Saturday, 23 April 2011

Reflections on a day in the life of The Epic Tri

(Caveat I haven’t had much sleep so times, places, order of events and names might not quite be in the right place or order, apologies, but hopefully the insight into this challenge still comes though.)

Ant and Bruce are undertaking, what I think will turn out of be, the biggest challenge of their lives, which is no mean feat given their racing pedigree. I’ve had the privilege of spending the last day of planning with them, seeing them off, running the first leg of the BG and cycling with them for a day.

The day before was all about checking the weather, checking the kit and final planning with the support crew, at this stage a skeleton crew of one van for each stage, a band of pacers for the Bob Graham and a few support riders for the JOGLE.

It was quite strange preparing myself for a 4 or so hour night run in hills, something that is relatively simple, but you still need to think through what you are carrying, and in this case for whom, while next to me Ant and Bruce are planning for 5 or 6 days. As the house filled with support drivers, pacers and family we all watched their piece on Cumbria News and ate huge amounts of pasta and then left for Keswick.

The weather was perfect and the leg went to plan, although Ant’s knees were sore and the taper had left both of them quite heavy legged. At Threlkeld I passed them over to their new group of pacers and drove South for work, jealous and sad I couldn’t go on for at least one more leg in perfect conditions.

Logistics of meeting them for the bike leg changed hourly as we watched them track South and realised the original schedule had been optimistic. Shuttling cars was ruled out, but trains don’t run 23:00 to 06:00, which on the original plan meant I could cycle Preston to Lancaster and just get the last train home. I had a chat with Jim (the first of many) to check if they could drive me to a station if it got tight which they agreed. By Friday afternoon it was looking like I was more likely to be on the first train out of Stafford with a wait, so Hilary Roundsley agreed to take some warm clothes for me as she was meeting the boys at the feed stop.

After a convoluted journey and delayed journey North, I met a friend Mike Steel at Lancaster. He’d cycled North from Preston some hours before and was itching to head North as far as possible to meet them. Another call to Jim and they were still enjoying the generous hospitality of The Kings Arms in Burton-in-Kendal, so I was wanting to go a little more steadily given I had to get to Lancaster and I’d only managed an hour on the bike the previous weekend before my back had gone into painful spasms. We settled on Carnforth and stopped to refuel in Tesco just before it closed at 10pm. At this point the peloton snook past us and Jake peeled off to pick us up.

We found them a couple of hundred metres later though, things weren’t looking good, 4 people were around the bike with Ant directing a seat adjustment. He was suffering and had switched to a suspension seatpost in Kendal, however the new saddle position was crippling him. We spent a bit of time saying hello to the Kendal posse and staying out of the way as it seemed a complicated thing to adjust. Once on our way we headed towards Lancaster but had to stop again almost immediately, Ant was in agony which another adjustment didn’t help. Having parachuted in I stayed out of the way but things weren’t looking good for the challenge, Ant was crying to himself and in this state he was realising he wouldn’t make Lands End. We hit a pot hole which caused screams from both of them and may have resulted in the deflating rear tire we stopped to change shortly afterwards.

We met the support vehicles again and switched to another saddle, which saw 5 people turning the van upside looking for tools, tape measures and missing bits of the new seat post. With Jim and Aitch staying in Kendal to take some well earned rest, Jane and Dave (who’d given up their Scottish Holiday to stay on and support South of the Border) weren’t familiar with what was where in the van and although we worked well as a team this stop took a age.

Finally we got some momentum and waved goodbye to Mike as he peeled off to go home in Preston, slowly the Kendal supporters dwindled until there was just me and the boys. At this stage I kicked myself for not uploading the route into my GPS, I’d been busy trying to work out how to meet them, it hadn’t even occurred to the me the micronav of towns would be a problem and as we came out of Preston on some good quality tarmac I realised the A6 feeds straight onto the motorway. The internal routing software in my unit gave some very unconvincing directions so I hung onto the door of the support vehicle with a very groggy Jane trying to make sense of the road map before catching up the boys again, just in time to make the turn onto the A49.

At this stage the boys were in a world of pain, it was dark, the supporters were gone, the warm pub a distance memory and sleep deprivation kicking in. Ant had shutdown, so I concentrated on keeping Bruce awake and keeping them moving. Somewhere near Charnock Richard we saw another cyclist who turned out to be David, our first random of the ride. He’d heard about the challenge and ridden out from St Helen’s to meet them, this was the start of the turning point. Heads came up slightly and we made good time through Standish and into Wigan. David’s local knowledge was put to good use to avoid the sleep window falling in the nightclub district of Wigan, so we stopped in a residential street and proceeded to chuck the contents of the van out trying to clear enough space for them to sleep. Unfortunately for David his long ride out would have to be lonely back as well, as this was to be a long sleep stop (not that I’d realised this when I curled up in the footwell of the side door).

Getting going was slow for all or us after (3 hours?) sleep. The total stop seemed much longer. We got going and found a 24hr Tesco to download in, unfortunately this was opposite the turn we were supposed to be taking onto the A573. I missed it completely, still quite spaced from 3 hours hours in a foot well getting cold and no sleep. Traffic had also picked up considerably and our riding style of the night before was no longer appropriate, so we picked our way gingerly down the A49 until Warrington, where we got back on track.

Jim and Aitch were now back and sorting the van with Dave and Jane and also coordinating with the Claytons who’d been out since 01:00 looking for us on the A573, they finally picked us up on a beautiful morning about 06:30 on the A50 and the injection of new people started to pick up the pace, shortly afterwards we also picked up Si Enderby on a classic morning for cycling and another burst of energy from the boys, the totally absorbing pain of the night before now forgotten.

Next to come was Mags, a paddler they’d met on the DW. She’d been out waiting at 3am on her road bike, thankfully spotted by Si who’d told he the new time. She’d then punctured and come back out on her MTB sporting a great tee-shirt. This cemented the new mindset and the only way was up with Si and I pushing Mags AR style up the hills to us together.

