Sunday, 12 May 2013

LDWA Ridgeway 40

You can't enjoy every Ultra you run but each brings their own rewards ensuring you return for the experiences again and again. My legs were already telling me that this was gonna be a tough day and within 10 miles they were hurting. Hurting bad. I was not enjoying this at all.

I was doing the Ridgeway 40 LDWA challenge event. This is the first section of the Ridgeway National trail on the Wessex Downs. On modern footwear we were to travel through ancient landscapes used by prehistoric travellers.

Arriving early in Streatley the morning promised good weather, although the forecast was for worse to come so I packed my waterproofs in my already overloaded bag. Unsure of what exactly each Check Point would supply us with I opted to take enough to feed me entirely for the route. I then made my way to the Youth Hostel where large groups of walkers and runners were mingling, whilst we waited for the coaches to transport us to the start. I had a quick introduction and chat with Paul Ali of Ultra Tales and wished him luck on his training run and upcoming GUCR, a 145mile Ultra taking place in just a couple of weeks. I then got talking to Pete as the coaches arrived and we had a good chat about his fell running in the Peak District and I talked about the lack of decent hills in Hampshire.
Arriving at the start we got off the coach and were told to start immediately which threw a few of us. Taking my time I went through my overloaded bag knowing that I could not discard anything but, as it was cold and windy, I could at least put on my waterproof top and get rid of some weight that way! Once I had sorted out the rest of my stuff, put on watch, mp3, buff, sun cream, etc I was on my way, slogging it up Avebury Down. Reaching the top of the first incline I was sweating profusely so off came the waterproof. Then not long after my t-shirt, eventually coming to a comfortable temperature with just my base layer on.

During the first few miles everyone was jockeying for position as runners were finding their pace as well as moving through the mass of walkers taking on this fine challenge. It was not long past Barbury Castle and into the heartland of the Marlborough Downs that the pack really thinned out and you felt alone, unable to see anyone in front or behind for long periods. I did pass a lady around here pulling a tyre!! Huge respect. (I have since found out it's TyreGirl who runs to highlight Eco issues. Great stuff).
I knew, at some point, the route took a northwards approach but at the specific junction I was a little confused as to where I was and as luck would have it a couple of approaching runners assured me this was the place to go north. It was at this point I realised my day was going to be a struggle. As they eased their way away from me, my legs had nothing. I had to walk the smallest of slopes and running was painful.  My thighs weren't just tired they were in pain. I can only think that this was due to biking 100 miles over the bank holiday and that my under trained cycling muscles were not fully recovered and boy,were they letting me know about it now.

Over the next few miles of undulating terrain I would pass some runners only to be re-passed when I slowed to a walk.  This process would repeat itself until suddenly I wasn't get overtaken any more and the people I had been intermittently speaking to had disappeared. This felt strange as I was increasingly taking more walking breaks. I think we all must have been suffering by this point. My legs were screaming at me and my mind was telling me to throw in the towel, play it safe and don't injure yourself. But for reasons unknown we all persevere and at the end of the day I could always walk it in.

The day was interspersed with light rain and threats of sunshine. What was a constant though was the wind. Pretty breezy but at least it was a westerly wind and we were running in an easterly direction.
Around this point I was looking forward to seeing the White Horse of Uffington. It didn't help not knowing where I was, my concentration was fading, and I had lost all awareness of my location. When I arrived at CP5 I was sure I had done 28 miles only to discover in fact it was 23 and that I had missed the White Horse!

My pace was diminishing badly I ended up trying to run five minutes and walk for one. I could only manage a fraction of that and shuffled along for a minute or two and then walked a helluva lot more. Only the sight of walkers up ahead had a motivating affect on me to run for longer than I wanted to.
The miles were slowly ebbing away and what, for an age, looked like faraway chimney pots were now the large eyesores of Didcot power station.

I enjoyed, yes enjoyed, a sit down and a cuppa at CP6 with the wonderful cheery volunteers. The sun was out and we were protected from the wind. Somewhat refreshed I told myself to get in some longer running stretches from here on out. Playing the mental game I considered how I could carry on at a better pace. One thing that worked was to imagine this was a training run for a longer ultra where you would be running on tired sore legs but still have a distance to go. This will happen in the future so why not get use to that feeling, accept it and shuffle on.

Around CP7 I began to pass the walkers from the 20 mile challenge. This helped as it enabled me to have brief chats while taking a walk and hearing the encouragement when running spurred me on to work harder and 'take the pain'. At CP8 I was feeling ecstatic thinking I only had 4 miles left, only to be corrected that we actually had over 5 to go. Bugger. A little deflated but fortunately my mindset was in a far better place than a few hours ago. Talking to a lady on the next hill, who had local knowledge, I heard the welcoming news that it was all downhill from the top and I promised myself to run it in from there.

