6 Dec 2010

The Full Monty Cute

Crewkerne Running club organise a great cross country race.  Apparently it is around the grounds of Montecute House but because of the thick freezing fog on Sunday I did not catch a glimpse of the house.  I even managed to not spot one of the trees on Ham Hill and ran into it, but that is another story.

The 10 mile race consists of 10 hills, some of them requiring the use of hands and feet to get up, separated by muddy and icy paths.

My time was 1 hr 58 mins which considering how many hills I had to walk up I am pleased with.  The winners time was 1 hr 11 mins  which is amazing thinking about the hills.  That's it no more running (till next year).

That is me on the far left trying not to fall down the first hill.
Photo gratefully taken from gallery link on website.

Full Monty Cute Website

25 Nov 2010

Book review : The Natural Navigator

I came across this book after reading a review on the Skills for wild lives site.

The blurb on the back of the book says "Put away your map and look up from your GPS". Navigating without a map and compass is not really what this book is about for me.  It is about appreciate more of your surroundings. There are lots of interesting practical facts and tips about navigating using the environment around you. Where does the sunrise through the year, how the stars rotate on the celestial sphere.

This is not just a manual. The information is also combined with history and folklore. Lots of research has gone into navigation techniques used by older cultures.  I won't be giving up the map and compass, in fact I have still got a lot to learn but I will try and be a bit more observant.  I will probably reread some of the sections but this more a comment on the reader rather than the writer.

There is a link to the book on amazon on Nicks Skills for wild lives site


17 Nov 2010

Short trip around the Mynydd Du (Black Mountain)

We set off early for a much anticipated thrip to the Brecon Beacons, this meant that by the time we reached Neath we were ready for breakfast.  This was to set the tone for the rest of the trip as you will see.  The first cafe we came to was called "Nu cafe" and it was marvellous.

The camp site at Dan-yr-Ogof caves was closed for the winter but walked though to the path that leads up the Afon Haffes and then up on to the ridge which leads to Fan Hir.  The only rain shower of the day blew over us as we reached the ridge.
After lunch over looking Llyn y Fan Fawr we continued along the ridge before turning south above Llyn y Fan Fach.
Fan Foel

Llyn Fan Fach

We camped near the river Afron Twrch (SN801196). One of the ground rules for the trip was that we all had to bring our Argos Hike-lite tents. In the night we had some heavy rain for a few hours and the tents stood up very well to it. Luckily it was not very windy as I am not too confident in the poles but for £20 and 2kg it is a great buy.

For supper we had "Look what we found" Chilli con carne and Smash followed by cake and custard and mulled wine. Louis has recently bought an Eydon Kettle which he was keen to try. We had a cannister stove for the food and the kettle for drinks. The Eydon kettle boils water so quickly that we could hardly keep up with the coffee consumption.

In the night the rain stopped and the skies cleared.  A cold start was improved by cinnamon porridge and too much coffee. We followed the track through Carreg Goch, a collapsed landscape of shake holes and crags.  All too soon we were heading downhill to the road.

4 Nov 2010

Feels like -10

We have got a trip to the Brecon Beacons planned next weekend.  However I am beginning to hate metcheck.com.  It may not be entirely their fault.

Update the next day : Now it says Sunny 8 deg C.  Lesson learnt don't look at long term forecast.

28 Sep 2010

To work

It is only a short walk to work but sometimes I have to remember to look around.

11 Sep 2010

Across Wales Walk Sept 2010

5 o'clock on the border of England and Wales, surrounded by head-torches and anticipation.  Simon and I set off down the road to start the Across Wales Walk.

The adventure began the day before as we left the south coast after lunch arriving in Ludlow late afternoon. After a couple of attempts we found a pub serving food and sat down with lasagne and chips to have another look at the map and come up with a realistic finish time.  After registering at Clun village hall we spent a slightly nosiy night sleeping on the hall floor until 3:15.

