Saturday, 23 April 2011
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.
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.
Wednesday, 22 September 2010
Friday, 3 September 2010
Thursday, 11 June 2009
Tuesday, 9 June 2009
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 http://www.justgiving.com/andym0000 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 detailed information for anyone planning their own attempt:
My 'race review' notes including the pre race planning document is at http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dcprns3h_34c6fbh8hm . 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 http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=rfc2dbTaMmh68qTlPs-V1fQ the spreadsheet contains the full splits for each leg.