It was tough, and pretty excruciating, but I managed it and with the sun shining I arrived at the YHA and hobbled up the steep incline to finish. Not quite ALL downhill then!

Overall it was a rewarding day but a different, more drawn out experience compared to what I am used to. Physically I was not up to this Ultra but mental will power pulled me through which can only improve my confidence of running these distances in the future.

Stats : 40miles +/- 850m in 7hrs40mins.

(note to self : Don't take so much food)

Friday, 10 May 2013

Devon C2C Mini Adventure

Timings were to be a theme for the weekend and whether we were just plain damn lucky, or the precision planning by Rob, it made for a smooth no waiting weekend, albeit, not easy on my ticker at times.
Rob picked me up at 7am on the Saturday and we headed west down to Exeter via Sherborne to pick up Greg. To keep me pre-occupied from Rob's rally race to Exeter train station I took on the Badger watch challenge which unfortunately got into the tens of poor badgers not making it across the road.
Arriving in Exeter the station was, typically, on the other side of town and we had 15 minutes and no chance, we thought, of making our train.  Fortunately Rob was still on the case and triumphantly not only got us to the station and onto the train with 2 minutes to spare, but managed to remember to take a photo of the parking number to call in. Although he did forget his arm warmers and hat! A small price to pay to save us from waiting an hour for the next train.
A smooth journey to Barnstaple and we were set to start our Coast to Coast mini adventure. A 100 mile bike ride from North Devon to South mainly along an old disused train track or quiet country lanes.
We set off on the Tarka trail going west out of Barnstaple to Bideford. We decided to miss out on the Illfracombe section due to us not starting out till midday and we thought we had enough on our plates already. We were here to take on a challenge but, more importantly, enjoy it.
The weather was beautiful but the wind on our faces was fierce. It was a good start though, making our way along the River Taw looking out to the breath taking scenery and the mouth watering salted lambs enjoying their last summer. The miles ticked by sedately. So much so, we stopped for a cheeky beer at Instow to celebrate the start of our trip, mmMM Sharps Doombar!
Rested, we saddled up for the next section down the River Torridge only to be stopped in our tracks just a short while later by a disused train carriage serving cake near Bideford. Rude not to try some we thought. The happy cafe owners told us about a small music festival which was on our route and we promised to check it out.
The going so far had been pleasant, only having to contend with the biting wind. But we had decided to stop in Great Torrington to pick up supplies for the night and this resulted in us taking on some tough hills. We struggled up to town then went for the direct route back to the trail, ignoring the warning contour signs on the map, and so went steeply down to a valley bottom only to have to struggle up the opposite hill top and then finally down to the trail. We had our wine though.
It was then cruising mode to East Yarde where we fell upon the music festival. What a find.  A small gathering of people enjoying the multi talented musicians playing easy listening tunes whilst we enjoyed a few fine ales in the afternoon sun. With time drifting we reluctantly pulled ourselves away. We still had a camp site to find. The plan was to set up in a wooded area a few miles away. When we got there though, we realised that the planted forest was just too dense and continuing on we could not find any potential openings! Persevering, things started to open out and exploring an old disused track up a hill we eventually found an acceptable pitch and settled down to camp life. Clearing an area, Rob starting the food, Greg poured the wine and I went foraging for firewood. Very soon we were all chilled out and relaxing after a very enjoyable first days riding, eating a scrumptious supper of chorizo and pasta.
(D1 stats :  30miles +/-600m)

