Friday, 22 May 2009

Preparation for Ed’s “Joss”

Last Week: 51.2 miles; 8700 feet; 11:20:54

John Fleetwood’s day out gave us a second consecutive Saturday “all nighter” – not Wigan Pier or a Soul Night at King George’s Hall in Blackburn when we want a late night out! The rest of this week was a bit of a struggle and while I might normally have heaped on the COR (carry on regardless) I need to be reasonably rested for Saturday and Ed Swift’s “Joss”. I think the mileage on top of a second Saturday night, particularly with insufficient food and drink, just caught up with me. First time all winter this has happened so I decided 50 miles would be enough and I would settle for the climbing done at the weekend. My right achilles has been bothering me since the Fellsman and Saturday didn’t help it but it recovering. I need to select shoes with particular care and hope it is right by the 13th. all week it has been tight in the morning until stretched. By Thursday morning I felt good again and enjoyed the early morning miles.

Ed has an 18 hour allowance and a 17 hour schedule heavily weighted towards the last section so that he could arrive at the start of the last leg with the scheduled time plus two hours ‘in hand’. Even Ed thinks this is unlikely but it does mean losing time during the previous legs shouldn’t be a problem. Creating a good schedule is an art in itself, it needs to take account of the terrain, climbing, exhaustion and have an “allowance'” for bad weather and other contingencies. You also want it to be “your friend” rather than “your enemy” – you want to to provide reassurance and encouragement that progress is not too fast but fast enough and you don’t want it to be nagging you about lost minutes every time you reach another summit. These “lost minutes” are corrosive, eating into resolve and enthusiasm and it takes a strong mind to dismiss the effects. Often, to avoid this additional stress, the contender isn’t told whether he or she is behind or ahead. Personally, not knowing is worse but not everyone is the same. Ed really has two schedules only one of which is published, the other is in head and as long as we get to the start of the last leg one hour down he’ll be happy, I think. One to two hours down won’t be bad, not quite as good obviously, but not bad. Two hours down and it could be a very big ask. Part of the problem with this challenge is that the early going is very runnable and there is a danger of starting too fast and blowing up so, at the start, you need a schedule to hold you back then you need it to encourage you through the middle and final to provide reassurance on the rough rocky terrain of the last leg.

I hope, when we get back from Scotland next weekend we will have a photo to match the one below of Ed’s brother John in 2008 on the final summit with plenty of time left to descend to the finish at Greendale Bridge.

John Swift & Joss on Middle Fell, May 2008

John Fleetwood’s 24 Marilyn Attempt

Marilyns are ‘relatively high’ hills – they are hills with a drop of at least 500 feet all round, irrespective of their height, although they must be, by definition, at least 500 feet high. A route over 24 in the Lakes has been complete once, by Chris Upson, within 24 hours from leaving the road to reaching the 24th summit. John was attempting to repeat the challenge, within the same rules but on a different route. To ensure a “family day out” Pauline is providing road support while I run with John over the middle secJohn arriviing at Patterdaletion after meeting him at Patterdale. Changeable weather meant John was undecided about starting until Friday night would not commit to attempting the whole think until after setting off so we were at home waiting on the 14:00 phone to say whether it was “on” or not. The call came and we set off – the weather had been poor and given John and his first pacer, Garry Murray, a fairly difficult morning. By Patterdale things didn’t seem too bad and in a last minute change John decided he wanted company over St Sunday Crag and Helvellyn. Fell shoes on and off we go carrying my sandwiches to eat on the first climb. Forecast suggested the weather could close in and John didn’t want to be high in bad weather on his own.

The wind which should have been behind us was being funnelled down the valley towards us and at times we struggled to make any headway. Not only was it cold and we were losing time the wind was just sucking the strength out of us. Once on top the wind was less fierce, still cold but not carrying the rain we feared. Over Seat Sandal and then the slog to Helvellyn now with the wind behind us. The clouds were still high and we began to wonder about getting over Helvellyn before the rain and we did. Down the other side to The Swirls were Pauline was waiting with a cup of tea for John. This leg took almost three and half hours and included just under five and half thousand feet of climbing. The next road crossing is more difficult to find so I had lift with Pauline while John ran on over High Rigg on his own.

Evening sun in St John’s in the Vale Evening sun in St John’s in the Vale

Evening sun in St John’s in the Vale

The next section from the other side of High Rigg goes through Keswick to Portinscale where Bill Williamson and the rain met us. We picked up torches, extra clothing, food and more water and set off for Swinside (not the Inn) where Bill would met us and lead us off the summit. Never having been on Swinside before I didn’t know what to expect but the map didn’t offer the merest hint of a path, a trod or anything in the direction we were going and Bill had been out looking at or looking for a route the day before. The climb wasn’t bad and the descent was awful, down through an old established wood and when Bill then said “It gets really poor now” he wasn’t wrong. It doesn’t last long and then we have the '”joys” of some tarmac miles to the foot of Lord’s Seat, our next one. The rain is on for good now and John is struggling to eat on the move to stop for a bite before the climb. Much of this ground isn’t great either and, to begin with, it is a steep, slow, muddy slog up through the trees. Out on the open fell the gradient has eased and it is almost enjoyable. A long comfortable run down forestry tracks takes to the road where Bill and Pauline are waiting. I unload John’s gear here and Pauline and I wave them off into the dark as we prepare to meet them at Newlands Hause, the next road crossing.