The sun came up as we ran along the Kerry Ridge way, the start of an amazing day. We ran the first couple of sections with a group of runners who had done the route before and enjoyed their company and their help route finding.

After Check Point 1 we reached a high point above Llandinam and ran over 2 km a wide track downhill all the way to the village.  We crossed the River Severn for the first time and joined the Severn Way.
After a short road section we reached Check Point 2, otherwise known as Jaffa Cake heaven.  Our new friends left us after the check point as the hills started to rise before us with great views over Bryn y Fan.

The route takes you along the side of the Nant Gwestyn with a very steep drop down to the trees and stream below.  I tried to point out the view down to his left but Simon seemed focused on looking straight ahead.

As we dropped into the valley of the Severn again we had a new experience. In the past, out running, we have been attacked by dogs, cows and seagulls. In a narrow enclosed lane we were attacked by a sheep which charged at Simon. I decided that cowardice being the better part of valour to leap into the hedge while he defended himself with his Garmin Forerunner.

We followed the long road into the Hafren Forest where we reached Check Point 3. This provides toilets and soup, both greatly appreciated before we started the climb up to Plynlimon. Once you leave the forest the long trudged up the tussocky grass to the first col starts and then on to the summit.  The views from the summit cairn were amazing back over the route we had come and over Nant-y-moch (Valley of the pigs) reservoir. We dropped down to the road around the reservoir and on to Check Point 4.

By this stage we had covered about 32 miles and we were now walking and were being caught by the faster walkers. Leaving the road we covered a beautiful section over the scree path and down the Leri valley to Check Point 5.

Here I made a mistake. On offer at Check Point 5 is the famous Bread Pudding, the recipe is available on the  acrosswaleswalk.co.uk site. In my confused state I missed it.  Simon, who is no fool, had 3 bits and the next morning told me how delicious it was.

The last stretch was 7 road miles to Clarach Bay, to finish in 14 hrs 10mins. A minibus then takes you to Aberystwyth University Halls, where a bath and a massive plate of fish and chips await.

A fantastically organised event which covers the whole weekend. The event is obviously a favourite with a lot of people and I can see why. The route which covers a range of contrasting beautiful country, the friendly participants and the support from marshalls all make it worth coming back.

8 Sep 2010

At the end of Across Wales Walk

Thanks to everyone for their support and donations. I made it, what a great day.  I will be writing up the story of the day and putting up some of the photos I took along the way

At the end, sitting by one of the thousands of caravans in Clarach Bay

1 Sep 2010

Just Giving

Thanks to everyone who has donated via the Just Giving pages. It has been a very generous response. 

A note to anyone else thinking about setting up a Just Giving pages - in the last week before the event it sends you an email each day giving you a countdown. I think it is trying to give you some last minute fund raising tips, sort of helpful. If you read between the lines it is actually saying is

- Do you really think you have done enough training?
- Are you up to the challenge?
- You are going to let a lot of people down if you fail!

Or may be that is just me. 3 days to go by the way.

31 Aug 2010

Dorset Doddle 2010

This years event had a limit on the number of entries so the start seemed a bit calmer.  As Nigel and I set off we were soon left in the no-mans land between runners and walkers ambling along Weymouth seafront.

The first section to Lulworth went well and the weather was perfect for running, cool and grey.  The first checkpoint is in the massive car park at Lulworth before you head up Bindon Hill.

The weather started to deteriorate with a few spells of heavy rain.  When we got to the climb up Rings Hill most things were covered in mist.  Navigating the route is never too difficult as you just keep the sea on your right.  I was glad I had done the route before because any delays wondering which path to take are very frustrating after 20 miles.

You can just make out our rivals disappearing in the mist

The coastal path was very slippery, covered in a thin layer of mud and a number of times I was on my backside sliding down hill.  Nigel did not want to be outdone so as we neared Swanage he slipped down a section of path and performed a mid air forward roll.  During his flight he had to make a decision whether to land on the rocks or the gorse.  The gorse was fewer points from the judges but a safer option so he went for that.