Ant was sat up saying how much he was enjoying himself; being out with the AR community, no bibs in sight and a common aim which wasn't to beat each other, such a different mood to the night before.

Keeping pace / providing a draft for a tandem is very challenging; downhill it is almost impossible to keep up with, but uphill it slows very fast. Staying ahead of the their wheel is almost impossible. The roads towards Stafford were ideal however, and with experienced roadies to draft off Ant and Bruce were flying.

Food was now the order of the day and regular phone calls started to the Aitch with a bacon and egg sandwich order. They’d worked with Dave and Jane to reorganise the van in Wigan so were quite way back. In the end we stopped in Newcastle-under-Lyme and I brought some heated rolls from a corner shop just as Aitch and Jim arrived with a stacks of butties from a greasy spoon identified by someone on the blog.

Refueled it was a punt through to the big stop in Stafford, however post break the boys heads went down, so a coffee and proplus order was placed. This arrived out of the window of the passing support vehicle shortly after and we picked up another random who’d been out for a 80 miler, but was inspired by the guys and stayed with them into Stafford. We picked up some more riders, but the pace was now too high for mountain bikes and after trying to push for a while, I was seizing up and had to drop him and get to the feed stop to get my shoes off. It was a party atmosphere in the with loads of people and really positive atmosphere.

I was supposed to stop here, but it was a nice day, my back wasn’t giving me any trouble and I knew I could get a train out of Wolverhampton, so I carried on. Wolverhampton was busy. Ian did a great job of shepherding the boys through the traffic, with Bruce using his London skills while Ant (and I!) closed our eyes.

Heat was now a problem and Aitch’s exhortations to keep them riding to Gloucester were a little optimistic, we had an very nice ice cream stop at a farm shop, while they fought their way through the holiday traffic behind us. Rolling hills to Kidderminster meant slow ups and hard work to keep with them on the downs, but overall the pace was good. The Claytons peeled off here and as the boys were going to be on their own I carried on with them.

Regular water bottle changes with the van weren’t enough to stave the heat off and when we picked up Chris McSweeny with lots of arm waving to keep going we pulled into the next layby for some shade and food. Again the injection of new conversation picked the spirits up and Gary joined us a short time later building momentum through Worcester. The boys were now powering the bike uphills and ‘Chris’s Hill’, after being defined as a hill, not a rise, and given high rating as it was also in the shade proved too much for the bike and rear chain snapped. Chris fixed it in lightening time while Ant and Bruce enjoyed the shade.

I was starting to hurt now and decided to make Gloucester my last stop after Andy Wilson had confirmed train times for me. As I’m racing in a couple of weeks I can’t afford to damage myself. Jonny Boy joined in somewhere North of Gloucester and banter was lifting the pace all the time. I peeled off to the station as Paul and another rider got off the train from Bristol and chased to catch the peloton up.

On the way back North torrential cold rain and thunderstorms lashed the train. Someone upstairs is also supporting the Epic Tri and if flash floods hit the Thames tomorrow Ant’s requested forecast is going to play out to a tee.

Hopefully Ant and Bruce have been through the pain and motivation barrier now on the ride but they have to do it again on the DW. The lowest and most painful point of my racing career was on the Thames upstream of Teddington. So if you’re anywhere near the course, please watch the tracker and get out on the bridges shouting and hanging signs. Also they are going to be behind the main pack of the race, so it should be possible to cycle along the towpath and shout support if you can’t get hold of a boat to paddle with them.

Thanks to all the people involved in supporting, it gains a momentum of its own but the effort being put in by the guys behinds the scenes, in particular Jim, Aitch, Dave and Jane can't be underestimated - they've been on the go now as long as Bruce and Ant and I bet they won't be going straight home from Land's End, following these guys is inspirational and addictive.

If you can't get out to see them, and even if you can, please sponsor them at and follow their progress at

Wish I was there, but its time for me to head North.


Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Scottish Coast to Coast

Pre Race
I'd entered the Scotland C2C way back in March when there weren't many races in the diary. At the Open 5+ Kim and I hatched a plan to recce the route on 14th August. The week before I started to think about the weekend and found the 'detailed' map wasn't really good enough to follow the route. A few emails to the organisers and Gary, kindly responding while on holiday, gave me a heads up on the route. Unfortunately Kim had to pull out of the recce so I figured a long weekend would be good Terrex training. I was late out of work on the Friday, which had the advantage of missing the traffic, so I was still in Ballahulish for 00:15. An early start for a cycle to Fort Augustus along the Caledonia Canal and I was ready to start the route. I left the bike in Fort William and nipped up the Ben before heading back to Ballahulish for a tranquil paddle over to the Isles of Glencoe Hotel. I drove up to Foyers ready for day two. Another early start and I cycled to Cawdor and ran to the start in Nairn. After a spectacular bonk, I wobbled back to Cawdor for another carbo load from the General Store, which perked me up for the cycle back to Foyers. It was already 4:30pm by the time I got back, but as it was a beautiful evening, I did an hour down Loch Ness. I was hit by a squall, so it was a much slower paddle back. Still, I made it home for a hour's sleep before work on the Monday.