The battering from the weather earlier in the day is taking its toll on John and they loose a lot of time on this section. John is still struggling to eat and although he doesn’t say anything, he must be concerned because you can only go so far “on empty” and it is rarely far enough. By Honister Pass they have been able to maintain the schedule’s pace but there isn’t enough time left to reach the 24th summit within 24 hours. The possibility of 24 hours from first to last summit remains so we wave a final farewell and set off for home in sunshine at about 06:30.

John finally conceded on Great Gable with only Kirk Fell and Pillar remaining.

Morning light on Helvellyn Morning light on Helvellyn

Helvellyn ridge and the Dodds in the fresh morning light

Friday, 15 May 2009

The Fellsman

Last Week: 101.2 miles; 12800 feet; 29:00:16

62 miles with 11000 feet of climbing in a race of two halves, it might be said. A steady start because there is a long way to go and a great deal of climbing to be done. I think we can manage a sub 20 hour time and I have a 22 hour schedule in my watch so that we measure our progress throughout. The weather in the middle of the day could be rough but the wind is forecast to drop after that. The ‘big three’ pass quite quickly and it is good to have the wind behind us on the way to Great Coum and Dent. The bad weather is late in arriving and we are at Dent when it does so we wait in the tent until it passes – the rain/hail on the tent is so loud it is almost impossible to speak and nobody was going out in it.

After the weather clears through bright skies and sunshine provide some cheer for the long drag to Blea Moor and having rested at Dent we are feeling pretty good. Since Gragarteth we have been passing people, pretty steadily and picking up time so that by Dodd Fell Hill we are looking at a 19.5 hour finish. We have also just caught a group who appear to be moving fairly quickly and I think they might be OK for the night section. We get “grouped” at Fleet Moss and although we get across before dark we have three novices, never done it and never reeced any of it. After nightfall the pace drops dramatically and we lose hours over the next two big hills and while two of the novices know they can’t navigate the third thinks he can. He helped in a couple of places – getting things slightly wrong but I am glad not to have to do it all myself – and for the last descent he gets a compass bearing wrong by almost 90 degrees. We are in clag and can’t see far enough to realise how wrong we are until it is way too late and although Pauline spotted the footprints we should have been following ‘the compass never lies’ so we went wrong again coming off Great Whernside. This adds over an hour to our time and so while the three novices are pleased to get round in under 24 hours we are pretty disappointed with our 23:33:16, not least because we walked it quicker the last time!

It was a good long day out and with so much climbing already done I don’t need any more for the week. This means I can just grind out the miles aiming for 100 for the first time since 2006. By Thursday night when I finish my legs are tired but with only two more hard weeks left I guess that is is how they should be.

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In the Start Field and Ingleborough on the skyline is visible most of the day

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Empty Hills going on forever and eventually some late evening sunshine

Friday, 8 May 2009

Classic day in the Lakes

Last week: 51 miles; 6950 feet; 10:40:12

With Colin & Albert on Saturday for brilliant route from Colin over Scafell Pike to Upper Eskdale and back to the Three Shires Stone. Cold Pike, Crinkles, Bowfell, Esk Pike, Great End, Scafell Pike and straight down in Upper Eskdale before returning over Little Stand to the TSS. A great collection of fell race routes and apart from Scafell Pike a quiet route even on a bank holiday weekend – one to do again. The rest of the week was pretty easy, no more big climbs and no more long sessions – almost a taper in preparation for The Fellsman tomorrow.

I now have 5 weeks left and plan three hard weeks culminating in another “Joss” (on a slower schedule),  a week in Scotland and then Duddon before a two week taper as the final preparation for the 13th June which is the same date that Bob Graham did his round.

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Scafell Pike from Bowfell and then from Esk Pike

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Great Gable, Green Gable & Sty Head Tarn (left) and (right) Lingmell and Wasdale Head

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With Albert above Upper Eskdale and Scafell & Scafell Pike

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Couple of locals

Friday, 1 May 2009

Back to Winter Hill

Last week: 74.8 miles; 8409 feet; 12:38:10

After last week’s Lakeland adventures it is back to the West Pennine Moors and Winter Hill. I knew I would need a few more days to get the climbing out of my legs and I hoped I would be able to lift my mileage without too much trouble. Saturday’s 21 miles and 4000 feet weren’t too bad but I would have struggled in the Lakes with more sustained climbing. On Sunday I just had a run up Winter Hill from the house and met Ed Swift at the Two Lads. Ed is approaching the end of his “Joss” training with an attempt scheduled for the end of May and we will both be out helping him. Normal Monday to Thursday including a hill session last night that took everything I had left in my legs.

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From the Two Lads looking South West and North West respectively

On Sunday, although bright and sunny it wasn’t as clear as I had hoped – looking south west it is possible to see ships on the Mersey and the mountains of Snowdonia and to the north west it should be possible to pick out individual Lakeland fells but not today.

Next Week: Lakes on Saturday with Colin & Albert so it will be hard day. I am less sure about the rest of the week. Pauline and I are doing The Fellsman the following weekend and I ought to have a relatively easy week in preparation. I think I have recovered from my “Joss” and tomorrow will tell, for real.