Some people just get up too early (especially if they go too bed early Greg). Rob and I, on the other hand, had enjoyed the evening with a little too much wine. Greg was up and raring to go at it.  Donning his lycra gear. Thankfully he slowed just a little and made us a much welcomed, wakening brew with a bacon and poached egg roll. Lovely.
With heavy head and legs, the camp was cleared and we set off for part 2 of the journey. This would be a monster of a day and so the early start was, in hindsight, a good thing. The morning brought a few short, sharp hills which only emphasised that I had drunk too much. I was struggling whilst Greg was easing up these hills, or could it have been the streamlined lycra he was wearing? This part of the route was on dead quiet country lanes all the way to Okehampton and the visible Tors of Dartmoor.
Once in town we restocked with food and water and set off up the thigh aching slopes to the railway line, quarry pits and Meldon. The views out onto the moors and surroundings areas from up on the viaducts were astounding and highlighted the limitless possibilities to explore. We soon descended away from the moors and took a welcomed break in a pub we happened upon. A comfortable lunch was washed down with a fine Otter ale. All too soon we dragged ourselves away before ordering any more ale and pushed on to Lydford where I (we) got our only puncture of the trip. A quick change with a fresh inner and a, soon to be broken, promise to fix the puncture that night and we were on our way again.
In the quiet sleepy village we came across a small medieval castle and stopped for a spot of sight seeing around this little piece of history. On exiting we decided to take the summer route. Good for me, not so good for Greg and his road bike as this was the first proper stretch of off roading. Once past this section we had our first dilemma. We had planned to stock up on much needed wine at Mary Tavy but it being a Sunday the shop was closed. What to do? Go to a bigger town of course! Like a man on a mission, Rob went flying down to Tavistock while Greg and I descended at a more leisurely pace with the thought that this descent had to be ascended again at some point. In Tavistock we failed to find the 'Flying Andrews' but before Greg could profane any more we finally met up again. Rob loaded up with our precious cargo.
Due to missing out on the Illfracombe top section we had decided if timings were right we would detour off the route and up into Dartmoor for the night. With the day still young we took on a 400m ascent into the National Park. Not wanting to make this too easy we first went the wrong way out of town just to get in an extra couple of miles! The hill was tough, it included taking a needed to stop, rest and scoff down as many sweets as possible to try and get some sugars back in the system. But the thought of camping on the moors, and the pub at the top, drove us on.
Unfortunately, a perfect bank holiday weekend and the pub was closed!! We waiting around for half hour for it to open but when we found out it wasn't to open for another one and half hours we resigned ourselves to just having some wine once we found a camp spot. We went for the biggest Tor around, of course, the views would be the best. This was a struggle and was close to being one hill too many for Greg. Patience was fraying but, before the toys came out the pram and he started demanding to sleep where we stood, a swap to pushing a lighter bike and an energy gel was enough of a boost to make it to the top of Great Staple Tor. And boy, it was worth it. Magnificent, stunning panorama views topped off with a perfect camping spot. Hopefully the pictures can do it justice :

Having taken stock of where we were we climbed on to a high rock and enjoyed a mug of wine feeling very content after a full on day. We then settled into our standard routine quickly, with Rob looking after dinner, Greg keeping us supplied with wine and me, hmm, there's no fire wood up here! With no wood around I took a stroll around the surrounding Tors.  What a place.  Promising myself to return soon and maybe tackle a long run, linking in as many Tors as I can manage in a day or so.

Back in camp and food was ready. These meals are so good. This time it was chicken, chorizo and cous cous. With full bellies and our mugs full we lay back and relaxed as the sun settled over the horizon. Perfection was narrowly missed due the lack of a fire and the moist air, ensuring a feeling of cold dampness.

(D2 stats : 45miles +/-1400m).

Morning dawned and the warmth of the day started to flow into our cold, tired bodies. Another brew, another cooked breakfast and unfortunately time came when we had to leave. There is always a feeling of sadness when having to leave a wild camp. Taking on small risks, small challenges, unknowns and enjoying good company in the outdoor environment all amounts to a satisfying adventure.
A body shaking fun descent moved us down off the Tor to a bridleway path we had decided to take (we saw a car use it the previous day). The first kilometre was fine on a rocky, old road but then this gave way to a track of dried mud and rocks which was good fun for Rob and I but resulted in Greg having to walk this section out. With a lack of drinking water we pit stopped to refill in a stream we passed on the way. Soon the tough path was replaced by worn tarmac and we peddled our way out through the valley on country lanes down to Walkhampton and finally back onto the C2C trail running parallel with the River Meavy merging with the Plym at Dewerstone.
This was a fascinating section. All downhill on an easy trail passing through tunnels, crossing bridges, in between cut out rock faces for the old railway line, all in a deep wooded vale, surrounded by the colours of spring. Just beautiful and it was shame to all of a sudden then to be within the city limits of Plymouth where beauty was replaced with the trash of poor living, old industry and traffic congested roads. We quickly made our way through the mass of tourists, uneasy with the sudden influx of crowds and noise.We made our way down to the Waterfront bar, a fitting end to our mini adventure, and enjoyed cold beers and pub grub. At some point Rob, realising the time, got us on our feet for a quick exit and a sprint through town to arrive at the train station with minutes to spare. Bikes stored away it was not long before we were all sleeping soundly until we got back to Exeter. With the car fully loaded we made our way home after a very rewarding weekend.
(D3 stats: 25miles +/-800m).

A super route for all bike types and nothing too taxing (if you stay on route) so we could enjoy the tour and take our time to take in all that Devon has to offer. I'm looking forward to the next adventure. Cheers Rob and Greg for being fantastic micro companions and for the organising and logistics.

Overall stats : 3 days, 100miles,  +/-2800m elevation, 10 beers, 6 litres of wine and plenty of food.