Archive for March, 2010

Hardmoors 55 (or rather, 42)

Well, I survived, but it wasn’t pretty. ;-)

The Hardmoors 55 is run around the edge of the North Yorkshire moors, rarely
much over 300 to 400 metres above sea level but very exposed to the
elements. No trees, just millions of acres of peat bog & heather.

On the morning of the race as we were being bused out to the start we could
see that all the tops of the hills were hidden by low cloud and there was a
cold north wind blowing.

Conditions at the start were benign enough, a light drizzling rain that if
you were poetic you’d just call it “soft”. I was relatively overdressed
though and felt hot all the way to the first checkpoint at about 8 miles
where I was determined I was going to take off my hooded jacket and stow it
in my bag. However, once we got there and turned into the wind, it was
clear that my jacket wasn’t coming off!

There were two drop bag points at 22 and 42 miles where hot drinks and
shelter were available but other than that, the check points were in the
open. As I worked my way towards the first checkpoint, the conditions
didn’t so much deteriorate as just persist. There was virtually no
respite from the wind and rain and combined with slippery muddy conditions
on much of the path, it made it very hard work. I seriously considered
calling it a day at 22 miles but once we dropped out of the cloud and down
to the checkpoint, conditions were a lot nicer and after a hot cup of tea I
was feeling much better.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before I was back up on the moor struggling
with the elements once more. The route has, by all accounts, spectacular
views over the surrounding countryside but we rarely saw more than about
200yds in any direction. In my case less as I’d stupidly decided to stick
with my glasses rather than put my contacts in. It’s often a tough call
deciding between being able to see around clearly or being able to read
maps! I can’t do the latter with my lenses in unless I take reading glasses
as well. In “ordinary” rain, a peaked cap keeps most of the rain off of my
glasses and if it gets heavy, the drops coalesce on my glasses and don’t
seem to be a problem. “Low cloud” type rain though just produced lots of
refracting beads of water on my glasses that needed constant wiping to
remove.

Fortunately the route is pretty well signposted and I only had to resort to
looking at a map once, fortunately someone else’s map as I was by now too
cold to struggle to get a map out of my own bag.

This was seriously “not fun” by now and I definitely decided that I was
going to call it a day at 42 miles but that next drop bag point was a very
long time coming in those conditions. It wasn’t helped by my not knowing
the route and having no “feel” for the distances from one landmark to the
next. I think If I had spent more time studying the map pre-race I might
have coped mentally a bit better.

The remoteness of the route was also getting to me and I realised that it
really was a case of “keep moving or seriously risk dying”. Access points
to the moor were few and far between but eventually, I did reach the
checkpoint slightly hypothermic and with frozen hands. Even though I was
wearing gloves, they weren’t waterproof and the wetting and windchill has
left me with numb fingertips 3 days after the event.

Naturally I’m disappointed not to have finished but I know that I was in no
condition to continued, it was getting dark and another 12 miles was just
too far for me on that day. I’m just happy to have done it without apparent
injury (apart from my fingertips) and will count it as a “tough training
run”. As an indication of the severity of the conditions, about a third of
the competitors dropped out with hypothermia on the day.

I think I learnt a lot about “respecting the elements” on that day and
whilst the experience might not make me a faster runner, hopefully it will
make me a wiser and safer runner. As per usual, I was swearing “never ever
ever again” on the day. Now I want to go back and have another go. ;-)

Criffel

Circumstances often conspire to provide unexpected outcomes.  I was in Edinburgh with Lesley on Friday and Saturday, Sarah was home but going back to university on Sunday afternoon and I was late for the Criffel Hill Race.

The journey down saw my wee Panda passing Beemers, Mercs and other over hyped panzer wagons.  I reached New Abbey just in time for the pre-race briefing (which I promptly ignored to give myself a few extra minutes getting ready).  The last time I was late for a race it became a total disaster as I sprinted to catch folk up and just about killed myself into the bargain.  So, not this time.  This time I would enjoy myself.  This time I’d take it easy.  This time I’d go totally against my instincts.

From the start I allowed myself to drop down the field which was composed of around 30 of the usual suspects.  Whilst there are always new folk coming along to see what the fuss is about hill running, there’s also the old hands; Ian from Girvan, Tom from Seaforth and of course, Ian from Irvine.  By the time we’d reached the hill proper, we’d pretty much sorted ourselves out.

The hardest climb is the first up to the cairn at Knockendoch.  A tough slog through some incredibly difficult terrain with mud ‘traps’ that are thigh deep and a slope that is walking only.  The walking part allows for views over the Solway and down to Loch Kindar.  As I took in the view I noticed that Loch Kindar had two islands, one large and one tiny.  I wondered what this could be and discovered when I got home that this was one of Scotland’s crannogs.  As Schwartenthingummyjigger said, “I’ll be back.”

The view was lost on the way up to Criffel as we climbed into the mist.  This was itself a welcome occurrence.  It was cooling and refreshing unlike last year when the hill was covered in snow and ice.

There’s another cairn at the top and once round, it’s all downhill.  As usual, I picked up a few places on the way down.  I even caught a guy from Carnethy but couldn’t put enough of a gap on him and he passed and ran away from me on the final road section.

I finished in 1:20:24 which was about 3 minutes faster than last year.

And the unexpected outcome?  Well, there have been many races where I’ve PB’ed and many races where I’ve given absolutely everything I could have but at this race I got to the end and thought, “I haven’t enjoyed a race quite so much for a long, long time.”  I felt quite emotional – I really must be getting old!