Race Weekend
My build up to the race was balancing resting after the Terrex with some speed training and kit checking. My head was quite mashed and work was busy, so I only managed 1 bike, 2 running races and a kayak session in the 3 weeks, which meant my hardtail wasn't ridden for a couple of months. I kit prepped on the Thursday night with a plan to leave on Friday and kip in the car somewhere enroute. Joe had kindly agreed to be my support crew and was already in Scotland, so I was fairly free to travel when I wanted. After a long day at work on Friday I was too tired to drive up and decided to get an early night - of course that didn't happen and a restless night was over all too soon. Glasgow was very slow and when I finally stopped for some lunch on the A82, the traffic was too heavy to cross over for an M&S pasta pot, so I settled for a Shell sandwich - not quite the carbo hit I'd planned. I met Joe at 17:30 and we headed straight to Nairn to register. It took a while to find registration as the essential information didn't actually mention it was in the Nairn Community Centre and there was a surprising lack of hoardings and flags outside. Once registered we got some food and planned the race strategy. By this time Somerfield had closed, so we decided Joe could buy some fresh food while driving between transitions to supplement my supply of bars.

The Start
I'd kipped in the car 100m from the start, so roused myself at 5am and set about some crunchy oat cereal, a second helping and I was ready to go. I figured everyone would go off hard and settle into a good pace after 1km or so. True to form we flew off the start and I settled down to the max heart rate (170) I was allowing myself for the run. Ant came past after a couple of km and I ignored my breakfast sitting high in my throat to keep his pace until the castle. A moment of disorientation and I got to my bike and started to undo my shoes - klets knots are brilliant for keeping shoes on your feet without loosening for 24 hours, but they are slow to undo in transition! A swig of For Goodness Shakes and I set off on the bike. I'd lost valuable seconds and the group I'd come into transition with had about 400m on me. I closed to 100m but was working too hard, so settled into the HR cadence routine that served me well in the ironman, I was 5th fastest so it served me well here again. The High5 seemed to have curdled with my breakfast, so my stomach was painful in the aero position and I didn't take on as much food as I'd have liked. The kayak transition was busy and I took a while to find my boat and sort my gear. There were 5 boats setting off so I was keen to get on the water ASAP. Joe had made me a hot drink but it was too hot to neck in the time I was allowing for transition, so I jumped on the boat to try and chase down the pack.

Kayaking on Loch Ness
As soon as I settled down I realised my seat padding wasn't quite right. I tried to adjust it and lost a couple of places, so picked up the pace and took a few places back. Cramps were shooting down my legs so I couldn't hold a strong paddling position. When I was overtaken by another V10L ski, I tried to adjust the padding again - a big moment later I thanked my asymmetric paddles for allowing a big support stroke and I decided to stop messing about and make do with the position I had. I had water in my Buoyancy aid bottle and High5 on the back of the boat, but with the intensity of racing, there was no time to risk another moment retrieving the bottle. I had a couple of bars and planned a big eat at Fort Augustus. I was 6th fastest on the paddle and 5th out of the water, though I didn't know it, so the surf ski paid dividends. Getting out of the water proved a little fraught and John Laughlin rescued me as the boat teetered towards a large rock while I juggled paddles, bottles, padding and a buff. A quick jog back to dib after not realising there was a control box there and I was off for the run through Fort Augustus.

Cycle to Fort William
The rain was picking up as I got to my bike and a I was looking for a quick change get out ahead of Sean after battling to catch him on the paddle. Joe hadn't been able to buy any food and I picked up the part drunk FGS from the first transition so didn't get in as many calories as I'd planned. The bike started flat and I was still going well, but once onto the road I hit a section of the route I hadn't recced. It wasn't clear from the mapping (online or OS map) and this was a section of steep, muddy, gritty single track which immediately caused chain suck. Unaware of this section, I'd used a wax based lube which was unsuitable for the conditions. I was carrying a heavy duty lube but it was already far too late, the chain was coated in liquid mud and I was down to 3 gears. I lost a couple of a places to cross bikes and started to feel weak. My heart rate was still up at 160, but my speed had dropped dramatically. I pressed on trying to get through the section when the lead racer came through, he was making light work of the trail while I was deteriorating rapidly. On the descent I discovered when slicks let go, they really let go, and I had a close encounter with a fence before popping out on the road. My mental conversation finally worked out I was bonking and started the "you should probably eat conversation" (if you've been there you'll know what I mean, if not eating is strangely the last thing you want to do). Thure came past asking if I had any spare food, I was capable of saying no I needed it all, even though I had a full bento box and wasn't eating, I relented though and gave him a bar before waving him on his way and finally starting to eat myself. The rest of the ride was a slog, though I was relieved to find the singletrack I had recced wasn't actually part of the course and the cheery backmarkers in the Challenger field kept me going. My brakes also failed, which caused a momentary panic as I careered towards the A830. Coming into transition I was goosed and looking forward to sorting myself out.

The big trek
As I ran in there were lots of people milling around but I couldn't see any expert support area. Asking around I eventually established there were only a couple of places laid out and none of them were mine, stories of accidents and traffic suggested Joe hadn't got here yet. Some helpful marshals and another support crew started trying to round up enough food for me to do the next leg while I rang Joe. With no reply I started weighing up my options, running 24km in cycle shoes with minimal food or waiting in the hope Joe could get through. By this time word was spreading I had no support and JohnL again came to my aid running up to the expert car park to see if he could find Joe. Just I was hatching a plan to run the first part and meet Joe in Glen Nevis, he arrived with my pack and a bag full of food. I quickly changed shoes and headed out. By this time I'd lost another place and Chris Morgan was hot on my heels. I munched on an apple that tasted fantastic (thanks to the marshal who went on the food hunt and whoever donated it) as we ran up the summit path comparing notes. I eventually lost him as we headed up the West Highland Way, I was pretty knackered and couldn't run any distance, so was surprised to see him again as we came out of the forest. It transpired he had knee trouble, which balanced out our pace, so we jogged and hobbled to the high point of the route with lots of challengers for company, a couple of experts and racers passed us at impressive pace that we could do nothing about (it turned out a couple of very fast experts had got lost earlier on the course and were reintroduced further down the field, hence their relatively fast pace). I left Chris to nurse his knee on the descent and jogged into transition for the final paddle. I was fairly relaxed until I saw another expert about 200m out on the water so abandoned my boat prep, jumping in it and pushing hard to catch the slower boat. My stomach complained and I had to stop to eat a bar, as I was still low on energy. I steadily overhauled him feeling a bit like jaws creeping up on unsuspecting prey. The last run was painful as both my legs were cramping badly, but I got them moving and came into the finish reasonably upright. I was surprised to find I was 10th and had covered the 100 mile course in a time of 10:37.

