3 Peaks fell race 2013

I have to admit I was worried about the 3 Peaks. I knew that even though I’d put the running miles in during the past few weeks, the week before the event wasn’t ideal in that I’m in the middle of training for a 24 hour MTB race (well, two or three 24 hour races) and I’d justifiably spent a fair number of hours on the bike.

I kind of assumed (or hoped) that it’d be fine. It was going to have to be. It’s not as though I’d be trying to win the 3 Peaks or anything – nope, I’d start off steady and just get round. I’d also never run anything like 25-ish miles in one go before, let alone 25-ish miles that included three mountains, 1600 metres of climbing and some of the toughest terrain in the country, so I really didn’t know how I was going to do or what to expect. My bread-and-butter running is usually local woods stuff, about 10 miles at a time, quite a high pace and “hilly” rather than “mountainous”.

So yeah, I was a bit worried.

I lined up at the start with fellow worriers (Hi Jenn) and once we started up the long, first climb of the day along the familiar trail to the top of Pen Y Ghent, I realised just how far from the front I’d started. Very far back. Oh well, I was feeling ok so I upped my pace a bit and started to move up the field.

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photo: Sportsunday

The climb to the summit of Pen Y Ghent went really well and I reached the checkpoint well ahead of my uneducated estimate. I was thinking “hey, this is so much easier without a bike on my shoulder”, inevitably comparing the experience so far with my five rides in the 3 Peaks Cyclocross race.

Once the descending started, I started to make some mistakes. Buoyed by the relative ease of the ascent, I started to bomb down the hill. I made it down in a few minutes and started the long undulating slog over towards Ribblehead and Whernside. The fast descent had battered my thighs and by the time I reached the Ribblehead checkpoint (where Dave was waiting, offering me a Clif gel like he could read my mind) I was already feeling some discomfort.

I pressed on and felt marginally better when climbing, in spite of the silly-steep wall of scree that had to be climbed to reach the summit of Whernside. It was when the terrain went downhill that the shenanigans started. My thighs were pretty ruined and I was finding it difficult to stay light on my feet – instead of hopping and skipping down the broken, steep and rocky hillside I was clump, clump, clumping my way down, every step making me wince as my legs grew stiffer and stiffer. I stopped and stretched.

The ascent of Ingleborough was ok, some of the pressure and impact removed from my now lactate-filled quads and I settled once again into a much-needed rhythm. I reached the top and instead of looking forward to the remaining six miles of descent to the finish line, I was dreading it.

It was torture. I should have stopped. But I didn’t. “two miles to go” said the marshal. I glanced at my watch and saw that I had 20 minutes to run this last bit before reaching 4 hours. I tried to lengthen my stride. Went past a couple of lads who were also suffering but I lost count of the number of other runners who were running past me. 40, maybe 50 others went past.

“just this last little climb lad, you can still do the 4 hour from here” said the marshal with about half a mile to go. It felt like 10 miles…nay, 100 miles. I could have stopped right there and given up, the pain in my legs was now almost unbearable. I put in one final effort and ran across the line in 3 hours 58 minutes.

I’d sort of aimed for anything less than 4 and a half hours, so I was well chuffed. I was in a world of pain though, my lack of experience at this distance and running in terrain such as that taught me a few lessons, but I’ll be back next year.

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photo: Sportsunday

We need to talk….

I’m going to talk about my bottom. Sorry. If you’re a bit squeamish, I suggest you stop reading now, but if you want to know how I manage to ride for hour after hour, day after day without making my backside fall off, read on….

One of the things that can make or break a ride or cause someone to drop out of a long endurance cycling event is soreness “down there”. I’ve had pretty bad experiences over the past few years myself (including large pieces of skin falling off my arse in the shower after a 24 hour race) and I know others who have had equally horrendous things happen to their butt cheeks. If not worse. In fact I do know of a couple of people who have put their derrieres through much worse than I have and have suffered long time as a result. We’re not talking a bit of chafing here.

Over time, one’s bum gets used to sitting on a saddle for extended periods of time so the whole issue isn’t quite as prominent for me as it would be for someone who rides less or a beginner or whatever, but during a long ride the threat is always there so I always make sure I’ve slapped on a good dollop of cream. You know, a good handful right down my shorts.

There are loads of products on the market that can protect your buns from a battering. Some of them are cheap, some are expensive, some are minty, some pretend to smell like a mountain in the Alps, some work, some simply don’t. I’ve tried loads with varying results. You might not be surprised to hear that the most expensive ones aren’t always the most effective.

So I’m here to tell you that I smother my tush in Chamois Butt’r before I spend more than a couple of hours in the saddle. Of all the various products that I’ve used over the years, this is the one brand that lasts long enough and pretty much prevents any saddle soreness. There’s two varieties – regular and ‘Euro Style’, which basically means it’s minty fresh and packs a fresh breeze tingle on your posterior that’s sure to wake you up on a cold morning. Take it from me – this stuff will keep your rump happy for hours on end.

