Sunday, 4 October 2015

Appetite for Elevation

Whitfield. Yes; whose heard of it. Located in a remote corner of hilly and mystical Northumberland the Whitfield community hall was the HQ for the Allen Valley 2 stage hill climb. For those unacquainted with such a cycling event, a hill climb is a time trial up a steep hill....this weekend on the edge of the Pennines.... from bottom to top; no rest; no picnicking.... straight up in parallel with your heart rate and your pre-hired team of paramedics.

The hill climbing season is short and full of woe; about 2 months, September and October. The events are probably akin to a 50m freestyle for a swimmer. I enter one or two events a year to show off the SC Gothic kit and remind myself why defibrillators were invented.  If you are unfamiliar with the joys of rapid lactic acid build up, this is where you need to be.

I arrived around 9ish in the thick Northumbrian mist. The plethora of dead pheasants on the road was a crime. A crime against pheasants. They really need to get this car thing sorted out.

Around 65 had entered the event, a big field for your average hill climb.  You can't ride these events as joe public; you need to be in a registered cycling club.

The stages were two hours apart and I was on at 10.18 and 12.18 and I was number 18. A tidy symmetry that boded well for the day. If I had been 18, instead of someway over 50, it would have been that bit tidier, but you can't have everything.

The first stage was a 6.5k ride with 1000ft of ascent north up the A686. Probably the best part of 20 minutes. The second stage was 2km and 400ft from Whitfield to Keenley, a sharper but shorter affair. Whitfield was soon swamped with cars, marshals, lycra and a great turnout from the local host club.  As I looked around at the older riders, I realised I was disadvantaged. My legs weren't shiny or lathered in exotic oils. More work required on this.
I warmed up on the first climb and by the time I had climbed through the cold fog to the sun, I knew that this was not the right climb.  It still took me 20 minutes. As I came back down the hill, the valley below was cloaked in a silent cotton wool. The temperature dropped markedly once into its clammy grip.  Like London in the 1950's, but without the sulphurous bite.

At 10.18 I was off and riding up the right hill. It took me 15 minutes to get my breathing coordinated with my technique and by then I was nearly finished. A long steady drag rather than a hill.  If I had gone steadier early doors and found the right gear and pace, I would have performed better. The road surface was good, it was dry and glorious at the finish marked by the boundary sign between Cumbria and Northumbria. I might have been quicker running it.

The best bit is coming back down and shouting at the folk going up; instructing them to do what you couldn't do 5 minutes earlier.

There was cake and drinks in the hall at halftime, but I couldn't think of doing the cake thing on the basis that the extra weight might rob me of 10 seconds on the second stage. I needn't have worried.

The mist had lifted by noon, the changelings had changed and the green men watched silently from the trees as I struggled up the second climb, searching for the right gear, but really searching for a breather.  It was over before it began and I was soon cruising back down the hill, reflecting that with a bit of training and weight loss, I could do it better and faster.

I watched the last of the field set off at the bottom and heard the comment ' look at him, he's a great climber. Makes you sick when you can see his spine through his skin suit'. And yes, he was trim and super quick up the hill.

No prizes today, but I lapped up the event. Nice to be wearing a number again on a bike.  Well done to Allen Valley for a great club affair.


Monday, 14 September 2015

Looking after No 1

I dropped Mrs M. off yesterday morning, well before the start of the great north run. As I drove back in the low cloud I thought about watching the run on the BBC. However, I soon recalled the past coverage of the London marathon and some world triathlon championships. Lamentable. Its either exhaustive coverage on the 3 elites in the front, panning across a handful of fun runners at the back or they're busy interviewing their own so-called personalities. What's the point? Never seems to be any thought about leaving a camera rolling for a minute or two as the club runners come past.

So, after a half a grapefruit and a slice of toast I was off cycling, having missed the crowd down at the running club. The weather was improving and I was set on a couple of climbs. The Gibbet at Elsdon is apparently No.61 in the top 100 of UK hills to ride up. Not sure how they've ranked these, but I've got the handbook upstairs. I've been toying with the idea of entering a few (bike) hill climb competitions, but quite frankly these events are not good for your heart and when I think of the possibility of grabbing glory and skipping lightly onto the podium (an age group related podium, obviously), I bleach at the thought that swings into my head of getting carried off, instead, in the back of an anonymous ambulance. What's more, I suspect the ambulance wouldn't arrive on time. I could be on the pavement for a good while....Better to stick to the riding for pleasure for now.  