It was now chucking it down with rain and I had minimal kit, so it was a relief to see Joe had got round the loch pretty fast. I took off my sodden cycle top and was slightly bemused by the clatter of gas cylinders falling on the floor - I'd carried an extra 1/2kg of bike kit for the final trek! After a shower and change at the hotel, we headed back to see the final finishers over the line and have a few beers with the fellow racers. Joe had to leave early in the morning so took and the car and I cycled back about midnight for another nightcap in the hotel bar.

The Morning After
Monday dawned grim, so I was in no hurry to head outside. I eventually set off and as I drove down Loch Lomond the sun came out so I decided to go for a paddle and work out why the seat hadn't worked. This morphed into an ascent of Ben Lomond in warm sunshine, which was a nice way to finish the weekend.

Reflecting on the race I'd have been very happy with 10th if I'd had a clean race, but as I spend my life telling people to eat I'm annoyed I didn't set myself up to get the most out of the fitness I had available. The course was fast and a good test, some work needs to go into transition logistics so support crews can move about efficiently and booking the weather would be a big advantage ;-)

Calories, calories, calories
I've gone into cathartic detail on my diet for the race and written like this, it is blindingly obvious my calorie intake was nowhere near enough to sustain the pace I was going. Having a proper meal the day before would have helped, as would a sensible sized portion of porridge for breakfast. This would have set me up better to eat on the first bike. I should have had some foodstuff I could shove in my mouth at the start of the paddle and H5 in the accessible bottle to get calories in without stopping paddling.

If you can control an area of the race, do, leaving food shopping till the day is a exped race idea so it lasts longer - it isn't needed in a one day race and I should have done the shopping the day before. Transition food needs to be easily palatable for bike and kayak (dreaded bananas are back on the menu, quiche would have worked I think), for foot, something easily portable that can be eaten on the move.

Kit preparation
In the build up I was tired and working long hours, so yet again prepped kit too late to fully test it all.
I need quick release shoelaces for short run legs!
I thought I'd tested the seat combination I used in the race, but with hindsight the foam I'd tested was in my Nelo so not shaped for the V10 seat, also the height adjustment on the seat pushed me forward so the footrest was too close causing additional cramp. The extra water bottle was useless as I couldn't reach it without stopping and setting myself up, which would have taken too long at the pace I was going. Quote on my paddle from a multiple Olympian: 'you didn't say you were using the Kinetic! You need to! Even wings used badly will be better than those.' - A good excuse to go shopping.
Why my bike failed so catastrophically isn't too clear to me, I hadn't ridden it for a while other than up and down the street, but don't remember any issues, so I put it down to the wrong lube for the mud and grit. Slicks were great but need a little care cos when they go, they go!

1:1 Support
This is a really challenging role which I think I need to perform to understand what information to give. I didn't learn the lessons of my Bob Graham Round too well: Never assume the support with have time to anything other than drive to the next destination. Provide complete packs for each transition, provide a checklist for each transition, provide expected times for each stage. I had a bag full of spare food and spare clothes in the car, but with cars being parked remotely to transition, these were inaccessible in the time I was allowing for transition.

I found I was full of adrenalin coming into transition and needed short clear instructions on what to do (your boat is on the right, your boat is on the right, keep going, keep going, keep going, stop look down etc). Kit laid out is an interesting one, if it is cold it is probably better kept dry, otherwise laid out for easy decision making. I like to know what is going on, Chris knew far more about the race than me on the final trek (who was leading, where friends where, what position he was in, what the weather forecast was) this is good mental fuel when I'm tired.

Did I rush my transition? I don't think so, I just wasn't efficient, klets knots, putting cycle gloves on before starting to ride, putting multiple layers on for the kayak.
Not emptying my bike stuff out went back to late change of plan. I swapped a bike bottle repair kit for a water bottle, so mentally hadn't planned to have any bike stuff on my body and so wasn't thinking about dumping it.

Doing the recce gave me a huge mental advantage, as I had no nervous energy being spent on wondering what the course looked like. The flip side of this was the poor mapping (sorry Nokia - Ovi maps aren't there yet for off road and the route plotted was offset against the basemap!) not giving sufficient detail to allow me to follow the correct route - double whammy with the bonk coinciding with the bit I didn't know undid all the advantage :-(

So lots learnt (and now written down so I might remember it in the future!)

Friday, 3 September 2010


Pre Race

I arrived fairly chilled around midday in Keswick to be met by kit explosions various in the field and lots of people poring over maps. The rest of the team were in Ambleside (got the feeling I shouldn't ask why!) so I went to registration and picked up the maps. I'd fully intended to return to the campsite but got waylaid by planet fear hospitality and then Booths for a final food shop so didn't make it back to the campsite until about 3. We spent and hour throwing kit round then returned to Keswick cinema for the
briefing, a quick map check indicated we should probably have spent a bit time studying them as this was anything but an obvious linear route. We split effort and ensured at least one of us had plotted all sections before the prologue and went to get changed.

Prologue - Keswick

The prologue was 4 laps of Keswick running, orienteering, swimming and kayaking. Our aim was to complete it safely - I've seen many teams pick up niggles in prologues and didn't want to but adding to the list for this race. I was kayaking so had a long and increasing cold wait for the others to complete their legs. It was a quick run (OK adrenaline got the better of me) to th
e boat and a short paddle before a confusing run back. I always get lost in the wood and in the dark I couldn't read the map so went the long way round. We finished 14th 13minutes behind the leaders.