Finish time was 9:04, half an hour quicker than last year. This has messed up my technique for calculating finish time as I came 55th out of 146 finishers.

Thanks again to the Dorset LDWA and all the people at the checkpoints for another great event.

21 Aug 2010

Probably Higher Tor and Belstone Tor

It was a long promised trip, so when the weather turned all autumnal on us we decided to go anyway and shorten the trip if necessary.

We left the car in Belstone and set off into the mist on Friday evening.  At the edge of the village you join the track to Taw Marsh, we were greeted with a heavy downpour so it was coats on and heads down.

As I had left work late it was soon getting dark. After a couple of miles we started looking for somewhere to camp and found a bit of shelter off the track in the bracken.

The night was blustery but fairly dry.  Next morning we were still surrounded by mist, so rather than walking further up the valley we headed up to Higher Tor and then Belstone Tor.

A shorter walk than planned due to the weather but still a fun trip. As you can tell.

17 Aug 2010

Not too long now

Just under 3 weeks to go until Across Wales Walk. At the moment I am feeling a mixture of nervousness and  "well there is nothing I can do now".  A sluggish 5 mile run at lunchtime did not help my feeling of preparedness.  I have got a trip to Dartmoor to organise and the Dorset Doddle to run. They will help keep my mind of it for a while.

As I have mentioned before here, I have 3 ways of estimating finish time.

Option 1 - minutes per mile
Last long run/walk was at 17 minutes per mile so this gives 13.5 hours

Option 2 - Double last year's winners time
Last year the winning time was 8.5 hours so that is 17 hours

Option 3 - 80th percentile
Looking at the results that is about 16 hours

None of them look very good. I guess Option 2 gives the best indication of the terrain and distance, but hopefully I will nearer Option 3, 16 hours..

5 Aug 2010

Steps up and down

In a few weeks we are going to have a go at the Dorset Doodle.  32 miles between Weymouth and Swanage.  This will be my last long run before Across Wales, which is two weeks later.  As a bit of training we decided to run from Swanage to Kimmeridge Bay and back again, the last section of the Dorset Doodle.

We started from Durlston Head car park and for the first mile we were followed by a friendly dog, who hopefully found its owner after we chased hm off. After some fairly flat sections the steps start beyond St Aldhems Head.

Chapman's Pool

As the skies cleared the views west towards Weymouth imporved.  As we were running out of time Andy was the only one of us to make it to Kimmeridge.

Kimmeridge Ledges

We turned and headed back up the steps we had come down and down the steps we had come up.  You get the idea, there were a lot of steps.

When we to back to the car park, three of us were glad it over as it was getting very hot and we were beginning to flag.  Andy, on the other hand, who has completed the Grand Union Canal 145 mile run was only just warming up.  He kindly put up with our "its up hill therefore we walk" policy.

Route statistics

Number of miles : 22
Number of hours: 5
Number of steps : lots
Number of ladies asking if anyone in our group was called Bernard : 1

26 Jul 2010

West Okement River

Welcome to Kitty Tor

It was a beautiful high cloud blue sky afternoon on Sunday. On the way back from Cornwall I stopped at Meldon reservoir for a run around some of the tops.  My route followed the hills above the West Okement River.

21 Jul 2010

Finishing the Wessex Ridgeway

This is our 3rd attepmt to finish the Wessex Ridgeway.  Previous attempt include a DNF in the Wessex Relay race organised Gillingham Trotters, then last November we tried to do the whole route in 2 very wet and windy days. See this post for details.

Last weekend we started at Beaminster followed the Rdigeway route as far as Wootton Fitzpaine, before heading to Charmouth on the coast and along the coastal path to West Bay.  25 miles and about 5,800 feet ascent.