I caught up with a couple of lads for a few miles then tailed off right to Elsdon. It had turned out to be so nice, I carried on over Bilsmoor and then turned and came back up the other side of the hill and then stopped at the Elsdon impromptu cafe for a cuppa and slice of apple pie. That's two weekends in a row now and I have sat there chin wagging for 40 minutes or so on each occasion. Good therapy, especially when the September sun's giving it full-on overhead as you sit in the front garden watching the sparrows pecking on the dangling fat balls.

Last night I sat looking at the entry form on the screen for the Dumfries half. However, still no further forward on the fitness front, so, on reflection, more training required. My form can't justify the trip. I need to up my game from the current 30 miles a week. I think a trail race would probably fit the bill at the mo. But then , I wonder if they would have first aid facilities......maybe stick to blogging; safer (at least, in my head)!

Monday, 31 August 2015

Tyendale Jelly Tea 10 mile - what a daft carry on.....

I heard the youngsters were at it again, entering road races without my permission. Mrs Mac casually suggested that we go along and take as well. It was a bank holiday weekend and there seemed no harm in the idea. I slowly warmed to the notion. Tynedale 10 miler....yes, that seemed a reasonable morning out.

This year, rather than the Hexham to Ovingham point to point, a new course had been devised by Tynedale Harriers. The race HQ was Hexham race course. I'd been there a few weeks earlier to do the Wiggle 'Hell of the North' cycle sportive. Properly described.
As I drove the athletes to the course, the sun was rising and it was looking like a really nice day. Not much wind either. I was aware that the course was likely to be hilly, but I assumed that whatever sharp rises that were encountered on the course would be offset by low slow downhills that we could get the time back on. This is an unwritten understanding between organisers and runners.

There was a good crowd finding their numbers among the 600 or so that had pre-entered. Some of the roads were closed, and I thought anything below a 1:08 might be good, given my patchy training of late. There was chip timing and as we lined up, clubmate Jim A. lifted the tape and invited me to slip in near the front.

I knew the first mile would be a steady downhill, but the subsequent downslope steepened from mile one to mile two and I was soon up with Paul Redman of Sunderland. We were still going down and down and struggling to keep up with our legs. We had a brief exchange, some garbled words and then I dropped my gel, so had to come to a halt, which took several metres and then nip back and pick it up, by which time the group I was in was away doon the hill chasing after their legs and looking for the anchors.

The first 2 miles were too fast, but then, as we reached the valley, we hung a sharp right and then began a climb for 2 miles. Rather than carrying my gel, I decided after 3 miles to consume it. However, I was puffing so heavily that the goo sat in my slack jaw and after a while I was aware that it had begun to dribble out of my gaping mouth as the hill went on and on. I was too busy looking for oxygen and checking my medical records. My eyes had glazed over and my lungs were mush.

By the first drinks station I was puggled, realising that the gradients were unusually steep and the climbs long. I was passed periodically by runners. I saw one girl heave at the side of the road and another faster clubmate up ahead stopping and starting, clearly feeling out of sorts. The road dived again, then we reached a ford. If you reach a ford, you know the road out in any direction is precipitous and so it was. Up and up and up. By 6 miles I had begun to generate a reaction, a feeling of resentment that I was too far in to bail out. I would have packed in, I think.

At 7 miles another water stop provided a much needed drink. By 8 miles as we dropped down again I knew there was the same 2 mile rise to the finish that we had previously come down, but at the arrival of the start of the rise, marked by a sharp incline, I shook my head as I watched the two guys up ahead walking up the crest of the hill. I was in survival mode, but had slowed to a shuffle. Quite an unusual course selection, I mused. 

I finished in 1:14. One marshall asked me at the end if I'd do it again.
perhaps...with a jet pack or perhaps on a milk float. 

Later, as I tried to rationalise the day, I wondered if the organisers had found a good HQ and then tried to find a course to fit a 10 mile route. When I got home I had to have a lie down for an hour. Maybe, in the words of Viper from Top Gun, I'd been 'holding on too tight'.....maybe I need a chill pill. Need to chillax.  Aunt Aggie had a laugh when she heard and suggested I might like to take up baking or perhaps chess, but then adding that I didn't have the intellect for either.
Six beat the hour. Stars. The winner admitted it was the hardest 10 mile race he'd ever run. What a daft carry on.

course profile or heart rate monitor printout ? 

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Morpeth 10k 2015

Nipped out last night to the Morpeth 10k. Always well attended, a 2 lapper that generates some reasonable times. Around 300 ran.

