By the time the first runner was through lands end I had set up a little camp on the hill above Sennen, in three and a half hours I saw about twelve runners. Lastly I learnt that freezing cold temps and constant video rather than photography destorys batteries; consequently I had to rush hom and recharge things half way through the morning which really cut down on how much filming I could do. chalk that one up to experience. On the whole though I had it easy compared to the runners, their crews and the marshalls.

Last time I followed an ultra throughout its length (photographing the Plague in 2012) I ended up entering the next year. Not sure about this one. I think this year they were lucky, the weather can't be that good again and who knows what it would have been like in torrential rain? Still never say never...

If you are one of the few people I haven't yet nagged into watching the film then its here for your viewing pleasure:

The Arc of Attrition from Andrew Benham on Vimeo.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Kinetic Revolution 30 day challenge

During November & December last year I took part in the Thirty Day Challenge, a free online set of training drills aimed at improving your running. Ultimately I failed the challenge which is why I have hesitated to write anything about it. Over the last few weeks though I've come to realise that I still gained a lot from it and will soon be repeating it to see how I get on second time around.

I've followed the James Dunne and his Kinetic Revolution webiste on twitter for a while now and read many of his articles, watched videos and so on; the thirty day challenge has routinely popped up in my in box inviting me to take it on and "Run stonger - Run faster". So with the long drawn out process of trying to rehab my achilles preventing me from putting in any serious mileage and a realisation that I needed to build myself back up to fitness slowly and methodically, taking advantage of this moment in time to actually do some cross training and strength work seemed a no brainer. I'm no athlete, I generally follow a fairly well structured plan when training for a race, but all the other stuff like eating properly, staying off the beer and hitting the gym are less evident in my preparations. Perhaps that is why I'm injured? I'm also under no illusions, running needs to be fun, I'm not in contention for any kind of podium place, even in my age group, so there's no reason to get too excited about it all.  That said I do want to be as good as I can be and I definately want to get stronger and prevent further injury.

The course is divided into 6 sections of 6 days. Each section concentrates on a particular aspect, aiming to increase flexibility and strength and concentrating largely on the hips.

The first section felt easy enough and really lured me into a false sense of security with some easy but unflattering balance and stretching routines - when someone walks in on you doing the abductor stretch you'll know what I mean!

Section two was more about strength - some of these involved an element of balance - the single leg dead lift for instance - and revealed to me some serious weaknesses, especially on my left leg.

In the thrid section there was more stretching - I found areas within my hips I never knew about - and some basic plyometrics - hopping on one leg for instance. The latter part worried me as my achilles seemed to feel it more than I'd like but there seemed not to be any lasting effects.

Section four was resistance band work - oh good a nice easing in difficulty. Err.. no. Actually found this really hard and although I was familiar with some of these exercises they really worked me hard. James has created a series of alternatives for anyone unable to get their hands on a resistance band so there are no excuses!

Finally came section five - here the routines were all running drills concentrating on form, and it is here where things fell apart I'm afraid. My achilles to flared up a bit (delayed onset from the plyometrics or just bad luck?) and this combined with the advent (sorry) of Christmas, meant I missed the last few days.

I've read a lot of comments from people who have done the course saying they set a PB during or straight after; this wasn't the case for me, though no surprises there as I am still rehabbing my achilles. Over the last few weeks though I've noticed that I keep accidentally running too fast! My easy pace over 6 miles has increased and on some harder efforts I've found myself going much quicker than I had intended. Now there is too much at play to point purely to this course but I'm certainly very aware of the way I drive my hips back now.

I found out a lot over the month I was doing the challenge: my balance, especially when moving my centre of gravity, is appalling and needs work; my hips flexors are weak and my left leg is especially lazy (I knew this already but this course really underlined it).

James obviously wants us to be inspired by his free coaching to sign up for some paid stuff - asking us to unlock our "free speed". For now I'm going to repeat these exercises until they don't feel like they are killing me and hopefully next time around I'll get to the end of the course.

Here's the link for anyone who is interested: http://www.kinetic-revolution.com/30daychallenge/

Friday, 28 November 2014

Like the Wind

I've just finished reading the 3rd issue of Like the Wind magazine and I thought I'd share the news: this is a magazine with a difference!

I met Simon & Julie Freeman, the brains behind this publication, at the Trail Team selection weekend in the Lake district earlier this year. I must admit when they showed us the magazine I was put off by the price. At £8 it seems like a lot of money.  It took a couple of issues and the accolades of many people online for me to get over myself and buy a copy.

The thing is though this is not your average magazine. Produced on thick, reclycled paper, beautifully illustrated and with not a single advert in a hundred pages, this is a collection of stories, varied in content and style but with a common theme; a love of running.

The variety is impressive, from charity runners competing in fancy dress, to historical pieces on the characters of our sport, poems, opinions on the nature of addiction and one or two star entries: a short piece including a recipe for cinammon buns from none other than Emelie Forsberg and an interview with Killian Jornet by Ian Corless.

Each article is illustrated or accompanied by wonderfully evocative photographs and just long enough to sit over with a cup of coffee.

What you won't find, in addition to the adverts, are those pointless, how to be a better runner in a weekend style recipes for success the more standard magazines are full of. The emphasis here is on quality writing and its a joy to read. And as for the price? Well bear in mind the feature rich content, there is no fluff, just a hundred pages of words and pictures. And the fact that this is a quarterly edition, so a year long subscription is £40 including the postage. 

I think this represents the future of print media; niche markets, quality products, something tactile and lasting that you will want to keep on the coffee table or bookcase.

So am I converted? Well if you hadn't already got that from my comments above lets just say I'll be adding a yearly subscription to my Christmas list this year and leave it at that.