The perfect training run for Nigel who is doing the Dorset Doodle with me and Simon who is doing the Across Wales with me.  I am sure I have got the short straw there.

It was a great day, perfect weather and a very good route.  However we decided that they have got the name wrong.  Ridgeway conjures up following a rocky narrow route that stays high above the green lowlands.  It should be called "Wessex up one hill, down, look around for the next big hlll and go up that".   Not as snappy as Ridgeway but more accurate.

The best part of the day was early on when we climbed Lewesdon Hill and stood amongst the pine trees over looking the steep sothern slopes.  A beautiful place with great views across Marshwood Vale to the sea.

I forgot to take my camera so instead of a beautiful view from Lewesdon Hill all you get is my blister. That is a blister plaster not the actual blister.

On the kit front I was very pleased with my Montane Bionic T-Shirt, the mixture of polyester and wool makes it very comfortable in a range of temperatures and it wicks very well without feeling clammy.  I will definitely be using this on the longer events coming up.

6 Jul 2010

I love the smell of bracken in the morning

I set off early Saturday morning on one of my standard off-road loops, through Shipton Gorge over the hill to Bridport then Eype and back along the coast path.

The best bit is the hill above Bridport a narrow ridge flanked by bracken and dry stone walls.  This is the nearest I can get to a Welsh hill top without resorting to the car. On the OS map it is called Bottom Wood but I think its name is Bothen Hill.

The last few miles home were a bit more difficult than they should have been.  I was very hungry by the time I got home.

30 Jun 2010

AWW page

I have added a new page to the blog about my attempt to complete the Across Wales Walk. Beware you may be asked to sponsor me.
Inspiration from Thunder in the Night

20 Jun 2010

Offa's Dyke to Monmouth

After a short tour of the Taunton Retail Parks car parks,  we picked up my Dad and set off for Monmouth. The plan was to drive to Monmouth, take the bus to Chepstow and then walk back to Monmouth following Offas Dyke Path. 33 years ago we had walked the route, this time we are here with my son to follow the Wye Valley again.  Walking Offals Dyke Path aged 10 had been my introduction to backpacking.

After finding the free car park and a quick coffee in Monmouth, we got aboard the "Chepstow Classic".  Slightly disappointingly following the grand title this turned out to be a small bus with only 2 other passengers.  We arrived in Chepstow and headed down to the river to see Chepstow Castle.

Chepstow Castle

Chepstow Castle

Leaving Chepstow we headed up through Lancaut Nature Reserve. The hills are covered in beautiful woods, for about 4 hours we walked through the woods without crossing a road.

Wintours Leap

The struggle to finish the last couple of miles to St Briavel's Castle Youth Hostel was soon forgotten with the excitement of exploring the castle. In the evening we made for the village pub to watch England play USA in what may turn out to be England's best game in the World Cup.

Our stay at the hostel was a great success. On Sunday we headed down the road towards the river. We followed the Trail through open beech woods and down to Redbrook. For the last few miles we followed the River Wye to Monmouth. A great weekend enjoyed by everyone.  The traditional introduction to backpacking completed.  Can something be a tradition if it has only happened twice?

11 Jun 2010

Ready to start walking north

Bags are packed and we are ready for off.  The rucksacks are lightweight but some of the contents are not.  Inside the Villain are 2 tins of sausages and beans.

Will and I set off early tomorrow picking up my Dad on the way so that three generations can start walking Offa's Dyke path from Chepstow to Monmouth.

13 May 2010

Purbeck 10K

The strange thing about the Purbeck 10K is that the start is a mile from the start. So having parked at the Purbeck Sport Centre we walked up to Puddleton Road where the race starts. All afternoon the clouds had been getting greyer, it started to rain and turned into a cold May evening. Lots of murmuring about being too cold to do a good time tonight. It seems standard practice for runners to start listing reasons for not being on top form in the lead up to a race. Anyway I had not managed to do my last few training runs but was just there to see what I could do.