The light is always tricky for photographs, but using the little Canon SX510 I bought last year, the long rangey ones were pretty good but a bit grainy. If I'm going to get back into snapping races I think a better piece of kit is required. The now defunct Panasonic FZ28 I used in the past was bigger but it was a very nice mid-range camera. There are some folk wandering around these places with very big lenses indeed...but I rarely see their piccies on the web. See what you think - click on the 'gallery' or link below:

Monday, 3 August 2015

The Cost of Everything, Choices and Schadenfraude

Double Header sporting weekend. Strap me down. Just like old times, eh?

Me and Nick A (bad English I know) got out to Hexham on Saturday morning for the Wiggle Hell of the North Sportive. Given the hilliness of the routes on offer, we opted for the short one at 53 miles. It was grey and cold at the start and the field was, well, modest. We paid our £26 entry, this great lump of money apparently guaranteeing me a medal, as much flapjack as I could eat on the way round and a t-shirt.  We set off with rain jackets on and plodded past a few who had set off earlier. One rider who had come down from Edinburgh caught me back up and explained that I wasn't using my gears properly. I sat there and listened, thanked her for her advice, and was proud of myself for buttoning my lip. Didn't bother talking about riding national events or routinely taking on the 40% gradients at Leicester or Meadowbank velodrome's. Maybe this is where I've been going wrong all these years. 
The event wound its way down to Weardale (lead mining country) and Rookhope in County Durham and back into Northumberland through Blanchland and eventually the sun made an appearance. The hills were chunky enough for a Saturday morning. By the end after 3 hours of riding and one hour sitting at the water stations eating flapjack, we worked out that we'd only done 45 miles and so had taken a wrong turn near the end and missed out a dog leg.  Still 4500ft of climbing. Quite enough.

Spent the rest of the day enjoying the rare sunshine. One of my young lodgers had made a Spag-Boll on the night. I wandered in and gave it the Allymac taste test. More garlic and wine required I announced, as I glugged more wine in and reached for the garlic cloves. As I chopped the garlic, Aunt Aggie wandered past and picked up the wine bottle....peering at the label over her ragged, musty balaclava she muttered 'better be a good Spag-Boll this'
'Hows that' I asked (more poor English).
'Cause that there wine is a six year old, twelve quid Bordeaux' she replied, adjusting her snorkel to make herself heard.

Sunday's madness was the Clennell Trail Race, a 10 mile race held in the Cheviot badlands. The two youngsters were going for a head to head and I thought I might join in. At £15, another wallet-scaring event organised by some private affair rather than a club, I have noticed that entry fees for some non-club events are generally ramped up and frequently fall short at the other end with no presentations or elements that appear to have been dropped or forgotten. Most need to do better I think.

That said, this was a nice run that encompassed much of the Alwinton Fell Race and took us up the hills over the Clennell Track and then down to a forest track that went on forever. As I had traced the course route on the back of my number and marked down the checkpoints, I noticed that there was a left turn a half a mile before the end and that it added a good mile or more eastward.
I spent the run chasing Keith Murray of Teviotdale who had got around 30 seconds on me, but he was coming back at 8 miles just as a NFR and a South Shields passed me. They had been talking behind me for 2 miles and that really wound me up. If you think chatting in a fell run to strangers who are sweating and puce with bumbags flapping around is a good idea, then think again. A real distraction. Thankfully South Shields man passed with NFR man in pursuit, but I thought that I
was still top ten.
Then at the bridge with the three in view in front they just carried straight on along the red gravel track to the finish rather than cutting left and even as the young lady sitting on the parapet sat pointing to the side where the green arrow said 'go down here' (but obviously in sign language).

I veered left and entered a steep grassy ravine. As the running came to an abrupt halt, even the flies that had been buzzing overhead in the humid conditions had left me alone. It was difficult to run along this section. I was cursing my weighty bumbag which had been bouncing loose throughout the race. As I sought a route through the reeds and ferns,  I remember saying to myself 'the organiser's having a laugh here'.  However, the schadenfreude I was experiencing at the 3 others going off course kept me going as I realised I might get in 4th rather than 7th. Does that make me a bad person. yes, I think so. Even the bleached sheep skulls and bones scattered among the lush grass couldn't dampen my spirits.  

The route kicked up sharply and I could see down the ravine to two others behind me, so had to keep the pace up as the hill dropped down and increasing my pace to a pathetic shuffling run, I face planted in the ferns. No damage other than a scab torn off my knee from last weeks crash. The pain was welcome as I tried to man up and ploughed on to the finish. The garmin said 11.7 miles - funny 10 miles that then?"!?