Stage 1 - Morecombe Bay

The coach dropped us off on a road with the great expanse of Morecombe Bay stretching out in front of us and the start banner worryingly close to a half submerged landrover 'beware of quicksand' the route book said but the Queen's guide was onhand and had marked the route with Laurel trees so as the hooter sounded we headed out across the bay. Some of the channels were quite deep and needed wading with care, but a couple of hours later we were nearing the island with the 'torso'. On arrival this turned out not to be a half naked Jim, but a mannequin around the corner. By this we were all complaining about sore legs - not good at the start of a long race. None of us had trained by running on the flat, so we were confident we'd recover in the hills. At the end of the leg we sat out our penalty from the prologue in bright sunshine while refueling. We almost
missed the restart after a map faff (this was a big stage that covered multiple maps which in theory we had in duplicate).

Stage 2 - Western Lakes Cycle

Leaving Holker we decided to take roads as much a possible to save our legs for later, this took me to Cartmell Racecourse for the first time and slightly longer tour of Cartmell Village than planned. Back on track we headed to the first checkpoint and then on through quiet roads and bridleways to Broughton Woods. I was off my map by this point and after climbing for a while in the forest Phil got agitated, we stopped to fill water bottles as we'd all run dry which gave Phil time to reorientate and realise we'd missed a turn(we also rearranged maps so both were back in play) on to the next checkpoint we passed a couple of teams already looking rough, the course was already taking its toll. Again we opted for the road and made good time un
til a van closed a gate on us (Dave and James your integrity is over intact!). Again opting for the road we headed as close to Devoke Water as possible before breaking out into the boggy hike a bike. Jackie had an over the handlebars moment but thankfully didn't land on anything too hard. We battled our way across the rough ground until rejoining the road and heading out to Ravenglass. The instructions clearly stated go down the closed footpath and cross the unsafe bridge, but this was anything but clear on the ground. After numerous double checks we passed the 'no cycling' signs 'footpath closed' and 'unsafe bridge' signs and made our round the coast. We decided to stay on the Cumbria Coastal way and not cut up yet another footpath through the Muncaster Castle as the rules state 'you must not cycle on footpaths'. By this point we were hot, thirsty and frustrated at the slow progress. As so often happens in
races, kindness by a member of the public lifted our spirits. Ravenglass didn't have a shop, but the camping and caravanning site did. We queued and steadily emptied the shelves onto to counter before walking outside and scoffing the lot. The camp attendant came out to ask what we were up to and pointed out the showers and taps. As the shop didn't stock any vaseline he went beyond the call of duty and got his own from a nearby caravan (he was a runner). As we cycled of Muncaster Castle grounds we hit a wirebridge, in Barbara's case literally - her handlebars were wider than Phils and as the bridge started to swing she caught the rail and caught her face on the suspension cable. The yell was bloodcurdling and I thought our race was over. Thankfully it was more shock than damage and we were able to continue shortly aftewards. We cleared the first orienteering stage efficiently just before dusk and cycled into the first night to tackle the first major climb up Harter Fell. Going up was a slog but trying to come down was slippery boggy hell. Progress faltered and after a brief respite on forest tracks a bad decision (sorry Barbara) put us back in the rocky bog until the wire bridge at the bottom. We formed a chain and got the bikes across fast, but I lost both water bottles in the process. It was then onto the next slog up Walna Scar Road, this was long and hard. In the end we summited, only to the find the descent very sketchy and, without good visibility, I'm sure we missed some fast side runs.
It was now onto Church Beck, but none of us were clear where the start was. Phil logically beelined it to the centre of Coniston, but there were no obvious signs. Jackie checked the routebook but there was no title 'Church Beck'. I figured it was probably the upper beck, so we set off up the road, not at all sure we were going the right way. Eventually we met a marshall who pointed us all the way back down the hill so, after more confusion, we arrived at the transition. The marshalls informed us that full body cover was required (me in particular - Pete Rostron is still scarred by seeing me jump in a buff at the Open 24), so we stripped off and put on waterproofs only for the stage. The stage time had thankfully been extended, which gave us enough time to get down the rock slides and jumps, but not enough time for the final checkpoint on the bike. So that was it, we were off the full course before the first day was up.

Stage 3 & 4- Coniston Water and Bethecar Moor

Putting the disappointment behind us we set off for a beautiful moonlit paddle down the length of Coniston Water and the first big high point of the race. The first control took a bit of finding, with a number o
f teams to help, then we were on our own for most of the paddle before meeting teams coming back at the far end. On the map stage 4 looked an easy hop, but as we passed a sleeping team for the 4th fourth time less than 200m from the lake and started up onto Bethecar Moor, we were soon moving slowly in bracken and heather. This slowed us down far more than we'd realised and in the night with teams all around we started looking for the checkpoint in completely the wrong place. With hindsight we should have rested until first light as dawn brought a new perspective and we moved 500m SW to the correct footpath and found the control. It was an uneventful trot to Windemere YMCA for some toast and kit reorganisation. Jackie had a sleep while we sorted maps, trackers and kit for the next stage. We all tried for a cheeky 20 minute sleep on the floor in the hall while rain bucketed down outside.

Stage 5 & 6- Windermere

Revived we set off for the long paddle up and down Windermere. It was a fairly uneventful paddle with the odd wobble on the wash of speed boats and cruisers. The weather was mixed and by the end we were all soaked. The ferry was going to be tight so we raced up to transition and tried to get hot drinks before jogging down to the ferry to see it pull away. Frustrated we turned back and realised we were in a pretty bad way. Back in shelter we got more hot drinks and sorted out our kit so when we went across the second time we were in much better shape to start the bike. The sun had come out and made good progress to Elterwater where a mistake marking up the maps before the race caused much confusion and Barbara's local knowledge got us out of the quarry and back onto the correct path. Sticklebarn transition was a field so we got changed quickly and headed up to Pavey Ark in the fading light.