After joining the nervous queue for the toilet I met up with John and Graham from work. They were hoping to do 50 minutes, so I decided to stick with them. I have never run under 50 minutes and have been training with that in mind for a couple of months.

It is a straight 5K out and 5K back along a road closed to traffic. The first few kilometres went well, just before 4K I was passed by the leaders tearing up the other side of the road. Some people find that aspect of the race demoralising but I quite like it. We completed the first 5K in just over 24 minutes and having only been passed by 2 penguins, I was quite happy. A local team had decided to do the race as penguins, fast penguins mind you. The real tricky bit was between kilometres 7 and 8, Legs are feeling really heavy, lungs are empty and I am not sure I can keep it going for another 3K. Now, I may be happy to see the leaders race past me the first time but to see them with rain jackets on jogging back along the road to warm down, that is demoralising.

The last kilometre should only last 5 minutes, so it was just a case of head down and get to the end. I finished in 48 minutes 40 sec, very pleased. Now I can get back to some longer distances, ideally with a bivvy bag.

7 May 2010

No map, no compass

On Thursday night the plan was to run the last bit home from work again. I had planned a new route which included about 5 miles of paths and tracks that, although not far from home, I had never covered before. Before we arrived at the start of the run I realised I had left the map on my desk at work.

Should I try and follow the planned route or fall back on a well known route home? Would I get a sense of freedom just running, following paths as they appear, making choices based on feel. I wouldn't have to get the map out and consult it. No comparisons between symbols on the map and the real world. I have sometimes thought about doing a backpacking trip over two or three days with no planned route, just venture into the hills and follow my nose. Would I spend more time enjoying my surroundings.

"I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in" - John Muir

I know it is supposed to be about the journey not the destination, but I like to know the where the journey is taking me. As I was no more than 10 miles from home I could not get too lost. But as I ran over Eggardon Hill and through Powerstock Common I still spent time at path junctions scratching my head, wondering if one of the choices would lead to a dead end. I like the sense of control a map gives you, even if it is misguided sometimes.

22 Apr 2010

Run home

The blog has been a bit quiet lately, partly becuase I have been trying to run a bit faster for an upcoming 10K. I dont normally enter 10Ks, they involve too much short-term pain for me. I came up with idea of running the Purbeck 10K in under 50 minutes, something I have never done before. Why do I come up with these ideas? Perhaps if we work together we can come up with a cure. As a friend pointed out "This might be your last chance, you are not getting any younger". That is motivation that is.

However as I have got some longer events coming up this summer I thought I had better get some miles in. On the drive back from work tonight I was dropped off 10 miles away and ran home over Eggardon Hill. It was a beautiful evening and a great run. I did stop to take a picture with my phone but as you can see the best thing about the phone is the price (smallness of).

4 Apr 2010

Devizes to Westminster support crew

We crept into Devizes early on Friday morning, to find the Wharf car park full of activity and excitement. After the obligatory bacon roll we got the boat off the car and prepared for the day. My job was to meet Louis 3 or 4 times on the way to Newbury providing him with extra food and water. Camp at Newbury and then do the same the next day to Marlow. The driving on day 1 was simple, Day 2 was a bit trickier. I am still not sure how I got out of Reading. From Marlow to Westminster the A Team were arriving to take over support duties.

At Crofton Locks I met a great Canadian couple who were checking out the route, because the next day the would be starting the "straight through", 125 miles non-stop from Devizes to Westminster. Doing it in 4 days is hard but that is another story.

The camp at Newbury was at the Leisure Centre, and was as I pictured it really. Camping on the grass outside a leisure centre. Note team tents, bargain Pro Action Hike Lite 1.

Day 2 started early but all I had to do was pack up camp and drive to Marlow. I did not have blistered hands and pain running down from my neck to hands. During the day you met other support teams, and like the paddlers some are first timers and some are experienced hands. Most of them a pleasure to meet.

