Thursday, 29 March 2012

Questions and answers.

Liver Hill fell race, Rawtenstall. 27th March 2012
Glib advice to someone doing the race for the first time. 'Oh yeah, balls out right from the start.' How can I then forget what I've said, or at least be so casual as to forget exactly what that means and how it feels? I've been doing Dashers fell race series and it's been going surprisingly well. I've done 3 and been 2nd Dasher in all of 'em, but of course it's a false position. A fluke due to most of the fast lads not turning up, or the 'new fast lads' still finding their feet. The series proper hasn't really begun yet.
Liver Hill is always well attended by Dashers. It's the first of the mid week races as it takes place just after the clocks change, it's virtually on our doorstep and it's free. All of these and the almost bizarrely decent weather was enough to get 22 Dashers (including 2nd claimers) turning up for it. After rushing home from work and wolfing my tea down, I picked up George T and Mark W and shot over to Rawtenstall.
On the start line I was feeling full and tired. Never mind. Get head straight. Get in the 'zone'. And we're off. Across the field and then the start of a whole lot of up. Mark W flew off as expected with Des and Gifford not far behind. I worked hard to keep Gifford in sight and was succeeding, only a few places behind. Russ Corsini was right with me and said something about me dodging onto the tarmac for a better line at one point. Sorry Russ, no breath for talking. The steep up finally over it's then onto the open moor and gradual climb, interspersed with stiles and stride breaking bog. My breath is now ragged and burning. Sweat is coursing out of me and all my effort is going into keeping this pace up.
It's almost nightmarish. I am watching as if remotely as Des and Gifford extend their lead on me. I can do nothing. I cannot run any faster, in fact I am running too fast already. My brain is screaming its negative messages at me. Somehow I blank them out. I near the last of the 20 (!!) stiles just as the leaders head back towards me. I'm sure I've managed to clear it before they have passed me in previous years but no matter. No point thinking about that and adding fuel to my brain's treacherous fire.
Des passes me, then Giff. I stagger up to the summit and round it as the marshals, oblivious to my mental and physical distress, share a joke. Can't they see my pain?? Back down now but it's no easier. You can't rest. Russ and Jonathan B are right behind me now. I pass other Dashers coming up as I struggle on. Some shout encouragement but I can't answer. 'Hang on, keep going', I tell myself. Russ appears at my side briefly and then vanishes again as he takes a bad line through a boggy ditch. Pressure, pressure. Crossing one of the flattish fields I see Giff ahead. Surely not? My brain struggles with this one for a while and provides a momentary distraction from fell running hell. So, yes - it's Gifford. He's about 40 yards ahead. Can I catch him? Not sure. Got to try. Pick the pace up? Not an option, already bouncing off the redline. Hang on, hang on. Then Russ passes, followed closely by Jonathan. Keep it together, don't let the head go. Descending now, legs flailing. I need to pull it together a bit here, get some semblance of form. Force myself to run 'neater'. Steady the breathing a bit. It's not working, they are drawing away.
A few fast plunges and I'm on the finishing field. No chance of catching any Dashers ahead of me, the first Lady, a girl from Rossy Harriers, is just in front. I thrash on as I can't risk looking back to see who is behind and  I'm damned if I'm going to let anyone else pass. On, on. And finish. Mouth agape, sucking air in. Chest is burning and I'm staggering. I nod at Jonathan to congratulate him on a great run and walk off to have a pee in the trees.
When I come round a bit I start working out how I've gone on. I make it 6th Dasher (it later turns out to be 7th) - not surprising given who's there but still disappointing. For a while I'm thinking 'What is the point? I have just absolutely run my bollocks off and for what?' My chest is still burning and I'm coughing like a consumptive (hay fever?), my knee is now throbbing and I am really disheartened. I don't really want to hang about after so I collect George and Mark and head home.
It was only the day after that I start to rationalise things and put them into perspective. Ok, I was 7th Dasher but I was within 30 seconds of 4 of them. Out of that 7 I am the oldest but one. And 28th (equal) out of 174 isn't too shabby really. I still can't say that I was anything like happy with my performance but I also know that I gave it everything I had. I can't say that I enjoyed it either but I know that most races aren't like that. Will I be at the next race? Damn straight I will. This is what I do, after all.
Thanks to Rossendale Harriers putting it on.
Pic by Dave Haygarth.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Heptonstall fell race