Compared with other brands it’s pretty good value but if you’re not convinced you can get ‘trial’ sizes for about a fiver.

(Just don’t ask if you can borrow mine, ok?)

 

 

Bivvy cherry poppin’

Phil’s been preparing for the Highland Trail race, a great big monster of a thing up in Scotland. I won’t be doing it, mainly because I’d get lost almost immediately and I’d need to live like a vagrant for a few days. Sleeping rough isn’t really my thing (which is why I bought a caravan to take to races as an upgrade to a tent) but seeing as Phil was going to try out his new fancy lightweight bivvy bag and sleeping bag,  I agreed to go with him for a laugh.

I’ve not got any bike-mounted luggage apart from a small saddle bag to put a spare tube in, so while Phil had all of his kit neatly strapped to his bike, all my stuff – a ‘regular-and-not-very-light’ sleeping bag I bought from Winfields, a borrowed army-surplus bivvy bag, spare clothes, food, water, etc – had to be packed into a large rucksack with a large drybag strapped to it. It was heavy and stuck out a couple of feet so it moved around quite a bit if I didn’t tighten the straps but then if I did that the pack tried to sever my arms at the shoulders.

The plan was to ride from our house, take the numerous “behind the garages and up past B&Q” trails towards Rochdale, up through the council estate and meet up with the Mary Townley Loop. We’d ride along that for a couple of hours before heading south on the Pennine Bridleway and then camp out on Lantern Pike, a nice grassy hill near Hayfield. That’d be a few hours and 50-odd miles of very hilly offroad riding followed by a couple of hours’ kip and then we’d both set off home.

We set off around 8pm and while things early on were fine, the weight and lack of stability of my rucksack was soon becoming an annoyance. We rode on regardless and while the weather had been dry for a few days, the trails on the moors around Calderdale, Oldham and later on the Peak District still had quite a lot of melting snow on them, so at times progress was slow and/or very soggy. After 4 hours I was hitting the Ibuprofen to alleviate the pain in my lower back caused by the rucksack – by now I was considering slinging the damn thing over a wall and then riding home along the road….but if I did that and Phil was subsequently eaten by wild dogs I’d never forgive myself 😉

Eventually we made it to Lantern Pike in the small hours of the morning and started to figure out how the hell to get ready for bed. I decided to just leave everything on and got into my bag(s) while wearing an insulated jacket and broke out the hip flask and a pair of Tesco Ultimate Pork Pies™.

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I didn’t sleep. At all. I was constantly adjusting the bivvy bag so that I was either breathing in the cold air outside, or closing the flap and almost suffocating. Maybe I should have taken a snorkel.

In spite of the desperately uncomfortable luggage carrying and sleep deprivation and also putting to one side the obvious “Two 40-something lads sharing a brilliant mini-adventure like a pair of kids” side to it, morning arrived and with it came a realisation of why people do this. It’s not every day that the first thing you see is a magnificent sunrise over a dramatic Peak District landscape, after all.

Sleeping outdoors in the cold and damp in a glorified binbag suddenly made perfect sense and with some practice (and with more suitable kit) I reckon I could have another go at bivvying. Perhaps I’d even get a bit of sleep….

 

A bit of a refocus…

I think I’m right in thinking that this winter (yes, the one that still seems to be hanging around) is one of the longest-ever. As someone that spends more time than most outdoors, the wait for the sunshine and nicer weather this time is starting to wear a bit thin – today is the 9th of April and this morning I had to run my fingers under warm water to warm them up after a relatively short training ride. Just like I was doing in November.

It also seems that up and down the country races have been cancelled because of massive snowdrifts or floods or whatever. My own debut into the world of marathon running was postponed because it snowed and to cap it all I’ve caught a cold. Twice.

The funny thing is, the Strathpuffer back in January was relatively snow-free. (Admittedly this is perhaps more funny to those that have some prior experience of the Strathpuffer and the Highlands in winter).

My motivation to get out and get into shape for the bumper summer schedule of 24 hour races and Big Stuff has been pretty low, so a well-timed holiday with my family was just the ticket. A week in Scotland – on the bit that sticks out into the Irish Sea just south of Stranraer – also coincided with a windy but beautifully bright and sunny spell of weather, so the change of scenery and conditions was a complete contrast to the murk of Manchester.

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We had an action-packed few days – loads of sightseeing, playing on the beach, flying a kite, walking around a botanical garden (trying to pronounce the names of weird plants from South America) and properly getting away from it all, so I was unusually happy that my opportunities for doing long bike rides were limited.

I did however go for a few short-ish early morning rides and a long run and loved the fact that the roads were almost completely devoid of any traffic and were bursting at the seams with nice hills and eye-popping views.

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Clearly the break was just what I needed as I’m now looking forward to getting stuck into training and big rides again (instead of having to force myself to do things like that) and I quite honestly can’t wait for the 3 Peaks Fell Race in a couple of weeks… even if it’s still cold and wintery…

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