The camp at Marlow was a fantastic setting on the river front. Not sure you can get any where else in Marlow for £6 a night. Camping among the trees looking out over the river. Makes it sound beautiful but is was a damp muddy April night and the toilet block was pushed to its limits, but let's not go there, sorry I mean don't go there. I left the A team support crew to it on Sunday morning and headed home for Easter eggs.

I met some fantastic people, supporters and racers. A lovely family from Nottingham supporting mum/wife, who just seemed to get stronger each day. And obviously it was an honour to met Michael Yeomans and the brains and brawn of the outfit Graham. After some blog based conversations its was a pleasure to share the promised whiskey with him out of polystyrene cups standing in a carpark.

It has taken me so long to write this up that he has finished now. DW 2010 completed in 26 hours 35 minutes. An amazing achievement, considering.

22 Mar 2010

Waterside D

Sunday was my first training trip for the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race. Am I worried that it is only 2 weeks away and I have only spent 5 minutes in a K1? To the uninitiated a K1 is a fast, unstable, uncomfortable, light weight 1 man kayak; think of it like a unicycle with racing tyres. I am not worried because I have got the easy job - part of the support crew.

Louis and I left Dorset at 4am on Sunday morning to get to the start of the Waterside D race in Devizes. After we had arrived I wandered around the Wharf car park watching all the crews prepare, amazed at the number of people mad enough to get up this early to get wet and cold on a Sunday.

My job is basically to be in the right place at the right time with food and drink. Meeting Louis at various points between Devizes and Newbury. So having had a bacon sandwich and watch my crew (see how I have picked up the lingo) set off I left for my first met up point.

Tan Hill - Wiltshire Downs

During the day I watch some amazing displays of endurance, most impressive were the Junior crews (under 19s). However as I only meet up with Louis every 2 hours or so I missed some of the excitement like being attacked by a swan, nearly crashing into the side of Savernake Tunnel and being "on the rims" after 28 miles.

I am really looking forward to the big race now, particularly camping in Newbury Leisure centre car park. Eat your heart out Andy Howell.

8 Mar 2010

Grizzly 2010 race report

Four of us arrived in Seaton, not necessarily prepared but committed to running the Grizzly. I was nervous, not sure about the others. What I do know is that we were all cold. Frantic searches began for extra layers of kit to wear. Anyway here is my account from the back of the pack.

The race started off again along the beach then up and over the hill to Beer. From there it took a different route up the valley and over the next hill to Branscombe Mouth. This year we headed into the village of Branscombe and through the woods to Bulstone. After a number of painful twists and turns up the hills we arrived at the first bog (I think this was about 13 miles). Foolishly as we came dripping out of the far end I thought "well that was easier than last year" a few miles later a longer and deeper section awaited. I began to lose my sense of direction in the narrow valleys with runners ahead of us hammering past on the other side of the valley.

After running through Branscombe Mouth again we reached the hardest bit for me, the mile section along the beach before we started the climb up to Hooken Cliffs.

© Copyright Nigel Mykura and licensed for reuse under
Creative Commons Licence.

Last last few miles along the coastal path were fantastic looking back across the cliffs to Seaton. There was great support again all the way round from lots of spectators, marshals, a piper, rock bands and fiddles. It is becoming a favourite and if was not so hard I would do it again.

Now we come to the difficult subject of finishing time. At the moment I am not sure of my exact time but about 4 hrs 40 mins. This is a bit slower than last year but the course was different. Anecdotal evidence suggest the course was harder, but would you trust the judgement of anyone who had just run 20 miles over cliff top paths, bogs and steep wooded valleys - no. Analysis of this years results compare to last year show that the top 20 runners were on average 4 minutes slower this year. ( You have to admit that is alot effort to justify being a bit slower ). The end result not pretty.

Click here for last years report