For years (and years and...) I have been doing fell races of the smaller nature. 6 to 10 miles has been plenty for me. So why, we ask, did I enter the Heptonstall fell race? 15 miles and 3000' of climb. It wasn't going to be easy was it? Anyhoo, filled as I am with the desire to complete the Dasher fell race series I entered.
Luckily enough the weather could not have been better. Cool but sunny. NO RAIN. Signing on it emerged that there were only 5 Dashers there. Well 6 if you count Sarah taking pics at the start. Mark Walsh who is on the form of his life was never going to be anything but 1st Dasher. Also starring was 'Young' Jonathan Bruton, Kev Smith and Pete Murphy as well as yours truly. We started off on the cobbles of the picturesque village of Heptonstall (imagine a mini Haworth) and were soon dropping into the first steep valley. Mark W buggered off ( natch) with Jonathan not that far behind. As this was the longest race I've ever done (I know -the shame) I decided the best course of action was steady away.
15 miles is a looong way. No, it really is. Up and down. Across occasionally. Bogs, tussocks and a lot of mud. I had to work hard at keeping my pace in check at first. After a while I didn't. I just had to work hard. At one point I spotted a yellow vest in front of me so I put it in and gradually reeled him in. Eventually I caught him. To my disappointment it turned out to not be Jonathan but some bloke with glasses on. Bugger.
On we went, eventually dropping down to a large reservoir which we then skirted. Part way along the track we came across my mate Ady from Accy, the SportSunday photographer, lying in the track taking photos (what are the chances?). I couldn't help breaking into a big grin ( see link above).
At another of the intermninable valleys that the race was littered with I glanced back and spotted Kev Smith behind me. Kev is a really decent distance runner. I am not. I got my finger out. Ah, pride.
A long time later I became aware that there was a change in the atmosphere amongst the runners around me. A tangible buzz and a picking up of speed. Being a luddite and not using the new fangled devices like GPS and er, watches I rightly surmised that we were nearing the end. I had done a bit of research and knew that the race's final climb was up from the Blue Pig and that there was rumoured to be around 100 steps involved. This may have been a cause for despair amongst some, but not me. As a one trick pony - and that trick is climbing - I had a little mental jump for joy. I had an even bigger one when I saw a yellow vest above me on the climb. This time it actually was Jonathan. Ooh, game on!
Just as I was hoping to creep up on him he looked back. I waved energetically and grinned. He gave me a look that said many things. 'I am tired'. 'I have had enough now'. 'No, actually, I am not really that pleased to see you although I am prepared to give a little wave back'.
I started to nip past people. 5 behind. 4 behind. A bit of a body swerve and 3 behind. We reached the top of the climb. I was buzzing and said to the marshal 'That was brilliant!' He seemed confused. Over a stile and across a field. I found I could run where others were walking. Gradually, gradually I reeled Jonathan in. And then passed him. I didn't speak as
a. I didn't want him to think I was taking the piss
b. Couldn't think of anything appropriate
and c. Actually I couldn't speak.
A road crossing to negotiate and then a field ahead with a big red flag at the crest of the hill. I remembered that hours ago at the start there was a field next to the car park with a red flag in it where the finish was. Tunnel vision now, everything was about reaching that flag and stopping all the pain. I staggered on, passing a couple of people. I reached the flag. It wasn't the finish. 'Oh, fuuuu...!!' Another two big red flags and then the real finish. The lovely, lovely real finish. I staggered faster and again passed somebody. Nearly there now. One ahead of me. Can I catch him? I lurched faster into what I fondly imagined was a sprint finish. Just as I was about to duck past him and pip him some swine shouted 'Come on Striders, there's one right behind you.' and he sped up. Bloody unsporting if you ask me!
Orange juice and Nice biscuits at the finish. Jonathan came in not long after me looking a bit broken. Good experience though and a lesson learnt about pacing. He won't let that happen again and I will soon be bragging about finishing in front of him. Mark Walsh was waiting at the finish and had had another superb run finishing 6th overall. Wow! Kev soon arrived back and then Pete a short while later.
I have to say that I really enjoyed this race. At times it was a bit of a grovel and I did a good bit of suffering BUT I did it, was still fairly human at the finish and yet again finished second Dasher. Big up to the organisers of the race, they did a superb job. All in all a great day out. Next up - Liver Hill. That'll be a different kettle of fish.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012


It wasn't a special day, just an ordinary Sunday. Nor was it a special route - we'd done it or a variation of it many times. It was pretty much the usual crew. Livsey was away skiing but the rest of us - Dave the Builder, Laughing Dave, our Will and me - were there. Maybe it was that Spring was starting to make an appearance, it was definitely warmer and drier than we've had of late. Whatever it was there was a really chilled, lighthearted vibe to the ride straight from the off. As usual Will was moaning about something and I was giving him grief. As usual the Dave's were taking the piss.
The big hairy chested climb up 'Pickabonk' was despatched and even at the re-group where we shovelled our lungs back in, jokes were flying back and forth. Over the muddy cheeky bit and onto the Grane Rd. Suddenly a race was on. The Dave's were duking it out in front while I made like a hamster in a wheel on the singlespeed trying to keep up. Then Will who had been whingeing and off the back until then, shot past everybody.
Another big climb up Robin Hood's Well and across to Peel Tower we went. A pause here for choccy biccies and a chance to critique the performance of the charity abseilers struggling down the side of the tower. The tricky, techy cheeky descent seemed a bit more cut up than normal. Ace! Three of us really enjoyed that bit!
On we went and even the walkers on the track above the shooting range were in a good mood, sharing the craic as they held gates open for us. Eventually we fetched up at Little Wayoh and its stream crossings. A small child and a big dog were playing in the water as I rode through. As Laughing Dave followed me I heard a bit of commotion and, inevitably, laughter. Half way across the dog had wandered straight in front of Dave nearly having him off. A bit of discussion on the new work on the path and we were on past the Strawbury Duck. I was really enjoying my first singlespeed ride for ages and I managed to get to the top of Edge Lane with only one dab. When I looked back at the top Dave and Dave were racing each other culminating in the Builder shoving the Laugher out of the way to take the win! More banter. Will then arrived and, far from being knackered, he just kept going. Steadily on towards the A666 we rode together and again exchanged easy conversation. A final mini race back to my front gate and the ride was over.
I said at the start - it was nothing special but somehow it was. It's great to do something you love, with your mates.