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Welcome to my blog which I hope to develop with some interesting material on ultra running both on the trails and road including reports on races and interesting training runs, views on kit and equipment as well as anything else I find of interest. I love running for adventure, opportunity and well being. Enjoy!

Saturday, 16 May 2009

The Fellsman (60miles ish/ 11,000ft)

2009 was the third year i’ve entered the Fellsman but the first time i’ve made it to the start line. It is not an event to be taken lightly; 60-odd miles (depending on your route choice) of self-navigation across the Yorkshire Dales from Ingleton to Threshfield, in a mighty big horseshoe. The route goes straight up Ingleborough and thereafter visits many of the sizeable North Yorkshire peaks, several over 700m in height, as well as traversing some seriously inhospitable and trackless moors (bogs!). This is classic ultra distance fell running race and an exciting adventure......

I recce-ed the route in full over the two days the preceding weekend knowing that navigation is absolutely key with the Fellsman and it would be one less thing to worry about come race day. It is all about knowing the right lines off the tops, to avoid the really nasty terrain but get you where you need to go.

After negotiating all the slick but thorough pre-race arrangements I was pleased to make it out on to the starting field with kit checked and body ready to run (I think). The pre-race demons in my head had been working overtime this week fuelled by the Highland Fling race 2 weeks previously, a stiff bout of tonsillitis straight after, then a full recce of the Fellsman over two days finishing 6 days before the race, including additional sections before and after each day for good measure. Would my legs be too heavy for the climbs? Would I remember all the right lines? Would my running style suit the Fellsman generally?

I’m the first to admit that my build-up was suicidal on paper, but how else do you prepare for a race on a course you've never run before? Route knowledge is key for navigation, but more importantly in my opinion, to know in your head how to run the race.

The route took us straight up Ingleborough, then Whernside, Gregareth and Great Coum before dropping down to the first major pit-stop at Dent around 18miles in. The weather had two sides to it; clear, warm and welcoming in the valleys, windy, aggressive and cold on the tops. Unfortunately we were at high level most of the day. After a long and steady climb out of Dent the well trodden trails of the first third (20miles) soon gave way to the infamous track less moors of the middle third. The variety of the terrain struck me more than anything; peat bogs, moorland, streams, waterlogged moss, a truly British array.

I cut a good line up to Blea Moor which is the first time real section of trudging through the bogs. The ‘bog lottery’ is something I always find quite entertaining, by that I mean sometimes you place a foot and get a firm footing allowing your stride to continue, but on other occasions you sink, the worst case on Saturday being up to my waist. Lovely. On the approach to Blea Moor I could just make out the checkpoint tent next to the trig point which helped me to pick a good sightline.

The rain started just as I was arriving at the next valley checkpoint, Stonehouse, so after getting a cheese butty and a handful of biscuits to take out I got my jacket on and trudged upwards on the track beneath the beautiful viaduct towards Great Knoutberry Hill. The rain fell hard, then harder, and harder still. The wind also blew with a similar increasing velocity, driving the rain and making for grim conditions. The final climb to the Great Knoutberry Hill checkpoint turned into a horrible slog. I was heading straight into it and it was simply ferocious. Still with legs exposed and only my lightweight jacket on and still under halfway distance-wise, I was starting to wonder how long this spell of atrocious weather was going to last. If was to be all day then it had the potential to create some serious problems for everyone, not just me.

On reaching Redshaw I dived into the checkpoint tent to grab a few bits to eat but I was too cold to drink, and anyway that would only increase the temptation to stay under shelter when I really needed to crack on. The next few legs were all across the moors through bogs that were often knee deep or more, helping the cold to get a further grip on me and to start winning. I could feel the adrenaline racing round my body, not from the race situation itself, but my body’s reaction to the severe cold, forcing my itself to run fast to keep warm. It ultimately helped to maintain a good pace and as it turned out it was during the two hour spell of grim weather that I broke away at the front and never looked back from, slowly building more of a lead during the second half.

At the Fleet Moss checkpoint I was at my coldest, barely able to speak. I desperately wanted a cup of tea but was too cold and in too much of a hurry to stop and make one, so I decided on hot lucozade sport drink instead. I mixed some of the powder I was carrying up with boiling water in a water bottle providing a great hand warmer if nothing else. Thankfully the rain subsided on the crossing of Fleet Moss, blowing through to leave a fine afternoon. I soon dried out, but I think the weather had taken my sharpness away because I was not decision making well, and my responsiveness was poor. It showed on one of the many dry stone wall crossings, one of which I just fell off! I landed on my wrist which went straight into shock making me think I might have broken it, but it turned out fine, albeit very badly bruised. The better weather was a welcome change and made me think I could finish strongly and maintain my lead if all went to plan. Navigation was the main risk, but with the tops clear the navigation was much more straight forward.

I took the southerly route around Fleet Moss, the low risk option with some good runnable tracks beside the reassuring dry stone wall lines. I got round fine, and even managed to get the Middle Tongue line right, again benefitting from the clearer weather and being able to pick a sight line to the checkpoint tent. I also had a bit of luck on Stake Moss, picking up the quad bike track almost straight away which I hadn’t done on the recce. At Cray one of the race supporters suggested I had 30 or 40 minutes lead which was a great boost, but still too early in the race to sit back on the lead, and it’s also not really my way. It was nice to reach Cray because it signals the end of the really boggy trackless stuff, the final sections taking in the big peaks of Buckden Pike and Great Whernside, with good footpaths to the tops and off again. They were really enjoyable sections, the evening being completely clear and a lot calmer after the earlier excitement.

It gave me plenty of time to reflect on the race, the route and times. It was clear after the severe weather that I would be some way off record pace – not that I had set out to break it – but it made me realise what an impressive benchmark it is (Mark Hartell, 10hrs 13mins). This has been Mark’s race for many years, and his wins at the race year after year for over a decade are simply inspirational. To get down to a time like that the lines have to be perfect, in every instance, to shave a seconds or minutes off at every possible opportunity and squeeze everything out of the course. More detailed route knowledge would therefore be my target for future years.

Towards the end I realised my best bet would be to target a sub-11 hour time which was a nice motivator for the final few sections. I hit the road at Yarnbury and flew the last few miles down to Grassington and finally Threshfield making it back to the event centre at 7.50pm giving me an overall time of 10hrs 50mins for my first Fellsman.

The overall experience had been a memorable one. The event feels like a cross between The Long Mynd Hike in terms of tradition, format and organisation, and the High Peak Marathon in terms of terrain. It’s a great combination and a fabulous event which deserves the full house of 400 participants that it got this year for the first time in a while.

Many thanks to all the organisers for a brilliant day out.

The full results can be found

A write up and photos can be found on the Grough website

Monday, 4 May 2009

Keswick Mountain Festival 2009 - talk

Just in case anyone is in or around the Lake District over the next couple of weeks, I will be doing a talk at the Keswick Mountain Festival (Theatre by the Lake) on Wednesday 13th May at 7.30pm.

See the KMF website for more details: http://www.keswickmountainfestival.co.uk/look-whos-talking/jez_bragg/

The talk will cover in three races in particular - The West Highland Way Race, Ultra Trail Tour du Mont Blanc and 100km road races - as well as my general experiences of ultra running over the last couple of years, training and tips on how to tackle an ultra.

There are stacks of others talks, events and races taking place over the course of the festival which promises to be a great event for outdoors enthusiasts.

I hope to see you there.....