Stage 7 - Central Fells

We set off up Dungeon Ghyll passing the time with Tim and Sarah who had kindly come over to cheer us on. A change in route meant we went up Easy Gully, rather than Jakes Rake which took a bit of time as a mass of teams were just ahead of us. Once out, we worked our way round to Esk Hause and met the first teams bailing out due the weather. In the shelter we donned more layers and decided to carry on as we were all competent in the mountains and still well placed, despite our problems in the early stages. After Sprinkling Tarn we hit the confusion of paths around Sty Head, eventually losing them all (and all but one of the teams milling around up there looking for the start of the corridor route) and headed cross country to CP38, looking down on the maelstrom I was unconvinced Open Adventure would put a control in an area with the potential to flood, however Phil went down across the streams and confirmed there was indeed a control. Having dibbed we set off scrambling up the side of Piers Gill aiming for Broad Stand. The going was very slow and I was fairly uphappy as stories such as and made me worried for the more tired members of the two teams. We eventually hit the summit path for Scafell Pike and decided to follow the route we'd taken on my Bob Graham Round above the crags rather than below them. In the rain and wind plus increasing tiredness the teams were slowing down too much for my liking. We decided to take shelter in the Rescue Box on Mickledore and so once we'd picked up the path we were relieved to start descending, unfortunately we were on a lower path and missed the box. Phil went and located it while the rest of us huddled in the bothy (7 people can stand in a four man bothy!) By this time people were getting cold and wanted to descend rather than climb so we decided to traverse to CP 39 and head to the abseil figuring this would actually be the quickest way off. Pacing and on the contour we spiked the tarn and woke the marshall who confirmed the abseil was still on as far as he know. We set off in slightly better spirits with me force feeding snickers and jelly babies to the team to stave off hypothermia. the terrain quickly deteriorated and with Barbara mentioning the dreaded words we could get crag bound attempts to find a safe way down became more frantic. the navigators descended some way (towards the CP) but it was loose and sketchy so when they came back we took the decision to head back to Broad Stand. The weather was now starting to play a part as it was torrential rain and windy so hypothermia was an immediate risk if we stopped, while team members were starting to meander with lack of sleep. We took the decision to head to Wasdale as it was the closest civilisation and wanted to get moving. The other team got in a huddle and we agreed to part so Calder Valley was back on its own. Yet again we missed the saddle on Mickledore and rather than climbing back up headed down towards the Esk. The weather and ground were still both atrocious and we lost the path yet again. It was a relief to see the white foam of the Esk below us as we finally exited the crags and the ever present risk of becoming Crag Bound (Phil and I were only too aware of the risk after a bad experience on my BGR nearby in similar conditions). Once on the path I was much happier and started working on the team to get in the bothy to sort our lives out. We hunkered down under a rock and spirits lifted immeasurably once we were out of the wind and rain and warming up rapidly. So much so we decided to try and last out to first light and complete the course rather than take the huge detour back via Esk Hause. Eventually the cramped conditions and collapsed twister contortions got too much for me and I roused the team trying to get the adrenalin flowing for the inevitable burst of uncontrollable shivering that would mark the escape from the bothy. A couple of minutes later we were running towards the Esk when I realised it was a white foamy mess. I called everyone together and we linked arms, crossing as team - in the event it had no power and was easy to cross. It was then onto Gait Crags which turned out to be much further South than we initially thought - thankfully it was now light and we found it once in the right place. We nearly overshot the ruin which should have indicated minds were sleep deprived but we recovered out height, dibbed and set off for the final CP, minds definitely wandered here and having plotted a route from the bottom we gaily summited Crinkle Crags 150m too high and 1km off route. As we dropped down the band the weather improved and we finally made it back to transistion, the last team off the stage. In StickleBarn we had our second encounter with generosity by the public. We stopped in for 4 full breakfasts and the landlord pointed out the warmest seats, brought us extra fleeces and a rug for our feet. Jackie got her head down while we took stock of the race and came up with a plan given our late arrival at transition.

Stage 8 & 9 Not High Street and Ullswater

Refuelled we set off on the bikes electing to skip High Street and head straight to the kayaks to ensure we made the cut off and get our race back on track. The sun warmed us up and we made good time up The Struggle. Unfortunately we were all a little close and when Phil was blown off by a gust of wind I stopped and Jackie fell sideways onto the only rock for the entire climb. We got the transition and cooked up some food while Phil slept. We all had at least 20 minutes but then the rain came calling an abrupt end to the snooze. Once out the water we had a few portages over the shallows before getting on to Ullswater and it took a while to catch back up with Phil and Barbara. I was overheating as our speed neutralised the wind so for the first time we left the tow off and paddled side by side. A buzz from the film crew in the helicopter got our stroke rate up and then the swell pushed us rapidly to Ambleside. With the leg completed much quicker than expected we reevaluated and decided to do the whole of the Helvelyn Stage.