Another event, another t shirt. The rest of the clan finished in 6th and 7th position, so my form is improving slowly. Celebrated the day with a quick drink in the Cross Keys at Thropton. Worth a visit if you're in the area. 

Oh yes, and the Spag-Bol was even better on the second day.


Friday, 31 July 2015

Trauma at the Three Fords & the Hilly Wallington 10k

Last Sunday I took the bike out. It was a sunny morning and I thought to join up with a passing Sportive. However, I had got the date wrong, so there was no one on the road, so I hung a right up into the low hills on a route called 'the three fords'. The route, strangely, crosses 3 fords and is around 35 miles. There is a low wooden bridge that crosses the third and you can take this rather than ploughing through the water.
When we were in Chamonix earlier this summer, one of the lads, Mr C, came down heavily on his bike. It was where the end of the wooden deck meets the road. As I took the bridge I was nice and upright and taking it steady (you know what's coming), but at the end of the deck where the plank was chamfered, my slick front tyre slid rapidly away from me and my downward and forward trajectory toward the tarmac and grit was irresistible. I thought this was a carbon copy of Mr C's downfall. This time I didn't laugh. Ragged skin freshly bloodied but with all bones intact, the bike was fine so I rode on, the flies taking no time at all to target the messy wound on hand and elbow.  Happily the Gothic jersey remained intact, but always a shock to have 11 stone and added momentum coming down on top of your extremities. I can remember every bike crash I've had: This will be the 6th since 1979. Always leaves a wee scar in your psyche, and another on your elbow and sometimes thigh, sometimes shoulder.

So this week I have taken it easy with some steady mid distance runs. I volunteered on Wednesday to taxi the youngster plus one to the Wallington 10k. In between torrential downpours, most of the 150 competitors managed to stay dry. Disappointed that the cafĂ© wasn't open at Wallington. The young one came in 2nd (W).
We gave up waiting for the prize giving.  Took some snaps though - see gallery.
Link -

Monday, 20 July 2015

Coastal Run 2015 - View from the Midfield

My wife spent £36 on a cold night around February for three of us to run the Coastal Run 2015. A 13.5 mile safari along the Northumberland Coast. The race fills up rapidly, well in advance of the July event.

I had run this twice previously and did quite well, even if I say so myself. However, in deepest frigid mid-winter, I didn't bank on having such a long lay off during early season, nursing my dysfunctional hamstring over the Spring and early Summer months. I reckon its probably the thought of losing the chunky entry fee that eventually got me back to some sort of running shape in recent weeks.

The race is a point to point, so we got dropped off an hour and a half early in Beadnell on the coast on Sunday, not having paid the extra for the bus trip to the start. Normally it might be mild and welcoming, with seagulls hovering lazily and eyeing up the red-top milk, but today this was 11 degrees and decidedly cold and quiet. The wind was also up.

We took shelter with a coffee from the mobile van and watched the runners arrive and it wasn't long before the snaking queue was forming outside the ladies. Extra toilets were laid on today. By 10:30am about 1000 runners were primed and ready to go and shortly afterwards we all set off into a stiff headwind on our trek to Alnmouth. Its an exposed, but lovely run. A combination of sand, sea, sand dunes, gravel tracks and tarmac, but its a long way and my main concern was to finish without having the need to walk to the end. So I started slowly and alternated every other mile from around 7.20 pace to 8 mile pace. I had a gel and my mobile in my bum bag but was well over-dressed for the event and stopped to shed my long sleeve top as the sun made an appearance. There were 3 water stops, and I remarked to myself how similar it wad to the TDF as the occasional, half drunk bottle of water was fired into the air or laterally into a nearby hedge from runners ahead.

I didn't bother too much to check my garmin and just ran along tucking in, out of the wind where possible. It ended up taking 1.45 for 13.2miles and quite pleasant taking in the view of the field ahead (and behind) from a mid-field position.  I stopped regularly for photos and my comings-and-goings were probably a distraction for some of the runners.

I was tired by the end of the run though and became aware of a shuffling action I've adopted, presumably in order to avoid stretching my upper leg...or maybe its just age.

A small refreshment in the Red Lion where the prize giving was, we had a long chat with some runners from Keighley.

They recommended a race called the Yorkshireman in September. We might give it a go. A half marathon and marathon trail race around Haworth.

The prizes were dished out by Alnwick Harriers (including 9th place for the youngster) which topped the day and we wound our way home with a bit more colour in our cheeks. Not sure if it was from the sun or the wind.