Stages 10 to the end Helvelyn to Derwent Water

We set off at a quick pace to the transition, with Tim and Sarah who had again made the journey out to come and say hello. We were surprised and relieved to see our kit bags again, as we were slightly marginal on equipment for another big mountain stage. Some faffing ensued though as we were unprepared and eventually we made it out for a beautiful evening stroll up St Sunday Crag with everyone in high spirits. We made great time round through the well on Helvelyn and everything was going smoothly. Of course it never lasts and the change in pressure threw out our altimeters so we missed the ski tow and had to circle back before reorienting ourselves and eventually finding it. A frustrating decision to contour into the next control cost us time and split the team a bit. We took a 5 minute power nap part way up the next hill to recover and set off again with a purpose to the transition above Dockray. The transition was full of bodies so we hunkered down in our sleeping bags next to Paul Noble's landrover. Barbara went straight sleep while the rest of us ate copious amounts of food. We all put our heads down for 20 minutes, only to be woken by the landrover 30 minutes later (phew - over sleeping is always a problem for me in races!). Barbara's efficiency in getting to sleep hadn't paid off and she's gone into a deep sleep that she now struggled to wake up from. The coach road was long and hard with the loose gravel keeping our speed down, FGS were less concerned and came flying past us towards the end. We caught them again in Threlkeld and set off up the hill together. With all the houses around we didn't chat and a when we stopped to strip off some layers they disappeared into the night. We cycled on past the youth hostel and then stopped to put layers back on for the descent to Bassenthwaite. We got to the lakeside an hour before dawn and the lake was sucking every ounce of heat from the air and us (think dementors in Harry Potter!). We saw planetfear emerging from a very cosy looking hotel reception, but we were seconds too late and the landlord had locked up and gone back to bed. We watched them cycle off into the night bunny hopping and swerving to try and get some warmth into their bodies. Tiredness and cold were taking their toll on us and no amount of cajoling was going to increase the pace so it was a settle down and wait until the sun put some heat and energy back into our bones. The forest trails were slightly confusing but in the end we picked up a path that climbed through the trees and brought some respite from the lakeside chill. Finally the sun rose and we could have 5 minute powernap in a glade which revived us enough to get to the Whittlatter Cafe. More confusion here as to where the trail officially started and while Phil located the control at the bottom of the hill Barbara had a chat with the cleaner who was somewhat bemused by all these cyclists passing at 6:30am on a Sunday morning. A bit of towing took us to the next CP and a rip roaring descent by Barbara, on her last gasp high, brought us back to the bottom in the sunny morning. Time was against us so we skipped the last bike CP and headed to the orienteering. This turned into quite a faff and frayed tempers as tiredness was taking its toll. We eventually started bagging the controls with Phil and Jackie negotiating the navigation. We'd allowed two hours for the final stage in the canoes, but this hadn't taken account of 20 minutes learning how to paddle the boats. Barbara wasn't feeling well so we'd swapped canoe partners for the this leg putting Phil and Jackie in the same boat. This confirmed we'd made the right decision keeping them apart and while Barbara and I paddled a safe distance away we wondered when the divorce papers would be filed. The slow start cost us one CP and we upped the pace to dib the last CP with 3 minutes to spare. There were lots of teams around and the sun was shining making a great final leg through the Bank Holiday crowds to the finish, slightly different to my last jog up the hill at the end of Bob just over a year before.


Having shaken and Bruce and James's hands and cursed Stage 7 and reflected on a great race the others went to start packing while I finished the champagne, cheering in the remaining teams. A trip to the cornish pasty shop confirmed I was unsafe to be allowed out alone (incoherent ordering and meandering up the street) so I went back to the finish area to cheer in planetfear and await the prizegiving. When all was done a shower and kit explosion followed before a quick nap and beers in the Square Orange to reminisce on a great race.
In total we had between 1:45 and 2:30 hours sleep which is much less than I was expecting. We never went particularly fast but also never stopped, which kept us up the leaderboard. Decision making was shared but swift and there is probably only one decision I would change with hindsight (not taking the forest road on Stage 2). Navigation was a challenge. We would have all been happier with the map to keep us mentally stimulated and 'in control', but we chose to select a navigator and let them get on with it with a second navigator following. This avoided four people poring over maps and in the main this worked, but it did open us up to gaps in communication and some legs where double checking would have avoided errors. Having both maps in play continuously would potentially have avoided a couple detours but who can say?
A week later and my body is fine but my mind is still quite mashed. It has better recover soon as it is the Nokia Coast to Coast in 2 weeks...

Thursday, 11 June 2009

As my slideshow keeps disappearing I've put it in a separate blog. All photos are on picasaweb if it goes again.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The Bob - and a bit

On 5th June 2009 I attempted the Bob Graham Round after 4 months of preparation. Training had gone smoothly, until I damaged my ankle on 1st May during the Great Lakes 3 Day Mountain Marathon. It had recovered enough to do the Fellsman a week, later but by 16th May I took the decision to rest completely after abandoning a recce of Leg 2 in foul weather. By 1st June my ankle seemed strong and the MWIS forecast was for light winds, some cloud, rain and perhaps light snow. I rang round and confirmed my support crew and it was game on.

Leg 1

I set off at 18:38 on Friday with Louise Wilkinson, just after two large groups of runners from Tattenhall Runners and Dark Peak. The weather was perfect with cloud lifting off Skiddaw and Blencathra. We made good time round the first leg, with no major issues apart from my shoes causing some hot spots where they had dried hard in the sun. The sunset was beautiful as we looked back over Great Calva. We overtook the dark peak team on Hall's Ridge and had a slick transition to start Leg 2 in the last of the light.

Leg 2

Jeff PD joined me for Leg 2 and had been up earlier in the week to recce after our aborted one in May. We started well, with broken cloud and a full moon. Unfortunately my stomach was uncomfortable and eating was hard work. We nailed the Dodds efficiently and picked up time over Raise, but the weather had closed in with visibility down to about 2.5m in the cloud. Going from Raise to Helvelyn Lower Man we were blown to a standstill a couple of times as the path skirted the ridge which slowed us dramatically. Coming off Dollywagon we overshot the path in sleet and spent a bit of time getting back on track. We continued to lose time until Dunmail which was a combination of lost focus, sore ankle and probably imperfect route choice.

Leg 3

At transition there was a surprise when Bill said Phil Scarf wasn't with him so Jeff was dispatched to find him. A couple of minutes later he arrived and we set off up Steel Fell in heavy rain. It was getting light as we negotiated Calf Crag and set off to the Langdales. The weather lifted and we picked up time over the Langdales to Bow Fell. As we went up the traverse the wind picked up substantially and it started snowing hard making going slow. After a night of staring at cloud reflecting back in my headtorch beam and then swirling snow, I had a 'kaleidoscope' effect on my vision. As it was affecting my balance, I had a three minute power nap on the summit of Bow Fell (my only rest) to try and alleviate it while Phil found the camera. It was very slippery underfoot over Esk Hause and we were heads down towards Great End, unfortunately too heads down and ended up on Allen Crags! (with hindsight I was obviously in a bad way as I knew I didn't recognise the path, had a map and GPS in my pocket which would have shown we were going up the wrong peak and still didn't think to mention it to Phil, who was now suffering with the cold). We back tracked and used the waypoint in my GPS unit to summit on Great End before heading South. We hit treacherous ground in whiteout conditions and skirted too far East almost dropping back to the Esk Hause junction. We got back on track and went up Ill Crag, but conditions were still bad and the broken terrain was slow going in very high winds. We picked our way over Broad Crag and up to the Scafell Pike path before dropping onto the cairned path down. We pushed on to get out of the foul weather and unfortunately we stayed on the Mickledore path too long and dropped out of the cloud before realising our mistake. We managed to cut across the top of the crags and picked up the climbers trod to Foxes Tarn. By this stage we were both soaked and cold and probably started climbing too soon, so nearly found ourselves crag bound in driving rain. After a couple of attempts we found a way out summitted and descended out of the cloud towards Wasdale. The descent was slow as I didn't want to risk my ankles and we radioed in an order for hot food, fresh clothes and Ibuprofen as we struggled in. By the time we arrived, the realisation I was now down at least 40 minutes on the 24 hour time had sunk in and we'd warmed up slightly so that put paid to any niceties and it was a quick bowl of porridge and out again.

Leg 4

Si was full of beans as we pushed on up Yewbarrow trying to make up time while out of the wind. My stomach was still not right, so I didn't feel strong but managed to make up 5 minutes by the top. We stayed ahead until the traverse to Pillar where the head wind and I suspect non optimal route choice cost 9 minutes. At this point I was considering my options; I was going to finish the round, whatever time it took, as anyone who's discussed 'Feet in the Clouds' with me will know, however doing it in 24 hours was looking like a tall order, which was going to hurt. I could have throttled back and tried again in August, but having so many people sponsoring me for The Alzheimer's Society was the added incentive to keep me pushing. We met the Ennerdale fell race coming the other way between Pillar and Windy Gap with a number of runners I knew (and some I didn't) shouting encouragement which gave me a further lift and over Kirk Fell I made up 7 minutes. I kept trying to wind it up, but I wasn't sure I had done enough. Honistor was a running transition with Ibuprofen, warm Nuun and a cup a soup.

Leg 5

Jeff rejoined Si and I, but I wasn't really aware of it. Heading up Dale Head I was struggling and mentally preparing to hurt myself from Dale Head to Robinson. I knew if I could run most of the section I would be in with a chance. Towards the top I still wasn't feeling strong enough so more Ibuprofen and a caffeine gel was do or die (I don't drink caffeine and the last thing my stomach wanted was a gel). At the top I threw my poles to Si and legged it off the top. I managed to run to Hindsgarth, making up 3 minutes, but couldn't maintain the pace up Robinson. I now had 90 minutes to finish, which I knew was possible if I maintained the pace. Almost immediately the wheels came off though, and I couldn't descend fast enough, so it was back on the poles. I was still too slow to the saddle and knew it would be a long painful descent on my feet so I threw caution to the wind and went for a bum slide down to the reservoir. It hurt as I had to use my feet to avoid rocks but got me back on schedule. Running down to High Snab we met Bill, who'd laid out my running shoes, new socks and some food, but time was still tight so I just changed shoes and ran out. I had another caffeine gel which added nicely to the pounding headache of the first one, but seemed to be giving me some strength. Running hard down the road was agony and when the gradient turned back up I had slowed to a hobble. Timings were still tight but doable so I ran as much as I could. By Portinscale I had 12 minutes left and started to look after my legs a bit so I'd be able to walk away from the finish. I jogged up Keswick High Street to arrive 23 hours 58 minutes after I started.

The End

We camped at Thirlspot with the team from Dark Peak, sadly they'd had to retire after Scafell Pike as they'd lost too much time in the bad weather. After a fine breakfast in the Dark Peak mansion, Bill and I went for a spin round the North loop of Whinlatter. It loosened up my quads but didn't do much for my shins! So another challenge over and another car full of wet, smelly kit to drive home. For me there are always mixed feelings at the end of an event like this. I, like many racers, have a massive feeling of anticlimax at the end of big races, months of preparation and single mindedness are suddenly over and on Monday there is nothing to plan for anymore.

On this event I never got comfortable due to my stomach problems and didn't get a second wind and the euphoric high that comes with it. Then again, I never had any serious moments of distress and coming back from all the problems on Leg3 to pull off the Challenge with a such fine margin was very rewarding. The generosity of so many helped me dig deep and with Unilever fund matching I will have raised around £1300 for The Alzheimer's Society (see for the latest total and to donate). So job done, I'm around the 1600 person to complete the challenge and apparently the 21st Ironman! Thanks to all the people who helped me put together my attempt, in particular Bill for driving plus Louise, Jeff, Phil and Si for pacing me. Next challenge the Open 12 in 3 weeks, oh and walking normally again!

More information...

More detailed information for anyone planning their own attempt:
My 'race review' notes including the pre race planning document is at . I've left them off my blog as they aren't in prose and I'll be updating it over the next week or so. Keep checking back if you're looking for insights on what went well and what I think we could have improved.

Below are a couple of charts from the spreadsheet contains the full splits for each leg.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Ready to go and 'live' updates

Hopefully Bill will be able to post updates here as I pass through the transitions between legs.